Posts tagged ‘New York Times’

Greg Mortenson & 60 Minutes

Greg Mortenson in Afghanistan 3500ppx

Image via Wikipedia

Previously I’ve written about Greg Mortenson, his non-profit, the Central Asia Institute, and his book about his journey to build schools for the children of rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. The book is called Three Cups of Tea, and its accuracy has been called into question by Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes and journalist Jon Krakauer. In addition to alleging that Mortenson’s autobiography is less than truthful (remind anyone of James Frey?), there are even more serious allegations of money mismanagement.

In addition to the tall tales that Mortenson supposedly told in his books, Krakauer and 60 Minutes  are saying that Mortenson has not built as many schools as he claims he has.  Many of the schools Mortenson claims that CAI has built or is funding are not currently functioning. Central Asia Institute has only furnished one audited financial statement in its 14 years. Several board members have quit over misgivings about financial accountability. And Mortenson’s travel costs are paid for by CAI while Mortenson himself retains speaking fees for speaking engagements and promotional tours for his books. The proceeds from the books go to Mortenson and not to the institute.

Some of the allegations here shouldn’t be terribly shocking to anyone who read Mortenson’s book. Mortenson himself admits that he is a poor planner, ineffective with time management, money management, and people management. But for some reason he has a knack with the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And no one is alleging that he isn’t an effective advocate for girls’ education in developing countries. No one is stating that he hasn’t vastly improved the lives of literally thousands of children. What they are claiming is that Mortenson has not been a good steward of CAI resources and that perhaps he’s indulged in some tall tales or some creative license with his story.

In one portion of the scandalous expose, 60 Minutes interviews a man that Mortenson identifies in a photo from his book as a member of the Taliban who kidnapped him for several days. Kroft interviews the man, and the man says he’s not Taliban and that he didn’t kidnap Mortenson. But honestly, if you were a member of the Taliban or if you had kidnapped someone, would it be in your best interest to admit to it on American national television? Why would we take this guy’s word at face value any more than we would Mortenson’s? And what due diligence did 60 Minutes undertake to ensure that this guy really was who and what he claims to be? We’re not told.

Three Cups of Tea was co-written by a seasoned journalist named David Oliver Relin. I have a hard time believing that he didn’t do any research on Greg Mortenson and his claims. After all, his professional reputation was on the line. I’d be interested in getting his take on things. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times has asked that the public reserve judgment about Mortenson. Kristof is unimpeachable.

As for 60 Minutes and Krakauer, I’d like to say that, to be fair, the piece isn’t a complete hatchet job. Kroft indulges in some sensationalism in following Mortenson to a public book signing. Shame on you for grandstanding, Steve Kroft! It’s beneath you. And Krakauer may feel duped for having given $75,000 to a man who’s perhaps been less than truthful. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s envious of Mortenson’s greater success with his books. Krakauer wrote two bestsellers, one of which was made into a movie that was directed by Sean Penn. But his books haven’t sold as many copies as Greg’s, and Jon Krakauer probably can’t command the same speaking fees. Maybe his motivations are not entirely pure.

Even if Greg Mortenson has done a lot of good in the world, as I’m sure he has, he should still be held accountable. At the very least, Mortenson should start freely sharing audited financial statements on an annual basis. I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone contribute one penny to CAI until this happens. Mortenson himself has admitted that he’s a lousy businessman. Why shouldn’t he continue to be the front man for his charity and hire someone else who’s experienced and knowledgeable to handle the day to day nitty gritty of being CAI’s executive director? I am sure that there are plenty of qualified individuals who would love the challenge of reforming such a worthy charity.

60 Minutes has tried to turn a hero into a charlatan. The truth is most likely somewhere between those two extremes. The jury’s still out on this matter, as far as I’m concerned. However, there are many questions that need to be answered. If Greg Mortenson is really concerned with helping the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan, then he’ll do his best to answer those questions honestly and to behave honorably with regards to the money that has been entrusted to him for those children’s welfare. Mr. Mortenson, the excuse of naivete will only get you so far. It’s time to grow up and do the right thing.–-and-wrong/

April 26, 2011 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

A Time to Rape

A Time To Kill

In the 90s a book came out that was later made into a movie. This book was the first book published from the pen of John Grisham, the lawyer turned author. In my opinion, it’s his best book. In some ways, it’s a modern day retelling of To Kill a Mockingbird. In Grisham’s A Time to Kill two ne’er do well good ol’ boys pick up an underage black girl named Tonia Haley and beat and rape her so severely that the damage from the rape makes her infertile.

Her father, Carl Lee Haley, realizes that in his mostly white Mississippi town two white boys will never be convicted of harming a black girl and that they will most likely go free. Carl Lee confers with a local counselor, the struggling defense attorney, Jake Briggance, and asks Jake if he’ll defend him should he need it. Jake, himself the father of a young girl close to Tonia’s age, agrees to defend Carl Lee should he need his services. Following that conversation, Carl Lee takes a shotgun to the courthouse on the day of the rapists’ arraignment and shoots the two men down in cold blood, accidentally shooting a peace officer as well, in the process.

The rest of the movie is about the fight to keep Carl Lee out of prison and away from the gas chamber. A Time to Kill is a story about a hate crime, specifically focused on race relations. In the end Jake gets Carl Lee acquitted by asking jury members to close their eyes while he describes the rape of a 9-year-old girl in gruesome detail. When he’s finished presenting the picture of a little girl tied up, raped, beaten, urinated on, and left to die he says, simply, “Now imagine she’s white.”

I want to tell you a story. Don’t close your eyes or you won’t be able to read the story, but you can see what I want you to see in your mind’s eye. This is the story of a little boy. This boy lives in a small Texas town that’s fraught with racial strife. The boy is Hispanic, and he’s 11 years old. He’s also a straight A student. His mother has been hospitalized recently with some health problems, and his father is an unemployed construction worker.

The boy has spent a lot of time hanging out with older kids in a bad neighborhood lately. People in this neighborhood have spotted him there on numerous occasions. They wonder what he’s doing there and why his parents don’t keep closer tabs on him. The boy is also on Facebook. On his profile, he says he’s 13 so that he’ll look older and tougher than he really is and so that maybe, just maybe he’ll attract older girls. He’s made posts involving drinking and sex.

One day the boy is out walking after school when three older boys offer to give him a ride. He accepts. He knows these boys, and he’s hung out with them before. They’re all African American, and they’re all much older than he is. They’re high school age. The boys all drive to a small blue house in the bad neighborhood, one that belongs to the aunt of one of the older boys.

The house is empty except for the four boys. There are no adults present. They go to one of the bedrooms of the house. They’re hanging out. Maybe they watch TV. Maybe they drink a beer or smoke a little pot. Suddenly, one of the older boys says, “I want you to suck my cock.”

The young boy is stunned. This request seems to come from left field. He tries to laugh it off.

A second older boy stands up and says, “You’re going to suck all our cocks.”

The little boy says, “And what if I don’t.”

The first older boy chimes in again. “First, we’ll beat you. Then you can walk home.”

The little boy looks at the older boys, and he realizes that they are serious. Any one of the three of them could pulverize him. The little boy doesn’t even weigh 100 pounds. These are big guys. They lift weights. They play high school athletics. One of them is double his size. His chance of taking on all three or of escaping is nothing.

The boy submits to the rape. The older boys take pictures and videos on their cell phones. The sexual activity takes place in a bedroom and in a bathroom. While the boy is cleaning up in the bathroom he hears the older boys talking on their cell phones and inviting some of their friends to also come over. The aunt who owns the house has come home, and one of the older boys takes him out of the bathroom and sneaks him out the back of the house and into the car.

The little boy has gone silent. Perhaps he is in shock. They made him do things he didn’t want to do, things that hurt him. He is bleeding. The older boys drive him to an abandoned mobile home in a trailer park on the edge of the bad neighborhood. He’s been here before. The yard is strewn with trash, and there are household items that probably belonged to the last, evicted tenants, lying on the curb.

More older boys and even some men show up, and they all use him sexually, too. Sometimes he is made to service more than one man at a time. He is afraid to say anything because there are now several men in the trailer, perhaps as many as 20 or more, and he is afraid that if he protests or fights they will beat him. They continue to take photos and video as they cheer him on. The little boy is tired, sore, and hurt. He wants to go home, but they won’t take him home until they are done. The attack takes several hours.

Finally, they do take him home, and in his humiliation he says nothing. He showers and goes to bed and resolves never to speak of it. He doesn’t want to shame his father or hurt his mother, especially with her health issues.

One day soon afterward he is called into the principal’s office because one of the perpetrators of the attack has emailed or texted pictures and video of the boy’s rape to several of his classmates. He is afraid and alone, but he tells the truth.

That’s a sad story, isn’t it? You feel sorry for that boy. You never question where his parents were during the attack. You never question why he accepted a ride with three older boys. You don’t think, like I once heard another blogger say about a rape victim, that the police were sent in to do a father’s job, as if only single mothers parent rape victims. You know, or at least you assume, that since the boy is posting about experience with drinking and sex that implies he’s no longer a virgin. You know that he’s working hard to appear older than he really is, with his Facebook profile, his clothes and appearance, and the friends he hangs around.

But you never thought he deserved what happened to him, did you? You never thought it was a racial conspiracy to get a whole generation of black men, did you? I hope you never blamed the boy for not protesting or trying to run away. I don’t think you probably thought that the boy had brought this on by his behavior or his appearance, although if his rapists were homosexuals it seems conceivable that they just couldn’t help themselves, or maybe not. What do you think? Do you think the actions of any 11 year old boy could cause a man to somehow have to rape him? You think this is a horrible crime, don’t you? And you think the boy’s not at fault for what happened to him at all. Now imagine the boy’s a girl.!5780022/media-blows-it-with-pathetic-gang-rape-coverage

March 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm 7 comments

Sarah Palin: Foreign Policy Expert

Seal of the President of the United States

Image via Wikipedia

This woman is simply frightening. What she knows about foreign policy is nothing, yet she criticizes Obama and his handling of the issues in Egypt. She doesn’t even know what ‘s going on in Egypt. She then blames this on the Obama administration and their failure to dispense knowledge to the American people.

You can bet that Obama knows a great deal more about this than most of the American people do. It’s not Obama’s job to educate the American people on foreign policy or history. Sarah, there is this thing called the news media. I know you think it’s lamebrained, but YOU YOURSELF WORK FOR IT and its job is to inform the American people. Pick up a copy of The New York Times or the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. Tune into something other than Fox News. How about trying the BBC, for instance? They have excellent news coverage. And if you’d like to hear about the moderate Muslim take on the situation, you can watch Al Jazeera. They even do an English broadcast. You can download it to your iPhone, Sarah.

And if the media isn’t cutting it for you, then there are these things called the internet and the library. You can read all about Mubarak. You can learn a lot if you can read. Can you read, Sarah?

I don’t have a problem with people criticizing the Obama administration. What I have a problem with is when stupid people who haven’t bothered to inform themselves criticize our President without knowing what the hell they’re talking about. First, learn a little something about the Egypt situation. It’s not hard. All you have to do is take the time to inform yourself. But then that would take you away from your primary concern of pandering to the extreme right news media.

Here’s an idea, Sarah. If you really want to be the President of the United States, then how about rolling up your sleeves and doing your homework. FIND OUT what’s going on and then come up with your own possible solution. Razzle dazzle us with your keen insight and your common sense resolution to our foreign policy dilemma. What’s that you say, Sarah? You’re waiting on Obama to call you back to answer some questions? Don’t be surprised if the phone rings at 3 AM.

February 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm 2 comments

The Divorce Myth


Image via Wikipedia

Wow. Statistics. I took a course on it when I decided to go to graduate school. No, I did not graduate. But I did pass statistics! I even got a B. Thank God for Eastern European geeks in the math lab and for partial credit. One thing I did learn about statistics, I mean besides that the Greek letter Sigma is not just the “funky E,” is that statistics can be and frequently are manipulated to come up with an answer that’s sometimes less than truthful.

Some stories about studies have come out this month about the marriage success rate in the United States of America. And, if you’re college educated, you make decent money, and you don’t marry too young, your odds are actually pretty damn good. Congratulations! You won the marriage lottery.

If you’re not college educated, if you’re middle class or working poor or, worse yet, impoverished, or if you marry young, you’re screwed. Well, not really. But your odds of success are way lower. It doesn’t take too much in the way of brains to figure out why this is. Since money is one of the big stressors in marriage, those people who have it are far less likely to be stressed over it.

As for religion and how it affects the divorce rate, agnostics and atheists have the lowest divorce rate. Born again Christians have the highest divorce rate.

You know how the media has been reporting for years that the divorce rate in this country was 50% or better, no matter what. Turns out the media is wrong. Check out these links.

The saddest trend I find is that marriage is becoming irrelevant for many young couples with only a high school education. They are becoming parents and cohabitating first, then perhaps marrying later when they can “afford” to do so. With the tax advantages for being married, particularly when it comes to having a family, I don’t see how you can afford not to be married.

This seems to me to be indicative of the greater trend in American society to think of marriage not as a serious lifelong commitment but rather a pit stop on Serial Monogamy Lane. A marriage is a ceremony, a great big expensive party that you host for all your friends, which is why you can’t afford it. Better to breed now and save up for that big party later.

If you’re married, please, please remember what a privilege it is to be married, to have someone who loves you to walk through life with, because not everyone does. Treasure it. If you’re not married, there’s plenty of rich, rewarding life ahead of you whether you get married or not. Happiness, like marriage, is ultimately a choice that you get to make. You can choose to be happy. Choose wisely.

December 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm 14 comments

I’ll Weep Into My Royalty Statement

Cover of "Freedom: A Novel"

Cover of Freedom: A Novel

There has been some controversy in the literary world recently concerning the accusations of sexism and the differentiation of serious literature from popular literature. The elitist literary establishment would have us all believe that the only quality writers are white males with MFAs. Their books, by necessity, sell few copies, because the discerning public is a small portion of the public. That’s the theory, anyway.

What prompted the outrage is all the attention paid recently to two books that received heavy coverage in The New York Times. The Times has devoted unusual space to effusive reviews of two books, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Jennifer Weiner, a “chick lit” author that I admire, tweeted, “In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement.”

Weiner’s theory is that when women write about love and family and relationships, then it’s called “chick lit,” and when a man writes about the same things it’s Literary Fiction, destined for a shelf in the classics section. It’s a pretty fair criticism. The literature that’s supposed to be taken seriously, according to the critics, is more often than not, written by men. And hardly anyone reads it.

The funny thing is that this is the opposite of how a “classic” of literature is born. The classics we think of nowadays are not the products of critical darlings but are the books that were preserved by virtue of their popularity. Charles Dickens was a popular writer. Ditto Edgar Allen Poe and Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Their books sold well, but no one accuses them of mediocrity just because more people enjoy reading their books. Just because a book is popular doesn’t necessarily mean that it automatically lacks any artistic merit.

Jennifer Weiner and another writer I admire, Jodi Picoult, who tends to write family dramas, came together for an interview on The Huffington Post to discuss the controversy of the allegation of sexism, along with how the literary world works in general. If you’re interested, then you should check out the conversation. They make some good observations.

I haven’t read either Freedom or Super Sad True Love Story, and both Franzen and Shteyngart are just trying to market their books as any writer would. Maybe they truly are that brilliant. Maybe both these guys would agree with Weiner and Picoult that sexism continues to reign in literary circles. I am providing a link to both the HuffPost article with Weiner and Picoult, as well as a link to a YouTube video that Shteyngart made as a “book trailer” to promote his latest novel. It’s pretty funny.

One thing I do know: In my opinion, not every critic’s darling is actually a good writer. It’s kind of like the emperor’s clothes. One foggy old white man says some other well-educated white man is a great writer, and everyone follows suit. For example, I don’t really enjoy Saul Bellow, John Updike, or William S. Burroughs. I respect that other people really, really get them. But they do not appeal to me at all. Burroughs, in particular, is abstract and unrelatable. I suspect that you have to actually be stoned on heroin while reading him to appreciate him fully. I’d much rather read Jennifer Weiner.

August 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm 1 comment

Married with Children

Yesterday was my parents’ forty-first wedding anniversary. They have been very happily married for all of those forty-one years. I’ve seen them disagree on things occasionally, but there were never any fights, and I don’t even think there were any arguments. I know there wasn’t any cheating. The two of them were raised in the same small town in Iowa. Their parents attended the same church. Their fathers worked in the same meat packing plant. They are very compatible, and the only thing that might have caused them not to be is their age difference. You see my dad is nearly twenty years older than my mother.

I always thought that that would be how it would work out for me, too, except for maybe the age difference. I always thought I would just run into some guy with whom I had an extraordinary amount in common in terms of values and worldview, faith and politics, and we would settle down and raise a family. I assumed that same said person would be on par with me intellectually and share my sense of humor and enjoy doing some of the same things as I did. (I knew he might like sports, but I was willing to compromise on this if he would go see an opera or a ballet every now and then.) I just knew that he was out there somewhere, but I never found him. As a young woman I never imagined that I would ever have sex with anyone but that one man who would be my husband.

I bet maybe that’s what Kate Gosselin thought, too, or at least she thought that Jon would be the last man she’d have sex with in her lifetime. She picked a man with whom she shared a very powerful mutual attraction and with whom she seems to have shared similar morals and life goals. And yet it didn’t work out. Now I am tempted to get on my moral high horse here and talk about how the Gosselins are exploiting their children for money or how the public are contributing to the dissolution of a marriage with their rubbernecking. However, since I have now purchased the first two seasons of John & Kate Plus 8 on DVD, I am guilty of being the public. And although all of those children in the Gosselin household are cute and endearing (with the possible exception of Mady with low blood sugar), people don’t watch that show for the kids. People watch to view the train wreck that is the Gosselin’s marriage. You can see it deteriorating bit by bit with every episode on screen, and I’ve only finished the second season. There are four.

First off, I’m going to say that Kate Gosselin is to be admired from what I can see on screen, for being an excellent at home mother in what must be the most difficult of circumstances. In addition to twin girls, she and her husband have six small preschool aged children who are all the exact same age. They were born premature, and though they are healthy, they have to endure breathing treatments. Some of the things that Kate gets criticized for, such as her obsessive compulsive cleanliness, her rigidness, her need to constantly plan and structure, are things those babies could not have survived and thrived without. Preemies need extra care with their health and hygiene, and children need structure and routine. In a household as naturally given to chaos as the Gosselin’s, this is especially true.

However, Kate is not to be admired as a wife. There are things she gets right. She lost all that baby weight. She obviously got a tummy tuck. After her husband complained about her dark hair on one of the TV specials that got them their eventual reality show, she highlighted her hair to a shade closer to the blonde that he remembered from their courtship. She made certain that all her children went to bed by 8 PM so she and Jon could have alone time. She bought her husband a vacation for his thirtieth birthday and made arrangements for the children to stay with friends while they had a romantic getaway. She keeps a beautiful house and is a good cook and as far as I can see provides well for her husband’s comfort.

But virtually everything else she does, she gets wrong. Jon is a loving and caring husband and father. He is by far the more laid back of the two in parenting style and just about anything else that you care to mention, but he’s not lazy. The TV show intersperses reality footage with footage of Jon and Kate talking to the camera about the footage. More often than not, she criticizes him. She hounds him, she nags him, she berates him, and she even yells at him and insults him in public.

Poor Jon has a pot belly that apparently can’t be alleviated with the help of a tummy tuck, and she constantly needles him about that, but when he begins an exercise program with an elliptical machine he installs in their basement and then loses eight pounds, she makes fun of him for that, too. She states her desire for him to take charge, and then she fully admits with practically the next sentence, that she would never allow him to take charge because he wouldn’t make decisions as well as she can, according to her. Jon can’t win for losing. It’s not surprising the Gosselins are getting a divorce. What’s surprising is that they lasted this long.

The things that make people fall in love with each other and stay in love with each other have less to do with tummy tucks and romantic getaways than they do with the way you make someone feel or the way you feel when you’re with that someone. If what you make someone feel like when you’re with him is small and insignificant and unnecessary, then he isn’t likely to want to stick around.

Maureen Dowd, the New York Times author who was later found to be guilty of plagiarism, published a book in 2005 that was titled, Are Men Necessary? In it, she bemoans the plight of the single well-educated career woman and states that men are not interested in smart women. And yet Maureen Dowd has attracted a ton of good looking, intelligent, powerful men who were interested enough to date her. So, what happened?

I think that, like Kate Gosslin, she made the mistake of thinking that men were only interested in women that were younger, thinner, stupider, with an ideal waist to hip ratio and a non threatening career. These are over generalizations. After all, a study came out as recently as last year that claimed that obese women actually have more sex with men than normal weight women. I think the real issue here is that maybe, just maybe, the woman who gets the man and keeps the man is the woman who makes him feel needed, makes him feel necessary.

June 29, 2009 at 2:35 am Leave a comment

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