Marketing 101

Dear Mr. Axelrod,
When you have an important message on a key policy issue from the leader of your political party, the email should not be titled “Got a few minutes?”

Aside from being grammatically incorrect (it should be “Have a few minutes?”) you almost guarantee having your email deleted before it’s been read. The answer to “got a few minutes” is always “no.” The answer to “To Whom It May Concern” is a universal, “not me; check for someone else while you’re in the trash can.”

If you’re sending out a short, compelling video about health care reform, maybe use the subject lines:
Four Minutes to Health Care Reform
Health Care Reform in Just Four Minutes
Health Care Reform in a Few Minutes
A Few Minutes to Health Care Reform.

This is just Advertising 101, people. Your only chance to be read is the headline. You have one second. “Got a minute?” doesn’t cut it. (Have vs. Got is Grammar 1A.)

(You can see the video on the White House site, but I’m not linking because I don’t reward poor grammar.)

Hussein is not an epithet

True story:

I had a student one semester, in his second year at the college. He was a great guy who worked hard in my class. He mentioned to me once that another professor had made fun of him for his name, asked him if anyone in his family was a terrorist, and told him that maybe he should change his name so he could get along better in the U.S. This student, the professor never bothered to find out, was third generation American. He was raised in the States, as were his parents.

His middle name happened to be Hussein. And until about the mid-nineties, he was pretty proud of it. Now he hid his name because of reactions like this other teacher’s. I told him, without a beat, that hundreds of thousands of people with his name throughout the world and throughout history had been fine, decent, honorable people. That one really famous a–hole and his family couldn’t erase all the other history of the name. That there are probably thousands of kind, loving, thoughtful people named McVay and Nichols and Bundy and Manson. That it’s not fair to judge people by their name any more than it’s okay to judge them by their skin or sexuality or political affiliation.

Then I told him to report the professor who acted so unprofessionally.

His look told me I had no idea what it was like to be judged by a racist, narrow minded society. Reporting it might not have hurt his opportunities at the college, but then again it might have. And it clearly had before.

End of true story. Beginning of rant:

Barack Hussein Obama is President of these United States. He’s not a terrorist, he’s not a fundamentalist, he is not a bad person. He’s fine and decent person who might just help us come together to make this country what we believe it can be. And he is not the only fine and decent person with this name. Those of you who say that we should focus on the name Hussein instead of on his actions, shame on you. You’re giving your own family a bad name.

Go vote

Not sure where to vote?

Not sure what ID you need?

In a swing state and not convinced you want either candidate? Please, please, please consider following your gut rather than your party affiliation. Test what really matters to you at and

And if you live in a swing state and happen to be Peanut’s grandparent, I can tell you that, without discussing politics with him at all, he has a very clear preference for one of the candidates by appearance (from newspapers, magazines, and campaign posters) and for the same candidate by voice (listened to the podcast of the debates). He doesn’t even know their names, but he really wants one to be the boss and make the rules (he keeps telling me that B.M.D. voted for him as the boss of me. I reject this form of toddler democracy.)

Please, swing state grandparents, vote for the person Peanut wants because Peanut will be here longer than all of us and has to pay for our choices. And his parents’ votes don’t count because we’re in California. And we might all have to move to Canada if one of the candidates wins, and Peanut’s winter clothes are all in a POD somewhere while we try to find a place to live. So vote for his guy because otherwise he’ll freeze wearing just sandals and shorts in Quebec this winter.

And I’m not here to threaten Peanut’s love or anything, because that would be wrong, but we might not come visit certain states this winter if certain states screw up another election. Tell your neighbors. Their grandkids might not visit, either. Maybe.

What about the issues?

So the blogoshere and FoxNewsForRepublicans are abuzz with silliness about Sarah Palin’s Newsweek cover. Some are upset that she wasn’t airbrushed to within an inch of recognizability. Um…two things. First, airbrushing the humanity out of women’s faces is part of the problem with the way we, in this country, judge a woman first by her exterior and almost never by her ideas. Second, other persons of political importance have had exactly the same angle and zoom, and have looked just as flawless as she does, and nobody made a stink. How sexist that FoxNews thinks this cover is nasty, just because she’s a woman and presumably valuable for her looks. The cover pictures her face, and we’re not obligated to beautify it–every human face is beautiful the way it is. Sarah Palin’s face on this cover lovely and it’s not the point, because her politics are the point. Get over the fact that we should white glove her but manhandle the three other major political figures of the American presidential race. She gets the same treatment–respectful, full frontal magnifying glass. Airbrushing is reprehensible enough for fashion models and celebrities. She’s not in this game for her face. She’s in this game for her mind. Can we finally have a picture of that, please?

(Wouldn’t that be awesome? Have medical science design a way to measure a person’s intelligence, fairness, logic, goodness, and fundamental worthiness? Then election and marriage and hiring and friendship decisions would be much easier.)

Here’s a blog about the zoom-y cover nonsense. The first response, about a plastic surgeon judging her face is positively offensive. When are we allowed to look like ourselves? Baby photos are Photoshopped for magazines, toddlers are tarted up in full makeup for Little Miss Pedophile contests, teens are mocked for their appearance, and the rest of the country carves themselves to get self esteem.

On a similar note, I was searching the phrase “Sarah Palin is a hater” because after seeing a few clips of her speeches I marvel at how toxic and acerbic her tone is. “Who is the real Barack Obama?” Ah, excuse, me, Madam Governor, but isn’t that the pot calling the kettle an outsider? If his daughter or Joe Biden’s daughter was pregnant we’d be having a different election. If his religion or Joe Biden’s religion was as extreme, we’d be having a different election. If he or Joe Biden had been found by a bipartisan committee to have abused power, we would have a different election. Barack Obama has given hundreds, nay thousands, of interviews. And he has several flaws. But we know about them. Who is the real Barack Obama? Who is the real Sarah Pain? She can’t even name what media she relies upon for her information, let alone give a clear answer (I’m not going to answer that , and will instead answer the question I prepared…I read everything put in front of me…I’ll get back to you on that…it doesn’t matter what I believe about global warming, we just need to fix it). Obama’s Christian pastor said some really eye opening things, and Obama left his Christian church. (Had to repeat that qualifer because there are still people who think he’s Muslim. Not that I would care. Religion or not, I care how people think, not which brand of god they buy.) Palin’s pastor has said some really eye opening things and nobody calls her on it. Seriously, people. When is the superficial lovefest about this woman going to end, and when do we get to hear what she really believes? After the election? She doesn’t believe in global warming or evolution or birth control or government oversight, (until just recently, when it became clear that unbridled capitalism really kind of sucks for the innocent). She believes The Lord is at work in things like gas pipelines and wars (take a look at this article). She believes that rape and incest victims should be forced to have the children conceived in those violent acts, and she believes her daughter is the only one who should get to choose what to do with her own body.

Anyway, I found this blog, which led me to this New Yorker article. Funny, I guess, if it weren’t so scary.

Makes me want to go back to teaching critical thinking, because a good percentage of this country needs some of that skill.

(Speaking of, I heard a fantastic program on NPR yesterday that included a lengthy discussion of Harlem’s efforts to lift children out of the cycle of poverty. An interesting bit, early on in This American Life‘s piece, noted that job training and welfare programs are failing because some Americans aren’t missing one skill, something teachable that, once fixed, will enable them to work. They’re missing dozens of skils, including motivation, financial knowledge, and basic critical thinking. If we give kids positive, enriching environments that teach them to think broadly about problems, we create a future of universal success. Critical thinking might also help us end the cycle of getting the government we deserve, because we might, collectively, vote in our best interests, not in our narrowest interests.)

Palin and Obama and teen pregnancy

I think the most relevant piece of Sarah Palin‘s press release about her daughter’s pregnancy is this:

“Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family.” Finally, a birth announcement that includes the recognition that this job is damned hard.

Bristol Palin is very lucky to have her family’s support in an unfortunate situation. One benefit, clearly, to having women in policy-making positions, is that they know how hard it is to be a parent. (As usual, I refer you to the very well researched and cited The Mask of Motherhood.)

Barack Obama responded graciously to the pregnancy announcement (the whole affair gives a cadre of nasty bloggers a bad name because they hounded a family into revealing something that’s none of our business). (Note that most media are blaming the ugliness on “liberals,” as though most liberals are amoral jerks who seek only to torment Republicans. Most liberals are downright decent folk. Let’s stop the name-calling. It’s always evidence that you don’t have a good argument if all you can do is call names.) Obama’s response included this empathetic observation:

“You know, my mother had me when she was 18. And how families deal with issues and teenage children — that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics.”

Hopefully, instead of judging the families involved, we can talk about teaching children more than just abstinence, which is 100% effective as a method and abyssmally ineffective as an educational policy. Teen pregnancy is on the rise since Republicans have silenced science in our classrooms. And now, with Bush trying to classify birth control as abortion, we have a whole generation of girls and boys who will wind up young parents and young STD statistics because they don’t know they have options for keeping themselves safe and healthy.

In addition to opening a dialogue about the failures of abstinence only as a policy, this announcement should shift the discussion away from Palin’s family and toward this country’s need to improve quality of life for mothers and infants. We should be talking about exactly that which Sarah Palin will offer her daughter and grandchild: support. Since this country ranks near the bottom of industrialized countries for support for young mothers, working mothers, mothers in school, and breastfeeding mothers, we should all talk more about what we can do to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to support those who decide to have babies.

*  “Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to receive poor health care and live in poverty,” notes a article.

Luckily for Bristol Palin, her baby will probably get good health care and not live in poverty. Let’s make sure that’s true of every child in the United States, and eventually the world, starting now.