Saturday, January 20, 2007

More Scarlet R

Today, I was reading Frank Luntz's new book Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear,in which Dr. Luntz offers insight into how to find and use the right words to get what you want out of life and includes a chapter on language in politics. I like to read the reviews and comments on the books I read and went to to see what reviewers like Publisher's Weekly said about the book. Here is what I found:

From Publishers Weekly: After repeating his mantra—"it's not what you say, it's what people hear"—so often in this book, you'd think that Republican pollster Luntz would have taken his own advice to heart. Yet in spite of an opening anecdote that superficially attempts a balanced tone, the book as a whole truly reads more like a manual for right-wing positioning.

"Okay," I thought, "one negative review dissing an author's politics does not make a good argument for believing that there is leftist bias in Publishers Weekly's reviews. I'll look further and see what else I can find." So I looked up Orson Scott Card's Empireto check out his review:

From Publishers Weekly: Right-wing rhetoric trumps the logic of story and character in this near-future political thriller about a red-state vs. blue-state American civil war, an implausibly plotted departure from Card's bestselling science fiction (Ender's Game, etc.). When the president and vice-president are killed by domestic terrorists (of unknown political identity), a radical leftist army calling itself the Progressive Restoration takes over New York City and declares itself the rightful government of the United States. Other blue states officially recognize the legitimacy of the group, thus starting a second civil war. Card's heroic red-state protagonists, Maj. Reuben "Rube" Malek and Capt. Bartholomew "Cole" Coleman, draw on their Special Ops training to take down the extremist leftists and restore peace to the nation. The action is overshadowed by the novel's polemical message, which Card tops off with an afterword decrying his own politically-motivated exclusion from various conventions and campuses, the "national media elite" and the divisive excesses of both the right and the left.

Hmmm...this seems to be a pattern--if the author leans at all right, his book is given a pretty negative review summarizing the book as "right wing." What happens to the Publishers Weekly's review when the author leans left? Miraculously, their book is suddenly engaging and intriguing! Here is a review of Eric Alterman's, What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News.:

From Publishers Weekly: While the idea that a liberal bias pervades the mainstream media has been around for years, it gained new currency with the 2001 publication of Bernard Goldberg's Bias and its 2002 successor, Ann Coulter's Slander. Alterman (Sound & Fury; Who Speaks for America?; etc.) now seeks to debunk the notion and goes so far as to argue that bastions of alleged liberalism like the Washington Post and ABC News "have grown increasingly cowed by false complaints of liberal bias and hence, progressively more sympathetic to the most outlandish conservative complaints." He largely succeeds: whatever your politics, Alterman delivers well-documented, well-argued research in compulsively readable form. His chapter on business journalism, for instance, is a thrill-ride through the excesses of late 1990s optimism and the subsequent crash in stock valuations and mood. But he also counters that while the economy was peaking, major media outlets virtually ignored traditional left-wing issues like labor rights, which had been neglected, and income inequality, which was growing. In contrast, he says, the media fawned over chief executives while almost totally failing to confront corporate fraudsters. Alterman also observes that the center of American politics has shifted to the right in the last several decades, which he attributes to efforts by conservative think tanks and their financial backers. Whether readers agree with Alterman or not, his writing on the business of opinion making is eye-opening. This book will be required reading for anyone in politics or journalism, or anyone curious about their complicated nexus.

Well, you get the idea--I won't bore you with more reviews--but I wonder, is the Scarlet R rearing it's ugly head in the book reviewing world? Surely not!

Oh, and a Disclaimer: This is not a scientific sample--the negative reviews for right leaning authors and positive ones for left leaning authors are based on my observations only and not on scientific fact. If there is anyone out there who wants to do such a study--go to it and email me the results. Or do the experiment yourself and see if you can find a Publisher's Weekly review that is glowing over a right leaning political book or very negative towards a left leaning book and drop a line in the comments.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Podcast with the Publisher of the Wall Street Journal

Today, we are talking with Gordon Crovitz, Executive Vice President of Dow Jones and the publisher of the The Wall Street Journal about old and new media. He shares his insights on the future of newspapers in the digital world, the role of blogs and new media in spreading and shaping the news and how the WSJ is at the forefront of this transition.

You can listen directly -- no downloading needed -- by going here and clicking on the gray Flash player. You can download the file directly by clicking right here, and you can get a lo-fi version suitable for dialup, cellphones, etc. by going here and selecting lo-fi. And, of course, you can always subscribe via iTunes. We like it when you do that. Check out past shows and look for new ones at

This podcast is sponsored by Volvo at

Leftist Psychology Today

Iron Shrink, a self-described "libertarian and capitalist" psychologist (like myself) discusses a recent Psychology Today article on the old tired thesis that conservatives are somehow flawed--and really, could there be any other conclusion in a psychology magazine? Iron Shrink states:

It’s a long one this week, kids, but worth the effort. You may have heard the news that conservatives are crazy. The February 2007 issue of Psychology Today offers a watered-down account of a 2003 study asserting that conservatives are dogmatic, closed-minded, and essentially less intelligent than liberals. That's the tame version.

As you might expect from a study that maligns millions of people, this one is overflowing with methodological problems, and that’s the topic this week. If you find these research methods to be acceptable because you agree with the conclusions, I beg you to reconsider. They may be “researching” you next.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Delusion of the "Perfect" Mother

I spent a good part of the day at the doctor's office dealing with a sick kid -- what parent isn't this time of year? While in the waiting room for three hours, I had plenty of time to read freelance writer Adrienne Martini's book, Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood. I met Ms. Martini once as she used to be the editor of Knoxville's alternative paper, The Metro Pulse, and did a review of my documentary, Six, before moving North to pursue other interests.

The book tells the story of Adrienne's decent into madness after the birth of her daughter and her subsequent hospitalization for postpartum depression. Apparently, the women in her family descend into madness after the birth of their children and the same happened to Adrienne. Unfortunately, like many mothers with postpartum depression, Adrienne buys into the delusion that out there, is some perfect mother image she is supposed to live up to--a one size fits all approach made up by the La Leche league mafia or some derivative thereof.

Adrienne and her husband dutifully hire a doula, a woman who is supposed to help the mother during the birthing process. Her doula is also a lactation consultant who will help her with breastfeeding. "All of my college-educated bohemian buddies--very few of whom, I must observe, actually had kids at that point--told me that breast is best and chicks who formula feed are wimps who don't care enough about their infant's health to put up with a little discomfort." During the childbirth, Adrienne feels that she cannot conquer pain like a "real woman" and "whimpers for an anesthesiologist" and feels like a coward, thinking that the doula and nurse see her as "weak and annoying." Who wouldn't feel that way, after listening to all of the bullshit this poor woman had put herself through prior to her delivery.

Later, when her baby has jaundice and is becoming badly dehydrated from a lack of fluids because of some trouble Adrienne is having breastfeeding, she does not want to take her doctor's advice to start formula and starts to "go on about how important I think breastfeeding is, about how much it improves IQ and overall health, about how it gives new moms a hormone lift and helps them lose the weight, about how I've been warned by my granola friends (none of whom have kids) that pediatricians are all in the pockets of the big formula companies and will push the stuff even though we all know breast is best."

It is no wonder after all the worry over being the "perfect mother" that Adrienne ends up in the mental ward of a local hospital in Knoxville believing herself to be a failure as a mother: "I'll drive myself to the emergency room, where I'll check myself into Tower 4, a local psych ward... I'll stay there for a better part of a week, bonding with my fellow loonies while someone else takes care of my brand new baby becasue I am a failure. New moms are supposed to be joy made flesh, yet motherhood and I met like a brick meets water, I am drowning here, not waving."

I have never understood the machismo that women put themselves, or worse, others, through to try to live up to some non-reachable standard regarding mothering and childbirth--but have you noticed all the while, these same women are the ones complaining bitterly about how some men are too macho. What's the difference?

And for women who tend to suffer from depression or mood disorders, the delusion of the perfect mother is more devastating, because the dichotomy between what they are able to do as a mother and what they perceive they should be doing is usually greater than for those women not suffering from these disorders. Therefore, their wish to be the perfect mom is more likely to come crashing down around them and result in an exacerbation of their postpartum depression.

As a psychologist, I have seen many more children in treatment because their mother was depressed and stressed out then I have seen kids who missed out on breastfeeding until college. Adrienne finally discovers this by the end of the book: Her daughter now "watches TV. She eats red dye and French fries and nonorganic produce, but generally not at the same time. The holier-than-thou mommy patrol, who believe in breastfeeding until college and growing their own organic flax, would be appalled. Which is fine, really, because they aren't much fun to hang out with in the first place. I can be perfect and completely insane or good enough and sane enough." Sometimes good enough is....enough.

Monday, January 15, 2007

More Hope for Heart Patients

Dr. Wes: Stem cells create beating heart tissue.