Sunday, October 25, 2009

Parental Warning

I seem to remember this little fucker on the cover of one of the Baby Einstein videos [above]. These things were about the only way I got through the first four years of my kids lives and I haven't a scintilla of guilt. So go fuck yourself.

Prepare to be shocked: it turns out that ll of those Baby Einstein videos parents [like me] bought earlier this decade do not make children into geniuses. Shit. You know what? I still don't feel guilty for the few moments of sanity these videos brought me in an otherwise insane 24-hour day with twin toddlers. Because, I hate to tell you, but that's why I bought the Baby Einstein videos, my friend. With my genes, there was very little shot that either my little boy or little girl were going to become geniuses. They lost out in the gene lottery on that one.

No, I bought them because the damned things worked! No matter whether it was an ear infection, colic, a run-of-the-mill temper tantrum or some other unknown cause for their screaming and crying, when I put on those Baby Einstein videos the kids fell silent as if I'd chloroformed them. They would stare intently at the screen. The music was classical, so that meant I could listen to it over and over without wanting to put my head through the screen. Since I also made sure to never put the kids too close to the television, here was a guilt-free way to buy a few moments of silence during some very, very, very rough days of toddlerdom.

So, that's why I bought the damned things. Apparently, though, a lot of parents really believed the videos were going to make their spawn smarter. Of course, the fact that they believed this in the first place sort of points to the fact that these kids lost out on the gene lottery long before the videos were purchased. Still, that didn't stop a team of ferocious lawyers from getting together to promise the parents that they would be avenged.

For those of you unaware of the Baby Einstein phenomenon, it was started by Julie Aigner-Clark in 1996. Aigner-Clark readily admits that she completely stumbled on the idea when she was looking for videos to entertain and educate her baby. Finding nothing age-appropriate on the market, she began creating them herself. Aigner-Clark and her husband, Bill, were hoping sales of their Baby Einstein video would cover its $15,000 cost. Uh, yes, that was covered. That first year, she made $100,000 on the video [while making about $20,000 as a teacher].

The original video shows a variety of toys and visuals interspersed with music, stories, numbers, and words of many languages. Eventually, the video was marketed across the United States. Other videos followed, some featuring the Clarks' two daughters, Aspen and Sierra.

Baby Einstein became a multi-million dollar franchise; its revenue grew from $1 million in 1998 to around $10 million in 2000. Aigner-Clark sold a 20% stake in the company to Artisan Entertainment in February 2000 and sold the rest to the Walt Disney Company for an undisclosed amount in November 2001. The franchise is named after and paid significant royalties to the estate of deceased physicist Albert Einstein, putting him at one time in the top 5 of most earning dead celebrities, according to Forbes.

As a subsidiary of Disney, the Baby Einstein production budgets were increased and the concept was expanded to teach more complex topics that would appeal to preschoolers, including Baby MacDonald, a video about agriculture. Titles currently available include Baby Bach Musical Adventure, Baby da Vinci From Head To Toe, Baby Monet Discovering The Seasons, and Baby Newton World of Shapes. A line of educational toys was also developed. In 2005, the franchise inspired a Disney Channel animated television series called Little Einsteins.

I never went in for all of that advanced shit. The simple Baby Einstein and Baby Bach were good enough for me [although I think I remember Baby Newton, too]. But some parents, apparently, really believed this shit would make their kids geniuses. So. on Friday, it must have come as a victory to those folks when the Walt Disney Company announced that it is now offering refunds for all those Baby Einstein-produced videos that did not make children into geniuses. Lawyers claim that this is an admission by Disney that the videos did not increase infant intellect.

Who hired these lawyers? Oh, well, organizations led by people with too much free time. One such person is Susan Linn and she heads up something called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood [I think that's how Hitler got started, by the way]. When told of Disney's decision, this yenta said, “We see it as an acknowledgment by the leading baby video company that baby videos are not educational, and we hope other baby media companies will follow suit by offering refunds.” Oh, and she was serious, by the way.

These videos — which were simple productions featuring music, puppets, bright colors, and not many words — did became a staple of our baby life. And yes, I did see at the time that the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] recommended no screen time at all for children under 2. Fuck the AAP. I'd love to see my kids' pediatrician at the time spend 30 seconds with screaming twins let alone 24-hours locked in a house with them during a blizzard.

Disney's decision to refund the money came about because, in 2006, Linn’s group went to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] to complain about the educational claims made by Disney and another company, Brainy Baby. That's right: don't worry about investigating all of the myriad of other crimes committed against consumer: get those baby video bastards!

As a result of the FTC banging down their door, Disney and Brainy Baby both agreed to drop the word “educational” from their marketing [their marketing sucked, by the way, because I don't ever remember the word 'educational' when I was buying them and I sure as hell wasn't buying them to teach my kids].

Naturally, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood didn't think this was enough. “Disney was never held accountable, and parents were never given any compensation. So we shared our information and research with a team of public health lawyers,” Linn said.

Ah, yes, the lawyers. Last year these blood-sucking vermin threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.” The letter cited estimates from the Washington Post and Business Week that Baby Einstein controlled 90% of the baby media market, and sold $200 million worth of products annually. The letter also described studies showing that television exposure at ages 1 through 3 is associated with attention problems at age 7.

I'm thinking that discovery probably only happens if you plop the little rascal in front of the tube and then take an eight-hour nap; and you repeat that for the first...say, 18 months of Junior's life. To buy yourself a 24-minute break from the insanity that is your life when you're raising twin toddlers....not so much. I'll take my chances on the ADD-thing.

Finally, unable to put up with this nonsense any longer, and unwilling to pay their own blood-sucking lawyers any more money to fight it, the Baby Einstein company will refund $15.99 for up to four Baby Einstein DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and September 5, 2009, and returned to the company.

First, this pisses me off because I'm sure I bought most of mine before June 5, 2004. More importantly, though, since I would never even think of trying to return them, how in the hell did they come up with that arbitrary date? I'm sure there's some legalistic reason. Either that or, maybe before June 5, 2004 the videos did make kids geniuses, in which case maybe mine have a fighting chance to be smarter than me after all.

The founder and president of Brainy Baby, Dennis Fedoruk, said in an email message to the New York Times that he was unaware of Baby Einstein’s refund announcement and could not offer further comment. I'm guessing what went unsaid in the email was something along the lines of, "I ain't givin' nothing back!"

Allowing parents to exchange their video for a different title, receive a discount coupon, or get $15.99 each for up to four returned DVDs, requires no receipt, and extends until next March 10th.

If Disney thinks this is going to satisfy the lawyers, however, take a listen to another yenta with too much time on her hands: “When attention got focused on this issue a few years ago, a lot of companies became more cautious about what they claimed,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president of something called the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But even if the word ‘education’ isn’t there, there’s a clear implication of educational benefits in a lot of the marketing.”

Uh-oh. Sounds like these Kaiser lunatics are still planning on suing. True, the Baby Einstein Web site does still describe its videos with phrases like “reinforces number recognition using simple patterns” or “introduces circles, ovals, triangles, squares and rectangles.” But who gives a shit? If you're dumb enough to believe that somehow a video is going to - presumably through osmosis or some other metamorphosis that you don't understand - transform your kid into a genius, then you deserve whatever you get.

Apparently, though, these people in these organizations challenging the videos really think they are fighting a public health issue. “My impression is that parents really believe these videos are good for their children, or at the very least, not really bad for them,” Kaiser's Rideout said. “To me, the most important thing is reminding parents that getting down on the floor to play with children is the most educational thing they can do.”

Thank God Rideout was there to remind us.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why Don't They Make a Pill For Clintonitis?

Nope, that's not Derek Jeter [top] speaking to reporters during the workout Friday at Yankee Stadium. That's allegedly 22-year old Brooke Hundley, whose affair with ESPN analyst and former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips [bottom] has kept me thoroughly entertained.

I doubt that you've heard of Steve Phillips. Or, if you have, it's because of where he put his dick earlier this summer. So, for those unfamiliar with this little prick: Phillips was the smug New York Mets' general manager in the late 1990s and into earlier this decade. He largely created the team that played the roll of Yankees' punching bag in the 2000 World Series. Not a bad GM. A really, really bad person, however. The married Phillips - liked by virtually none of his fellow GMs [and this is a fraternity that still accepts that little pissant Ed Wade into its social gatherings, mind you] - got his penis caught in someone's cookie jar while still the Mets' general manager in 1998. At that time, Phillips took a brief leave of absence with the Mets after admitting to having sex with a team employee, Rosa Rodriguez, who sued him for sexual harassment [and later settled with him out of court]. At the time, those of us who hate the Mets - about 150,000,000 people and counting in 2009 - were thrilled to see Phillips caught and the Mets humiliated. We were all devastated when they subsequently fired a few years later, figuring we'd never get to goof on him again.

Ah, but we were wrong. Next, he surfaced on our televisions - which, we found out, was more annoying than when he was with the Mets because now we had to listen to him. ESPN immediately hired him as one of its plethora of baseball "experts" and he's been there since 2004. Uh, well, until a few days ago, anyway. Phillips' analysis of baseball fits into the category of most ex-jocks and ex-GMs: it's fucking abysmal. Not to digress, but that's why MLB Network is largely unwatchable. It's all a bunch of former players talking over one another. It's the reason NFL Network always puts an adult in the room whenever more than one ex-jock is on the air.

Now, if the topic was a baseball general manager who fucked his employees, well then Phillips is your man and maybe then I'd understand why ESPN hired him. Still, Phillips would be nothing more than another reason to hit the "mute" button while watching baseball if not for the New York Post getting wind of yet another case of his wandering penis. This time, though, he picked the wrong employee to bang. She went all "Glenn Close" on him, started stalking his wife and family and forced him - yet again - into one of those, "Honey, I've got something I've got to tell you" conversations with his long-suffering wife, Marni. The police had to be brought in. I'm not sure how long Marni Phillips has known that her husband suffers from Clintonitis, but she recently filed for divorce. Whether the latest affair was the final straw or whether it is just another weapon for her already-hired divorce lawyer to use, we don't know.

What is Clintonitis? Well, it's not simply a guy who screws around on his wife. No. It's a man who screws around on his wife with a woman whose face is nearly indiscernible from her ass. It's an acute case of Clintonitis if the guy's wife is - conversely - really good looking. Even if the wife's visage is similar to her derriere, however, it's still Clintonitis if the woman he's fucking is ugly. If you're going to risk losing half of your money, all of your kids and all of your house, it damned-well better be for a hot-looking [and, yes, I'd have to say younger, too] woman. Clintonitis sufferers have no 'risk-reward' thinking ability. You can tell if someone is suffering from Clintonitis very easily: if the chick he's caught cheating with looks like Derek Jeter, then you have a patient suffering from this horrid disease.

I firmly believe that had Monica Lewinski not looked like Babe [the pig, not Ruth], he would never have been impeached. Indeed, I think what really drove Republicans nuts [pun intended] all those years was not the Clinton cheated on his wife throughout his time as governor and then as President. No, it was that he did so with women who were generally heinous. Granted, I wouldn't put Lewinski in the 'heinous' category, per se. Still, if you're going to risk your presidency and your long-crafted historical reputation to get a blow job in the Oval Office, it damned well should be from someone who looks like Kirstie Alley in 1987. Not the 2007 version.

Don't believe me? I've got two words for you: Elliott Spitzer. True, he resigned as governor of New York after being caught with a prostitute. But that's because he's an idiot. Had he had the ability to hold on for a few weeks of embarrassment, he'd have easily survived that scandal. Why? Because the whore he was banging was fucking hot, that's why. Guys across the country looked at her and said, "Oh, ok" when they asked themselves, "Why the hell did he do that?" It was easy, with one look at the woman, to figure out 'why he did that'. She's hot. All guys immediately understood and he's have survived the scandal with no problem. Elliot Spitzer did not suffer from Clintonitis. He was just horny. No harm, no foul. Case closed.

Steve Phillips, though. Well. I mean look at that picture at the top of this entry. That's who he was banging. He might be bisexual, because - to quote the great Austin Powers - "That's a man, baby!" Apparently, some of the other women that Phillips has been caught with over the years have been equally awful. One fellow-GM apparently used to joke that it was a good thing Pete Rose had been banned from baseball because otherwise Phillips might have accidentally tried to fuck him.

The details of Phillips' story is a wonderful one if you hate the Mets. Even though the man hasn't worked for the Mets in years, his past association still makes this a "Mets" story in the eyes of the New York media - and who doesn't like to watch that organization get dragged through the mud time and time again? Indeed, Phillips helped ease the pain of the Yankees' collapse in Game 5 on Thursday night. Thanks, Steve.

The Glenn Close role in this case went to an ESPN assistant, Brooke Hundley - who laughingly claims to be 22 years old. Apparently, Phillips fell into Hundley's nether regions this past July while she was working the ESPN broadcast of a baseball game in St. Louis in which Phillips was announcing. Phillips has told police that he ended the relationship after three days. Presumably it took him three days to turn the lights on.

After Phillips tried to end the relationship, Hundley went crazy. She tried 'friending' Phillips' 16-year old son on Facebook by telling him that she was a fellow student at his high school who had heard that his father had been having an affair with someone at work, and that the boy's parents were subsequently getting a divorce. She sent emails and text messages to Marni Phillips - the wife - that literally took a page from the Fatal Attraction script [a film which, ironically, came out the year Brooke Hundley was born if we're to believe she's 22-years old] with, "Marni, we can't both have him!"

The final straw was when Hundley appeared at Phillips' home, left a note in the mailbox that outlined details of the affair, including the 'gee-I-didn't-need-to-know-that' line that Phillips, "has a big birthmark on his crotch . . . and one on his left inner thigh, so you know I'm not being fake." Why do guys with strange - or at least easily described - genitalia always end up doing bad things with their peni [is that the plural of penis?]?

If - like me - you can't get enough of a story that makes the Mets look ridiculous [even tangentially], I give you the following links to keep you in stitches all day. Enjoy.

Restraining Order Brooke Hundley filed against Steve Phillips

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's Promoting Racial Harmony, Stupid

President Obama [above, Friday morning], presumably laughing his ass off at the latest case of agita he's created across the Right with his maddening ability to succeed.

You know, I tried not to write about President Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Everybody's written about it, blogged it, Tweeted the shit out of it. But I have no choice. Here's a newsflash for all of the assholes out there who are angry and incredulous that "that man in the White House" [as Republicans used to refer to FDR] won the award: admit you just don't like him. C'mon, admit it. If you're one of those lunatics screaming that Obama "did nothing" to earn the award then I would say to you he's also "done nothing" to warrant you spitting poison about the man like he had just upstaged Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards.

If you're going to point the finger at the Nobel committee and say that they "fell under Obama's spell", then you have to point that same bony little finger back at yourself because by the intensity and temperature of your anger you, too, must have "fallen under his spell": why else would you be getting so worked up about the leader of your nation winning an award that has absolutely zero impact on your daily lives but yet provides a psychological boost for the country as a whole?

And another thing: I was as surprised as anyone - not to mention the President himself - when I woke up yesterday morning, fired up the computer and saw that Obama was a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Surprised. Not angry. Not incredulous. Not full of venom. Surprised. I was probably even a little bewildered. But angry? Why the hell would I be angry that my President won the Nobel Peace Prize? It's not like the Jonas Brothers won the damned thing.

Oh, and one more thing: I've been thinking about it and I think we all may have overlooked one very important thing that may explain why Obama won the award. It's going to drive racists out there nuts, but here goes: he's black. Think about what Obama did in 2008: he managed to run as an African American candidate for President only ten years after James Byrd was dragged through a Texas road by the back of a truck, lynched because he was black. Only15 years after the O.J. Simpson verdict polarized an entire country based solely on race. Only 16 years after the L.A. race riots. Obama didn't win because African Americans voted for him. He won because whites voted for him. In droves. In a country where less than 40 years ago it is debatable whether the man would've been able to buy a house in their neighborhood, send his children to their schools, get a seat at a diner, or find a room in their hotels. You may remember that one of the reasons the Nobel Committee cited Nelson Mandela when they gave him the award in 1993 was because of his ability to unite white and black South Africa politically [although, to be factually correct, the actual election of Mandela didn't take place until the following year].

In America, perhaps we're too close to it to realize just what an amazing accomplishment that was - both for Obama and ourselves. Or what a colossal step toward racial harmony [i.e. peace] it might mean for the country as a whole. If you look at Obama's winning the Nobel through that prism, suddenly it doesn't seem so crazy that he won. With the possible exception of Martin Luther King [1964], the award has generally not been given for peacemaking efforts within the United States. We tend to think of the award as rewarding those who worked for peace in those parts of the world we consider to be violent, or 'Third-world'. The fact that - for many African Americans, even today - parts of America are not unlike the "Third World" often escapes the attention of those of us driving cars with satellite radios.

Yes, Obama has worked to try to reincorporate the United States into the good graces of our allies. And he's worked to try to bring India and Pakistan closer together. He's worked to try to do what no human being has yet been able to: make the Arabs and Jews stop hating each other long enough to lay down their arms. He's worked for a reduction in nuclear weapons. He's done all of that. If you're looking at all of that and thinking that's why he won the Nobel Prize, though, you're missing the point that I think the Committee was making. Based on just that alone, Obama doesn't win the Peace Prize. It's that in conjunction with his ability to rally a nation riven with racial strife for it's entire history to a point where an African American who - 45 years ago couldn't get a decent hotel room in Washington D.C. - now sleeps in the White House as something other than the Chief Porter.

That's change. That's promoting peace. The odds were astronomical when he launched his campaign. Obama did more to promote racial harmony [again, read "peace"] than anyone else in America in 2008. And that's why he's a Nobel Prize winner.

Deal with it.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Review: Franklin & Lucy

Joseph Persico's Franklin and Lucy is simply a fabulous book. I can't put it more simply than that. As someone who thought he had read everything there was to read about Franklin Roosevelt, I can say that I went into the book with very low expectations. When I realized that I had read the first 100 pages at nearly one sitting, however, I realized I was - as Herman's Hermits once put it - into something good.

I won't go into the history between FDR and Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. Think John Edwards and his tramp minus the kid and the sleaze–factor. Like most other FDR-philes, I knew the story well – or thought I did. The conventional wisdom was that FDR had the affair with Lucy during World War I; once it was discovered by Eleanor, FDR was told by his mother, Sara, that if he left Eleanor she would disown him; FDR ended the relationship and never saw Lucy again until after World War II began.

Until recently, that was the standard scholarship on the FDR-Lucy relationship. Then a descendant of Rutherfurd stumbled upon a treasure trove of long-thought-destroyed letters between FDR and Lucy that spelled out that FDR and Lucy actually reconnected in the 1920s. Indeed, there is even some suggestion that he never actually ended the relationship at all. By the time he became President, they remained close enough that he sent a personal driver to take her to his first inauguration. She would be standing there, not terribly far from Eleanor, for that first - and subsequent second, third and fourth - inauguration.

In the short time between FDR's death and her own [of leukemia in 1948], Lucy told those few who knew of her relationship with FDR that she had burned all of their correspondence. Why she kept these newly discovered letters is unknown, as is how they remained unknown until nearly 60 years after her death.

The letters - and follow-up interviews by Persico of the descendants of the key players in their relationship - is truly an amazing tale. Twenty years before White House staffers would be trained to time President Kennedy’s trysts to make sure that Jackie had “left the building” before ushering in some nubile talent, people in the FDR White House knew Rutherfurd as Mrs. Paul Johnson. Her calls were to be immediately put through to FDR, her visits were to be carefully choreographed to occur either when Eleanor was completely out of town or – as time went on and FDR became less careful – at least when she was out of the White House.

Most of this was done in the open. FDR would often be put into a car and driven to Rutherfurd’s home. While FDR remained in the idling car in the street, the driver and a team of Secret Service agents would collect Rutherfurd, put her in the car, and drive the two of them up and down the streets of Washington.

Persico also looks at FDR’s relationships with Missy LeHand, Princess Martha of Norway, Daisy Suckley and Dorothy Schiff. The question of whether FDR could physically consummate sexual relations after being struck with polio is one that will never be known with 100% certainty. It does seem likely, however, that FDR was in fact sexually active with other women after being struck with polio [and equally likely that he and Eleanor never had physical relations after the 1918 discovery of his affair]. Based on some of the newly discovered Rutherfurd letters and interviews with descendants of the various women it does seem that FDR was not rendered impotent by the disease.

Persico’s book is a compelling story. It is not the book to read if you are looking for any kind of in-depth analysis of FDR’s presidency. His subtitle – President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd and the other Remarkable Women in his Life – says it all. The book is about FDR and his relationship with women - Lucy being the primary focus of the story. Persico certainly places the stories and events in the proper historical context – for example, one conversation with Lucy occurs with FDR railing against the hornets’ nest his “Supreme Court packing” plan has caused. But this is a story about an extraordinary man without delving too deeply into the events and his subsequent actions that demonstrated that greatness.

These newly discovered letters and subsequent interviews also answer the question: 'Did FDR know how sick he was?' Indeed, he did. While many tried to keep FDR shielded from the diagnosis - based on a 1944 physical exam - that FDR was suffering from a worsening heart condition that made it unlikely he would live to the end of a fourth term. Indeed, FDR not only knew it but - according to Lucy - seemed to realize that his condition was almost certainly terminal. During their last week together at Warm Springs before his death, according to Lucy, FDR told her that he planned to open the United Nations in San Francisco, finish off Germany and Japan, and then resign, hopefully by mid-1946. If true, this makes his decision to keep Vice President Harry Truman out of the loop on the Manhattan Project even more inexcusable [although Lucy also believed that the reason FDR replaced his third-term Vice President Henry Wallace - whom FDR regarded as insane - was so that he could essentially choose his successor].

FDR - like most great people - was a complicated individual. Persico's book shines a light on one of the most complicated - but long-standing - relationships of his life. While the man was complicated, this book is not. Do yourself a favor and read it.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.