Thursday, July 23, 2009
Luckily, Mr. M and I managed to fit in the car this morning. It is literally filled to the gills. Just who, I'd like to know, said women over-pack?
Because it's so not true. My husband packed up the car with all of his stuff, leaving us virtually no room. And then he called me no less than four times last night asking for more stuff (don't forget my knapsack, and my camera case and my . . . ). And he's FLYING, meeting us there, and bringing more bags yet!
So this week I tied up loose ends and tried to stave off pre-trip anxiety, by trying to find our wills, paying in advance all the bills. I even lined up a lovely pet/house sitter. And notwithstanding the pack-rat-husband-car-packed situation, we would have been all set if . . . if . . . err, the pool man hadn't fired us on the eve of our trip.
I kid you not. We were terminated. With no warning. From out of the clear blue. Leaving us with a not-so-blue pool. In this economy.
It wasn't a show-down or anything like that. No, on the day he was supposed to clean the pool, the pool man quietly dropped the key to the gate into our mail box instead. The little blue card he usually leaves behind, showing what he did, is blank. Since you probably can't make it out, under work done, it says "returning key 4 gate." And he's drawn his customary smiley face at the end. Gee, thanks, pool man. And we were so nice to you! Maybe it was our charming, ancient sand filter?
Despite these set-backs, still we plodded on, preparing for the long journey. Here are a few of the books and CDs I packed for the big road trip. We will be book-reading and book-listening fools if I have anything to say about it. Of course, with no internet access, we'll have little choice. This Hampton Inn, where I'm writing from tonight, may be my last connection with mankind for days.
No doubt, I will suffer deep withdrawal from sites like Drudgereport, Althouse, MISH's Global Economic Trends, the New York Times, my google reader . . . well, you get the horrific picture.
But blogging withdrawal will probably be the hardest to endure. I won't be able to post much, much less read and leave comments on other blogs.
If I get really inspired, I suppose I can tap out something soul-searching on my blackberry, without any pictures, as I've done in the past. But I imagine my inspiration will just be to grab some quiet, low-tech solitude.
Maybe when I get back I'll turn to the commercial mortgage default tsunami that's right around the corner. Or rising treasury yields -- because they will rise at some point. Surely the controversy surrounding the dapper Professor Gates' arrest will long have blown over by then. Hopefully, anyway.
In the meantime, I'll try to post a few photographs here and there, send a few proofs of life. At the moment, the exuberant Mr. M is full of it -- as you can see here -- jumping up and down on the hotel bed.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I've already written about my contentious encounter with a pediatric dentist. He wanted to put dental sealants on Mr. M's molars because his molars were "crevicey." Being a mom who is admittedly, and perhaps unreasonably, paranoid about BPA, I asked whether his sealant contained BPA. He then flew into a semi-controlled condescending rage.
After that adventure, I found a cobbled-together, poorly designed website where I could post a review about this grouchy fellow. Until today, I didn't know there were better, more organized sites, like RateMds.com, where patients can post online reviews about their doctors.
But the Washington Post reports that many doctors are up in arms about these doctor-rating sites. So upset, in fact, that some doctors are requiring their patients to sign "no criticism" agreements as a condition of treatment.
Indeed a cottage industry has apparently sprung up to help these concerned doctors. One business, Medical Justice, boasts over 2000 members. The company will prepare "don't 'diss me" contracts for the doctors to present to their patients.
The contracts are called "Mutual Agreements." Medical Justice will then monitor the "ratings" websites for negative comments about the doctor. If a patient has signed a "no complaint" contract but nonetheless posts a bad review, Medical Justice will ask the rating site to remove the comment.
Dr. Nancy Falk, quoted in the Washington Post article, says patients just aren't competent to evaluate their doctors. "The people least capable of judging quality of care are patients," she said. "They don't know what we know."
It is apparently Dr. Falk's view that since patients cannot judge "quality of care," these ratings sites are just the blind lead the blind. Although she appears more than eager to judge her patients. "I'd love to have a Web site where I could complain about patients," she tells the Washington Post. "All doctors would."
Alrighty then, Dr. Falk. But even the blind know when someone is rude, dismisses their questions, won't return phone calls, communicates important test results through the mail instead of by phone, and keeps them waiting interminably in the reception area.
On competence and skill, Falk has a point. But it's a small one. Because my fairly lengthy but unscientific sampling of comments at RateMds.com showed that first and foremost, what patients either exalted or bemoaned was the doctor's bedside manner, not his stitch-sewing skills.
Still, some of the comments are pretty ruthless. Here's an example:
She conducts herself in a very arrogant manner towards her patients. Details are too personal too share online. I have never written an online review but she definitly [sic] deserves one. I don't think she has been trained well enough to counsel patients when any medical issue arises. She does not make or receive phone calls. Totally obnoxious!!!! She is getting a very bad reputation around the city, even among other physicians. DO NOT pay for her services.Because of patient-privacy and internet "defamation" laws, doctors say their hands are tied, that they are powerless to respond.
And for some doctors, it seems these "no-tattle" contracts don't go far enough. They are taking a more aggressive stance. According to RateMds.com, some doctors are asking their patients to "rate" them online, right then and there in the doctor's office, before the patient goes home. This causes problems at RateMds.com because the site, understandably, doesn't accept multiple ratings from one single computer. I can only imagine what other problems a rate-me-right-now policy might cause.
While I sympathize with good doctors who suffer when anonymous false reviews about them are posted online, I also sympathize with people who are treated rudely by doctors whom they are paying to treat them.
Indeed, many malpractice claims might be avoided altogether, were the doctor just a little nicer, had a better bedside manner. Or apologized when he made a mistake. A little kindness and a little humility go a long way.
So perhaps patient-reviews of doctors -- which seem to focus almost exclusively on bedside manner -- may end up helping doctors after all.
What do you think?
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I know I said I wouldn't write about orgasms any more but then I came across this on the ABC website. And this on the AP.
Seems Britain's National Health Service has come up with a leaflet called "Pleasures." It encourages teenagers to masturbate or have sex once a day. In this way, teenagers will avoid unwanted pregnancies, so goes the argument.
Specifically, reports the Times Online, the government tells teens they have a "right to an enjoyable sex life and that regular intercourse can be good for their cardiovascular health."
Educators are exhorted to "tell teens about the positive physical and emotional effects of sex and masturbation, which is described as an easy way for people to explore their bodies and feel good."
The authors of the leaflet lament that, "For too long, experts have concentrated on the need for 'safe sex' and loving relationships while ignoring the main reason that many people have sex, that is, for enjoyment."
"Under the heading 'an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away', the leaflet declares: 'Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg[gies] a day and 30 minutes physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?'" according to the Daily Mail.
In a strange twist of irony, the existence of this Pleasure pamphlet came to light when a study showed that teenagers participating in a governmental program designed to stop teen pregnancy were more than twice as likely to become unwed mothers.
This novel approach to teen sex may be coming soon to a city near you.
Already there is a sex hotline for teenagers in North Carolina. The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina ("APPCNC") developed something called the "Birds and the Bees Textline."
The Birds and the Bees will answer any anonymous sex question texted to them by a teen for free. Shelly Swanson, the program manager, says, "The phone has not stopped buzzing."
And, reports ABC, "organizations in several states -- and even one in Germany -- have reached out to Swanson to inquire about expanding the service or developing their own similar programs."
So what questions and answers have been posed by North Carolina teens thus far? Well, here's one example: "Is sex good?"
The fortune-cookie answer? "Like anything else in life it can be good or bad. It all depends on your mood, who you're with and whether you're mature enough to deal with the consequences."
Oh, the relief I feel that this most vexing part of parenting doesn't fall on my shoulders. I don't know who these texting grown-ups are, but by golly I trust them to impart my values, in 160 characters or less. How about you?
Monday, July 13, 2009
When I hit "publish" on my Dr. Phil TMI post, I was more than a little nervous. When it got "stumbled," I almost threw up. I worried I might be fending off lawsuits from the big man left and right, even though I only spoke the truth.
So where to begin? Especially since it's been at least a hundred years since I graduated law school and, being a criminal defense lawyer, my best advice (in Texas) is not to give a breath sample. Hmm.
Well, an abbreviated primer on the "first amendment right to free speech" might be helpful. To begin with, it's almost a misnomer because you do not have an absolute right to free speech.
You can't scream 'FIRE! FIRE!' in a crowded movie theater when there is none, for example, much as you might like to. My disruptive urge usually strikes in church. I often imagine what would happen if I stood up in my chair and screamed, "He's lying! He's lying!" in the middle of a sermon. But I digress.
What else can you not say? Well, you can't call for the violent overthrow of the government. It's considered sedition and the feds will come and get you.
Or other words that incite lawlessness. Like, "let's kill all the abortion doctors. Here are their names and addresses. Call me if you run out of bullets."
So what can you say? Well, different types of speech are more closely regulated than others, and for the most part, this hierarchy makes intuitive sense. Commercial speech, for example, gets and deserves much more scrutiny than most other forms of speech. This advertisement on the right for Chase & Sanborn coffee certainly crosses my line, though it probably passes constitutional muster, unless it makes a false claim.
What children can say in school is a hot topic. Remember "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," waved by a student from the stands of his school's football stadium? Ultimately it was held that this is not constitutionally protected speech and the student lost his court battle.
On a more benign note, what if a blogger like me happens to love Avon's Skin-So-Soft and believes, from my anecdotal experience, that it prevents mosquito bites? Suppose I jump onto my blog to rave about this lotion and it's mosquito-repelling properties. What then?
Well, it all depends. If Avon supplied me a free sample of its lotion and asked for an unbiased review, we wade into murky waters. If Avon paid me to review its lotion, we are in murkier waters still, especially if I do not disclose to my readers that I have a financial relationship with the manufacturer.
And what if I'm flat-out wrong? What if Skin-So-Soft offers no mosquito protection? Well, then I might really run into some trouble. The FTC (Federal Trade Communications) is considering new rules that would make not only advertisers but bloggers liable for "false claims" about a product made on blogs. Even if the blogger's "false claim" is unintentional.
It remains unclear whether getting the product for free would establish a financial relationship between the manufacturer and the blogger and therefore trigger liability under the proposed new FTC rules. So they are worth keeping an eye on.
Your best bet, when reviewing products, is to use that ubiquitous word we are all growing to loathe: transparency. Conspicuously advise your readers that you were given the product for free, or that you are being paid to review it, and by whom. Period. No exceptions.
But what if your review is negative and you bought the product yourself? Could you still get sued? Apparently so. A professor reviewed a book and slammed it, saying things like "the only good thing about this book is its binding." The author sued the professor. A frivolous suit, in my opinion, but who ultimately wins is really beside the point. It's a battle you don't want to fight.
As you can see, there is no safe harbor for avoiding a lawsuit.
Moving on along, suppose you hate your kid's school. The administration has terrorized your child and you suspect certain school officials are making false reports about the number of "special-ed" students they are "treating," in order to defraud medicaid.
This is a much stickier wicket because you are moving into the area of libel.
A mom blogger in Texas was sued by the Galveston Independent School District for posting things the district considered defamatory. And if her assertions -- things like the district employees lied, used their positions for personal gain -- are false, they certainly would be defamatory.
Moral of the story? If you put negative information about your kid's school on your blog, be prepared for a lawsuit. Even if everything you write is true. Because although truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim, it won't stop you from getting sued.
Suppose you want to blog about your evil employer. You think you've got an "anonymous" blog (which I'd call an oxymoron, were anyone to ask). So off you go, on your anonymous blog, criticizing your employer (and providing enough facts to enable someone to identify the employer). You claim they promote tortoises over hares and engage in otherwise discriminatory activities. Blog at your peril, baby. And I'm not talking just about your job.
Because can they sue you? Yes. Would they lose if you can prove you told the truth? Yes, again. But would you spend thousands of dollars defending your blog post, lose your home, and end up living in your parents' basement? Most likely.
The point is, oftentimes a "win" is only a win in principle. The media will love you for about . . . two hours. They won't be around later to pay your mortgage or your grocery bill. So, as we learned in kindergarten: stop, think, look, and listen.
My mother has asked me legal questions for years. Yet she still asks me, every time I see her, "can I sue them for that?" and "can they sue me for that?" And every time, my answer is the same.
"Mom, anyone can sue anyone for anything at any time. Is there a clerk down there at the courthouse reviewing petitions, throwing out the ones that are ridiculous? NO. NO. NO."
And can you really afford to go manno e' manno with these guys and hire a big gun to prove you told the truth? You've got, what . . . a homeowner's insurance policy that may or may not tender a defense for you? While the school probably carries error and omissions coverage that will pay for a lawyer to beat you about the head for the rest of your life.
Then we have the bloggy gossip situation. Is it a crime to be mean online? While researching this topic, I came across the Lori Drew case -- about the mom who allegedly assisted in creating a fictional "lover boy" account on Facebook to taunt another girl. It's not completely on point, but it's instructive.
After state officials determined there was no state crime with which to charge her, the U.S. government used a federal anti-hacking statute to prosecute Drew -- because there is no federal cyber-bullying statute, either.
And what if the questionable comment is left on your own blog? Could the subject of the negative comment sue you for allowing a comment that might violate your blog policy to remain on your site? I don't know. But I'm researching the Drew case and will report back soon.
In the meantime, make sure your facts are correct and if you are expressing an opinion, explicitly state it as such. If you want to write about a bad hamburger, say "in my opinion, McDonald's hamburgers are horrible." Do not state it as fact.
Because in my opinion, opinions are rarely actionable. Erroneous facts, on the other hand, are. Perhaps the best advice, though hardly lawyerly, is this: Never, ever publish a post when you are angry. And if your post makes you feel queasy or hesitant, stop. Pay attention to your gut. Edit it and publish it when that queasy feeling is gone. Or ask a trusted friend to read it first before you send it out into the world forever.
Blogging can be a tricky business. Alrighty then. Time for a break from the seriousness, time out for a Mojito. Just don't blog about your church pastor, after you've had one.
UPDATE: 6/13/09 at 11:07pm from the New York Times (re blogger product reviews) can be found here.
Friday, July 10, 2009
As for Obama? Well, . . . I'm just sayin' . . .
Which means that's all I'm sayin' . . . which means . . . umm, I'm not sayin' nothing.
UPDATE on 7/13/09: the girl's parents apparently believed this was ogling, by both men, and inappropriate at that.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Sure, Katie Couric is still limping around the CBS Evening News, albeit she's a bit bedraggled now, with her diminishing ratings. And Diane Sawyer, a Candace Bergen look-alike, is still going strong.
But the fact is, unlike Peter Jennings or Dan Rather, women in journalism -- heck, women in general -- don't get better with age. Wrinkles and gray hair simply don't suit us. At least that's the perception.
The Wall Street Journal's law blog reported today on an employment discrimination complaint originating out of Connecticut. Seems Shelly Sindland, a forty-year old television reporter, claims she is being discriminated against on the basis of her gender, age, marital status, and participation in an internal review of her employer's work environment.
One of the bombshells? A twenty-three year-old bombshell, Sarah French, was tapped to replace one of Ms. Sindland's co-workers -- a thirty-four year-old woman who had more experience -- as anchor for the weekday news.
Moreover, claims Ms. Sindland, men in management passed Ms. French's bikini photos (snapped during her stint as a beauty pageant contestant) around the office.
Err, ahem. Ms. French, pictured here on the right, would be hard for anyone to compete against, if appearance were the sole criterion.
Ms. Sindland's lawyer explained her grievances this way:
As her complaint affidavit alleges, Fox 61 actively encourages younger women to 'be sexy,' and favors younger women and men of all ages over older, more experienced female on-air news professionals. It is always a difficult decision for someone who is still employed to file a complaint against their employer, particularly in this industry. The issues in the complaint have been raised by Shelly and others internally without any corrective action, however, and as a result, Shelly felt it was appropriate at this point to file a formal complaint with the Commission.Ms. Sindland wrote on her own blog,
A most egregious allegation, it seems to me, is that these media men in the financial red made comments in meetings that the station's ratings had skyrocketed when the female reporters wore "tighter than usual" shirts on Fridays. "Hey, whatever it takes," was the station general manager's alleged response.
I am doing this for my daughter as well as the other women at the television station both young and “old”. I do not in any way see this as a case of of “us” versus “them.” It is quite the contrary. I have come to think of the younger women at the station as friends and truly care about them. What is happening to me, is, by no means, their fault.
It’s just that, one day, they too will also be older and perhaps, mothers as well, and may not be considered “sexy enough.” The simple truth is that such issues should not be considered negative factors in a workplace – whether it is a factory or a television news organization.
Fox 61, the television station, has declined comment. And of course at this point, Ms. Sindland's allegations are just that -- allegations.
I have, however, noticed -- and this is only my opinion -- a similar pattern at Fox News (owned by the Tribune, which also owns Hartford's WTIC Fox 61).
Here, a few pictures, past and present, of Fox's favorite pundits and anchors:
So, it would appear, Ms. Sindland has a point.
Then again, it would also appear Ms. French will be getting a call from Fox News any day now, rendering at least one of Ms. Sindland's allegations moot.