National Peanut Board uses the solipsistic Reagan ideology to sell peanuts to New York City subway riders.

While in Manhattan for two weeks on a working vacation, I’ve been taking advantage of the greatest mass transit system in the United States, the New York City subway—dingy with age, but clean, inexpensive, extremely safe and it gets you where you want to go faster than any alternative transportation option in the city.

This past weekend in a train on the East Side, I saw a fascinating billboard that exemplifies how Reagan’s politics of selfishness has completely imbued much of our public discourse.

The billboard, from the National Peanut Board, has as its theme line and branding message, “Get the energy” or “Have the energy.”  Here is how the National Peanut Board describes itself on its website: The National Peanut Board represents all USA peanut farmers and their families. Through research and marketing initiatives the Board is finding new ways to enhance production and increase consumer demand by promoting the great taste, nutrition and culinary versatility of USA-grown peanuts.

The National Peanut Board is obviously trying to say that peanuts are an “energy” food, and on one level may play off the current fad for energy drinks.  (But remember this: peanuts are good; energy drinks should be avoided at all costs!).  On the website , we learn that the slogan for the national campaign is “Energy for the Good Life.”

This particular ad has a large headline that read: “Energy to spend time with someone who will listen to you.”

And what image does the peanut board use to exemplify this message?  It’s a photo of a man with his dog on a hill overlooking a beautiful view.

There are two ways to interpret this collision of words with imagery, and both convey a solipsistic message that I believe is a variation of the Reaganistic ideology that tells us the world is a better place if every seeks his or her self-interest and that we should look for private solutions to address problems.  Solipsism, by the way, is the philosophy that the world begins and ends with the self, or, put another way, that the only thing any one can be sure really exists is one’s own mind.

 Here are my two interpretations of the imagery:

  • Your dog is the only person who really listens to you
  • God, represented by nature as it often has been in painting and literature through the centuries, is the only one who really listens to you. 

I think it’s easy to see that if your dog is the only one who listens to you, then you’re living in a society in which all humans care only about themselves and act only in their own self interest, to the exclusion of all other family or social concerns; in other words, Reaganism taken to its extreme.  The dog is cute, but the internal logic of the ad is brutal: No one listens to you; no one cares about you; you’re in this world by yourself; you might as well just act in your own self-interest, because no one else is going to help you and you shouldn’t help anyone else. 

Even if the Peanut Board is subtly trying to make a religious message, the analysis remains the same.  The god in the ad, if there is one, is not one that provides moral guidance, nor one that exemplifies service to others.  No, what this god does is listen to you.  You get to talk to this god and tell him what’s on your mind (that is, of course, if you have eaten enough peanuts to have the energy to talk!).

I wonder if the Peanut Board realizes that the ideological message underlying its attempt to sell peanuts is that no one should care about anyone else, since no one else ever listens.

In Stouffer’s post-modern America, you don’t eat because you’re hungry, but to have a relationship with your spouse.

My entry into frozen food giant Stouffer’s “Let’s Fix Dinner” marketing campaign came via a two-page, full-color ad in  AARP Magazine, the bimonthly slick lifestyle magazine of the American Association of Retired People, which claims to have the largest circulation of any magazine in the entire world.  So before taking a look at why “Let’s Fix Dinner” is a  prime example of the commercialization of relationships in contemporary society, I want to first describe the ad, which is the sizzle to the sizzle, that is, the whistle-buzzer that makes us notice the twisted messaging that is supposed to entice us to buy the product.

The right page of this two-page ad is a sexy pose of an overweight couple in their 40s, fully dressed in front of an abstract aquamarine background, but looking like they’re about to take off their clothes and do it, except she’s wearing an oven mitt.  The “VH1 pop-up video” style headline is “Are oven mitts the key to a successful relationship?” followed by a smaller headline in another typeface and different pop-up balloon, “Dinner is a great time for couples to reconnect, and catch up with each other face to face.”  At the bottom of the page is a short paragraph that starts “Amazing the difference a real meal can make,” then proceeds to sell Stouffer’s frozen “Mac & Cheese.”  The most striking thing about the ad is the carnality in the expressions of these two truly chunky people.

In the left hand ad, Stouffer’s takes a more conventional approach to advertising prepared food:  It’s a very copy-heavy ad with a photo in the top third of another middle-aged couple—very fit, light-skinned African-Americans—in the kitchen embracing while she handles a pair of tongs.  The rest of the ad is brimming with words, including four paragraphs about the four steps to connecting with your partner.  Here are the headlines for each step:

  1. Slow down to reconnect
  2. Make conversation
  3. Keep it simple, sweetheart
  4. Join the Stouffer’s challenge

“Keep it simple,” of course, means buy Stouffer’s “solutions for delicious, nutritious meals without the fuss.”  The challenge is to make a personal commitment to have dinner with your spouse more often.  For help in meeting this commitment, Stouffer’s sends you to  This left-side full-page ad also crowds in small photos of the frozen lasagna and the ever-popular, ever-chic macaroni & cheese.  As the ad says, “Add a little candlelight and you’ve got a romantic meal for two.”

While the two-page ad focuses on the romantic needs of the empty-nester, the website really is for families with children.  It is a very infotaining website, i.e., it mixes information and entertainment in a light-hearted, happy kind of way.  Among the whistles and buzzers are pages of factoids; features on real families in a kind of “reality” webcasting; a survey to take; and of course product information.  There is also a page to sign-up for the Stouffer’s “Let’s Fix Dinner” Challenge.  Once you’re signed up, you get points and entries into a sweepstakes every time you record another dinner that the entire family had together.  Last time I was on the website, it stated on the homepage that people in the challenge have reported making 98,974 family dinners.

The home page is very easy on the eyes:  the centerpiece is a rotating wide-screen box that consists of a happy image of a family or family member and three pop-up balloons, in which there are three pieces of highly structured copy, as we will see in this example:

  • Balloon #1/A provocative statement: “Can placemats keep your kids off drugs?”
  • Balloon #2/A factoid: “Studies show that teens in families that have dinner together five times a week are 45% less likely to drink and 66% less likely to take drugs.”
  • Balloon #3/A squib of real-life conversation from one of the “real” families featured on the website: “‘Okay, I’m resolving to clear all my stuff off the dining room table so we can actually use it!’  Sarah, San Diego, CA”

There are five of these billboards that rotate onto the home page, one after the other. Four of them focus on families with children.  The empty nester one features a photo of the chubby but horny couple from the AARP Magazine ad.

Stouffer’s and its advertising mavens and mavessess put a lot of work into creating a marketing campaign and website in which every detail down to the last factoid and image focuses on making the message.

And what’s the message?  That Stouffer’s frozen dinners are delicious? No.

That Stouffer’s meals are nutritious? No. 

That these food products can contribute to a healthy weight-loss program? No. 

That Stouffer’s gives you a way to feed a family cheaply? Again, no.

That Stouffer’s is a fast way to chow down? Not exactly.

No, in fact, the central message is not about food at all.  It’s about the benefits of the family eating dinner together (something that my always busy family did about six nights a week, both when I was a child and a father).  The way that Stouffer’s facilitates this togetherness is pretty much unexplained.  It’s taken for granted that the post-modern 21st century consumer knows the product-related benefits of frozen dinners, (which in the old days used to be called TV dinners because they were used to bring the family together for the Ed Sullivan  and Dinah Shore shows).

Once again, the U.S. people face an urgent social problem, or in this case a knot of related social problems that include the transmission of basic middle class values, school performance, teenaged substance abuse and conjugal sex.  And once again, U.S. industry and commerce come up with an answer. 

And it’s always the same answer: Buy something.

Beneath Stouffer’s sophisticated attempt to attach the values of family life and interfamilial relationships to its frozen dinners is the basic ideological subtext that a commercial transaction will solve your problem, whatever it is.  And it’s so simple!  You don’t have to spend any time together chopping meat or sautéing vegetables.  No need to even boil water.  Just pop it in the microwave and serve, with candles or hip-hop music or maybe both.   

And therein lies the significance of featuring macaroni and cheese so prominently.  Mac & cheese represents the epitome of comfort food that makes us feel nice and warm inside about family life.  It is also about the easiest meal there is to make from scratch.   But it does require boiling water, chopping cheese and measuring out some milk.  And those things can be great distractions when you’re trying to work on a family relationship.  But Stouffer’s makes it even easier than making mac & cheese from scratch.  All you do is pop it in the microwave.  And now you’ve got food preparation out of the way, that’s the hard part.  The rest of building strong family relationships will be easy, because you’ve done all the hard work already – you’ve bought something.   

Target misses the target with a traumatic holiday ad.

Target is a very savvy marketing company, and like all large marketers, it conducts a lot of consumer research and pretests all its commercials.

Yet after all of that, Target has come up with what I think is a very negative TV ad, one in which they get connected to a traumatic moment in the life of a dysfunctional family.   

Here’s a précis of the ad (and I may have some of the words in quotes wrong, but not the thoughts of those quotes nor the underlying emotional tenor):  Mom, Dad and Daughter are around the Christmas tree and Mom unwraps a large flat-screen TV.  Dad says something like, “I thought Santa was watching his pennies this year” through clenched teeth to which Mom answers, again with clenching of teeth, “Santa thought we could afford it.”  Back and forth it goes, each time a tad more hostility in the voices, back and forth between Mom and Dad, with a shot of Daughter listening, a little terrified.  The last shot is of Mom, an odd mixture of happiness and terror on her face, saying, “But what if Santa got a good deal.”  Then the screen cuts to the Target logo.

The cut to Target is ambivalent, meaning it could signify two things.  But both are bad for Target, as follows:

  • Either the ad is saying, avoid this tense scene about money by buying at Target.


  • Target has turned this mom into a heroine (but the heroine is near tears and the family seems to be falling apart right underneath the Christmas tree).

Christmas is an aspirational holiday.  We aspire to show our loved ones that we love them, which in the United States means buying them something that they really like.  There is nothing aspirational about a thinly veiled argument over money in front of the kid on Christmas morning in which both parents bandy about a symbol of childhood happiness, Santa, as if it were a symbolic rapier.  Not waiting to talk until the kids are off somewhere is certainly a sign of a dysfunctional family.  Why would Target executives think that linking to this disturbing family vignette would make people feel warm and cozy inside about buying at their stores?

Once again a reporter tells us that the best way to save money is to spend money.

Featured on a number of portals and websites lately has been a article by Heather Boerner on four urgent home fixes people should make before they retire.  The idea is that if you plan to stay in your home, as most people do, it’s better to make expensive one-time repairs such as replacing the plumbing or the roof while you’re still working. 

It sounds like a sensible suggestion.  A major repair typically costs more in an emergency situation, e.g., when the roof starts to leak, and any major expense will play havoc with those on a fixed-income. 

But underneath the good advice, the ideological subtext still exhorts the reader to buy, buy, buy!, because it is by spending more now that you obtain the “control you will have over your life” that the article promises.  Once again, the answer to your problems is to buy something. 

As a stand-alone advice feature, the article is just fine.  But the daily accumulation of advice articles, virtually all of which are veiled shills for the purchase of a product or service, creates the sense in readers that it is only through engaging in a commercial transaction that all problems are solved and all needs satisfied; and that it is only in the context of commercial transactions that all interpersonal relations take place. 

Walmart commercials are becoming the new reality TV

I saw another new Walmart commercial that seems to be based on the new realities of the great recession and the 21st century family. 

In this one, the announcer says that it costs $45 on average to take a family (of four?) out to dinner.  Instead, the announcer suggests, with that Walmart mix of aggressive friendliness and friendly expertise, that mother (since it is a woman in the commercial) uses Birdseye frozen foods as the basis of a home-cooked meal once a month!!  The narrator concludes by triumphantly announcing that you’ll save $345 a year (the difference between the home-cooked meal and eating out times 12, I assume).

The Walmart message seems to have changed quite recently from the long-time exclamation to be happy because what you’re buying is cheap to a more nuanced plea: Walmart can help you deal with your family’s challenges.  The “you” is a woman, as there has yet to be a man shown in the two new commercials I have thus far seen.  (For an analysis of the other one, on Christmas without dad, see my November 25 blog).

But let’s peel away the explicit message, “we’ll help you save money while feeding your family” and see the underlying subtextual conversation.  I call it a conversation because Walmart is not trying to sell something.  Instead, it is responding to a reality, and in this case, the reality is the large extent to which U.S. families, especially in the middle class, eat meals out.  The storyline—once a month you cook in instead of eating out—reflects the trend of eating more meals away from home.  The average American now eats away from home six times a week.  Although the NPD Group reported in July that restaurant trips in 2009 are down almost 3% over 2008, Americans still spend 50% of their food dollars in restaurants and on average, eat out six times a week.

I’m going to end with an archetype, which is a kind of argument by anecdote.  The archetype is a generalized version of a group of people who share a number of characteristics, e.g., “he’s an archetypal first baseman—slow with power in his bat and a weak arm.” The classic archetype in politics over the past 40 years was Reagan’s “Welfare Queens.”  

The archetype I am imagining is a middle-class family in which both mother and father have professional jobs or a single mother is working and making a very good living, let’s call it six-figures in income in either case.  I have known a lot of families that fit this description and have the following weekly dinner menu: pizza one night; McDonald’s or Wendy’s on another night; some family style restaurant a third night—could be Eat ‘n Park, Denny’s or even Olive Garden.  Then there’s take-out Chinese.  We still haven’t gotten to mom and dad having a night out alone at Chez Fourstar.  Just as the subtext of one of the Walmart commercials is an appeal to the single mother, so is this one that mentions Birdseye meant to appeal to families that eat out all the time.  Otherwise, why the stress on not eating out once a month?

In its subtext, Walmart has begun, I believe for the very first time, to segment the marketplace and try to appeal to specific subgroups that have special concerns and needs.  That makes the new commercials a form of reality TV.

White people do it so it must be okay.

In its lead story on the front page this past Sunday, The New York Times continues its recent policy of injecting old-fashioned racial attitudes into the continuing discussion of the struggles many face in the current recession.  And again, the Times does it with photographs. 

The article, co-written by Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff, details how and why food stamp usage has soared in the U.S., with one in eight adults and one in four children now part of the program.  The premise of the article is that the stigma has faded concerning food stamps, which it backs up with many charts and interviews in an article that runs to one and one quarter full newspaper pages.  The authors propose that once food stamps were scorned as a failed welfare program by Americans, but now people are accepting its necessity. 

The article uses six case histories, all of white persons or families.  There are three photos in the print edition, all of whites.  There is also a slide show of 17 photos on the Times website.  Sixteen of these photos are of whites only or of their possessions, and all the whites in all these photos are named.  The one photo that has African-Americans or obviously Hispanic people in it is a shot of nameless people on line to buy food at a store (with no statement that any of these people actually take food stamps!).  Included among the 17 photos in the online slideshow are one of the empty fish tank of one white family on food stamps and a shot of a white (Christian) cross in the garden of another.

The subtextual message of course is that food stamps are okay when whites get them.  This racist expression reflects a more virulent variant that has served as the American attitude towards all welfare programs throughout our history: the programs are okay when only whites get them, but are no longer okay once blacks start taking advantage. 

Remember that the lead story on the front page of any Sunday Times will end up on the front page of hundreds of newspapers across the country that take the Times distribution service, so the words, images and subtext of what the Times prints quickly become part of the nation’s consciousness and inform the national dialog on issues. 

In recent months I have written three times on the Times’ use of photographs to subtly draw racial distinctions that reflect old prejudices, i.e. only blacks and Hispanics get welfare (August 10, 2009 and September 2, 2009) and only whites are among the highly skilled professionals who can’t find a job in the recession (August 10, 2009).  At the time I wondered if it was sloppy reporting, i.e., using one case history because you don’t have time to get any others.  Now I’m convinced that it’s part of the current New York Times ideology.

All the news that’s fit to distort. NY Times “Week in Review” section is a textbook in propaganda techniques.

The subtext of the entirety of the “Week in Review” section in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times was decidedly right-wing, especially when it comes to social/value issues.  The section was, in fact, a textbook in advanced propaganda techniques, to whit:

Ideological subtext through photographs:  On page 2 of every “Week in Review” is a montage of five photos with short, snappy headlines across the top of the page, each with extended captions; the captions always take the same structure – a short paragraph beginning with “The News” in bold followed by another short paragraph beginning with “Behind the News.”  Here are the five headlines with photos yesterday; in each case the text below the photo is triumphant in tone, except the last one:

  1. Mulling a Run: Lou Dobbs may be running for Senate
  2. Selling Books: Sarah Palin signing
  3. Testing Fealty: Conservative Republicans proposing a 10-point “purity” pledge for candidates
  4. Marshalling Forces: Glenn Beck announcing he’s sponsoring voter drives
  5. Backing Away: New Jersey Dems fail to schedule a vote for same-sex marriage, even though they have the votes to pass. The tone of the text below this photo is defeatist.

In the world of film, this succession of photos is called a “Cause-Effect” montage:  the juxtaposition of images creates a greater meaning beyond each image and that greater meaning, the ideological subtext, is that the first four images caused the fifth.  In this case, the Times is creating a meta-statement that right-wing/conservative activity has left/liberals on the run.  But is it really true? 

Argument by anecdote: The page 1 lead story in the section uses a series of anecdotes and conjectures to assert that the younger generations of feminists don’t care as much about the abortion issue as their mothers did because they have lived all their lives under Roe v. Wade and take it for granted.  For this reason, writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg wonders if the coalition building against the Stupak amendment will succeed.  Of course the only studies she shares show that there is no difference (nor has there been for 20 years) in attitudes about abortion between those over and under 30 years of age.  Her argument is based on conjecture and a handful of anecdotal quotes.

Labeling: In Louis Uchitelle’s story of why there are a lack of big projects like the Erie Canal or the Big Dig in the U.S. right now, he writes, “Mr. Obama’s Great Recession, by contrast, has been a milder affair… (than Roosevelt’s Depression).”  Since when did it become Obama’s recession, except in the empty rhetoric of his political enemies?  Uchitelle suddenly forgets eight Bush years of easy credit, little regulation of the financial markets and massive wartime spending, plus the Bush failure to heed the many warning signs that the economy was overextended and markets were overheated.

Wedging: Wedging is when you focus on the one area of common ground that you have with a group of people to make theme recognize the views of someone whose other views would be much more controversial.  Ignoring a myriad of other Op/Ed submissions on a variety of important topics, the Times chose to run a piece by Kenneth J. Wolfe, described as someone who “writes frequently for traditionalist Roman Catholic publications.”  But Wolfe is not writing on same-sex marriage, stem cell research, abortion, birth control or any of those issues that fiercely divide Catholics (and others).  No, “Kenny Choirboy” is advocating a return to the Catholic Mass.  The fact that “Kenny Choirboy” uses the relatively innocuous language issue as a wedge is clear in his last paragraph, in which he subtly ties a return to Latin mass to Pope Benedict’s broader ideological program. 

“At the beginning of this decade, Benedict (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) wrote: ‘The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle.  In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself.’  He was right: 40 years of the new Mass have brought chaos and banality into the most visible and outward sign of the church.  Benedict XVI wants a return to order and meaning.  So, it seems, does the next generation of Catholics.”

To Those Lost Souls Who Are Saving Too Much and Could Be Spending More

Kicking around the Internet this week is a Friday, November 6 article by Marilyn Kennedy Melia titled, “Could you be saving too much?

The premise of the article is that “About 10 percent of the population is accumulating too much retirement savings in the sense that they could have saved significantly less and still retired with enough resources to continue in the lifestyle they enjoyed during their working life, estimates Harvard University economist David Laibson.”

The rest of the article is a tedious repetition of the messages of a hundred other articles on retirement planning—the ways to save for retirement and the large numbers of people with inadequate savings, some 60% says the expert.  The article never returns to explain what people who are saving too much should do, but it’s right there in the ideological subtext.

The hidden message: That people who save more than they will need for retirement are missing the opportunity to spend money, which after all, is the way to happiness, contentment and sexual satisfaction.  So if your financial planner says you’re saving more than you need for retirement, think about taking up golf or at least buying the equipment and clothes, joining a country club or two, or maybe taking that trip you never wanted to go on to Las Vegas.  You can always trade in your car every year or two.   Don’t miss out on the thrill of the spend, ye of little faith who save too much!

The Frugality Myth

There have been two views in the news media concerning the new frugality, the idea that we in the U.S. are spending less on personal stuff than we did before the recession. 

  1. Those who say the recession has wrought a deep and permanent change in our spending habits, so that any adults alive today will remain frugal until they pass away. 
  2. Those who say that profligate spending will replace this new frugality as soon as the economic hard times have ended.

The underlying premise, of course, is fallacious, to whit, that we are now frugal.  Much of the decline in personal spending results from the increase in unemployment; in fact, an article by James Surowiecki in the most recent New Yorker says by that standard, maybe spending isn’t down as much as it should be.  BTY, Surowiecki is in the “this soon shall pass” camp.

How can I make such a bold assertion when retail sales are down everywhere?

  • Our six percent savings rate—up from spending more than we were making on an annual basis—is still laughably low compared to virtually all other developed countries.  What we’re not saving, we’re spending!
  • Our carbon print per capita is still much higher than any other developed nation.
  • People are still gambling, and what can be less frugal than gambling?
  • A majority of the country is still overweight or obese, suggesting people are still not frugal with their food budgets.

Yes, we’ve cut back, but just because you cut back, that doesn’t mean you’re frugal.  For example, years ago, L.A. county asked residents to voluntarily cut back water consumption by 10%, so people began exchanging water bills for comparison.  My uncle did this with one of his work associates and discovered that the guy’s son used about twice as much water as my uncle’s family of six.  Even if this guy cut back 10%, I don’t think anyone would have said he was frugal with water.

My point is not to make an argument by anecdote, but instead to create an analogy to help explain why I don’t think our society has become frugal.  When you net out the decrease in personal spending that stems from unemployment, the cutting back that people who have jobs and money are doing is not enough to accuse the U.S. of frugality. Not even close.

So what is the ideological subtext of debating if our nonexistent “new frugality” is temporary or permanent?  I think that the idea is to support retail sales, since it makes us feel good to be frugal now and makes us feel that we don’t have to cut back anymore than we already have, which would further lower sales of discretionary products and services. 

Now I’m not saying that there is a conspiracy, but rather a buzz that becomes a debate that is deemed newsworthy by key editors, all of whom share the same basic ideology and the same basic need for advertisers.  Pundits and experts pick up the debate as it has been defined and decide to chime in.  For a fuller explanation of the total process, I recommend William Domhoff’s The Powers That Be.

G-20 Ideological Subtext in Pictures

The White House created a series of photo opportunities, each of which was meant to communicate a basic message of the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, a classic example of ideological subtext being as important as the explicit message in words.  The use to which different media put these photo ops reflects each outlet’s view of what were the important outcomes of the meeting.

For example, the September 26 front page of the regional daily newspaper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, showed one formal pose of all the leaders and an informal pose of Michelle Obama with some of the wives of the leaders.  The ideological subtext came in the positioning of the people in both photos, taken by Post-Gazette photographers but in formal or semiformal photo op situations, so the photographers really had no choice but to take what the White House photo arrangers wanted the world to see:

  • Flanking President Obama were Brazil’s President Lulu and the Chinese President Hu Jintao. 
  • Flanking our first lady were the Brazilian and Indonesian first ladies, with Michelle turned to face Lady Indonesia.

These arrangements of leaders are never by chance: The administration wanted Brazil and the rising Asian economic powerhouses to be closest to Obama, because the G-20 is, after all, an economic, not a political body.  There can be no doubt that Brazil and China and to a lesser extent Indonesia (also the country with the largest Moslem population!) will see the most economic growth and will serve as the fastest-growing trading partners for the U.S. over the next 20-30 years.  Even the fact that China gets one flank whereas Brazil gets two sends a message.  I imagine if this photo were taken circa 1875 that in one, Disraeli would be flanked by President Grant and the Russian Czar; a German would replace the Czarina in the photo with Queen Victoria.

By contrast, the front page of the New York Times of the same day took the political low road, showing the photo of Obama, flanked by Sarkozy and Brown, accusing Iran of building a secret plant for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for weapons.  The ideological subtext of course was the united front of western military powers.  I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to predict that 20 years from now most people will agree that the ideological subtext of the local paper got it right, that the rise of Brazil and China is a more important story than the continuation of our spat with Iran.  BTW, the Times photo of President Obama with Hu was very small and on page A-9 of the national edition.

On the same day, Yahoo!, the popular search engine and portal, had a “front-page” photo of Michelle with Carla Bruni, the glamour girls looking a little conspiratorial, as if they’re dishing the dirt about Carla’s former boyfriends.  That photo links to a fashion slide show of all the first ladies in attendance. Let’s close by sadly noting that more people see Yahoo! than the Times and Post-Gazette put together.