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Archive for July, 2007

I don’t obsess about death, well, at least not much more than any normal midlife person who’s experienced several very personal losses over the past few years. But today’s papers seemed to showcase more than a few significant obituaries – renowned filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, talk show host Tom Snyder, and coaching great Bill Walsh. Although 71 (Snyder’s age) may seem a little young compared with Bergman’s 89 years, both men, as well as Coach Walsh, could be described as having reached and passed the pinnacles of their professional careers. Still, Snyder and Walsh were felled by cancer, which makes it seem as if they were stopped just short of the finish line. But if the deaths of formerly public figures catch me off-guard, the health concerns of active public figures definitely pack a punch. That’s why I was startled to note (also in today’s paper) that Chief Justice John Roberts, at fifty-two the youngest member of the Court, suffered a mild seizure of unknown origin over the weekend. Yeah, I admit I wondered for a minute what it meant for the future of the judicial branch, just as I have speculated in the past about the state of Dick Cheney’s heart or George Bush’s colon and the state of the nation. I’m only human, after all. So are our public figures, subject to the same unpredictable variables that catch us all off-guard.

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The Joy of Looking

It’s hard to believe that there’s anything left to say about the joy of owning a dog. There are literally thousands of articles, dozens of books, and countless Internet sites on which owners wax rhapsodic about their canine friends. I do it myself with a piece called “Sit/Stay” elsewhere on the site. Between the slightly precious and precocious best-seller “Marley and Me” (now available in a children’s version) and a set of heart-tugging essays in the August issue of “O” Magazine, we should have completely exhausted the subject. Dogs=unconditional love=antidote to loneliness=happiness=improved quality of life for dog and owner. Or: Americans= self-indulgent=multi-billion dollar pet-care business=preference for pets over people=indifference to world suffering. Okay, we get it. And yet, my inner cynic keeps getting seduced by the sight of my silly little dog romping through her life and mine. Stupid, I say to myself, to feel so strongly about something that will live maybe fifteen years, something that is not human. And yet…and yet…watching her run free in the spacious backyard of the tiny house I rented for a month, watching her explore and test herself and yes, learn, watching her fall deeply asleep every night, exhausted after a day spent as near to her owner as she needs to be yet as far as she wants to be – it’s making me happier, healthier, calmer, nicer around humans as well as animals. So here’s my equation: Indulging your dog with spa days or customized outfits, especially when it busts your budget=foolish. Enjoying moments with one creature who gets the concept of happiness and knowing you’ve contributed to that=priceless.

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Wednesday’s steam pipe explosion in Manhattan brought me right back to 9/11. The soot-covered pedestrians rushing away from the billowing smoke were a close enough replay of the twin towers’ collapse which crushed my husband and sent his ashes sailing across the Hudson to New Jersey. Unfortunately, such associations are a natural consequence of having experienced the event; maybe that’s why so many in and around New York assumed it was a terrorist attack. In case people didn’t make the connection, the media was ready to make it, as Clyde Haberman noted in his NY Times Metro column this morning. His point seemed to be that we are encouraged to fear the worst and that certainly seemed to be a theme this week Politicians of all stripes, in the wake of the latest National Intelligence Estimate, issued statements to remind us we are under threat. Of course there are other things frightening us these days – tainted products from China, for example – but the drama associated with the attacks of 2001 retains the power to uniquely terrify us. And that seems to play directly into the hands of those who would disrupt our peace of mind. To be honest, the loss of unity and the unwillingness to compromise and find common ground amongst ourselves is, to my way of thinking, our biggest post-9/11 failure; that scares me more than any act of nature or man.

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I was reading the Huffington Post this morning and thinking about whether to jump into the comments section in order to inject a reasonable note into the back and forth of name-calling and insulting. I could have directed the passionate mud-slingers to my recent post on “Uncivil Society” but decided instead to check out sports, noting that the Mets’ uneven season and the wide-open Tour de France could drive even a casual fan crazy. I went to check my mail and read the lead stories: the Dow has passed 14,000 , Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal may soon be owned by Rupert Murdoch and Bin Laden is again making threats against the U.S. Oh boy! Meanwhile, the rain forecast has been upgraded to strong storms and it’s only four days until we find out whether Harry Potter lives or dies. Who knew summer could be so stressful?

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It’s Friday the 13th, an unlucky day if you’re prone to superstition. Of course, things go wrong every day – accidents, foreclosures, health coverage denied – but still some people are extra vigilant on this day. You could argue that a week ending in Friday the 13th could be an unlucky week. Certainly it was for Katie Couric and John McCain; Katy slaps a staffer on the arm and John knocks a staffer or two off the payroll and makes an unfortunate call from the cloakroom and boom! word is they are suffering massive reversals of fortune. Of course these are well-paid, well-connected people but the media can be a cruel mistress and they are taking a public licking for sure. There was some glimmer of real talent on “America’s Got Talent” (yeah, I watched; it’s a slow summer, okay?) but some of those going on to the finals seem more lucky than gifted. Personally, I think David Hasselhoff is lucky to have a gig as a judge but who am I to hassle the Hoff? Harry doesn’t seem to be having much luck in the new Potter movie; he’s simultaneously struggling with teen angst and a world inattentive to imminent danger. Along those same lines, He-Whose-Mind-Will-Not-Be-Changed insists we “stay the course” in Iraq until September or until he doesn’t feel like it any more. Meanwhile, at least thirteen plans for staying/going/securing or something else are floating around Congress. Call me superstitious but I don’t see a fortuitous outcome.

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Intimidation

I continue to be astounded by the ways in which defenseless people around the world, particularly women and children, are intimidated by those who would subjugate them. The killing of schoolgirls in Afghanistan, the systematic rape of women in the Sudan, sexual slavery in Cambodia and elsewhere, arranged marriages and genitalia mutilation foisted upon girls who are still children: these practices derive from an entrenched set of beliefs that view women as objects to be used and then punished for “appealing” to man’s baser instincts or for bringing dishonor to the family. We wring our hands and do what we can to help these women from a distance – money, schools for girls, the occasional award or honor bestowed upon an especially heroic female who has risen above her circumstances to become a spokesperson or symbol. What we don’t seem to be able to do is lay a finger on the mindset that condones harming women. Some of it is about commerce (selling children is a hot business right now) but so much more comes out of a convoluted tangle of perceptions, beliefs and ancient practices. Notwithstanding the superlative set of articles Nicholas Kristof writes on the persecution of women, it doesn’t seem to be a high priority, at least amongst the men in power. That doesn’t just frighten me – it enrages me.

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Pardon Me?

The dustup over the Scooter Libby semi-pardon sent me to do a bit of research into Presidential pardons. When it comes to pardons, both Bush Jr. and former President Clinton (whose pardon of Mark Rich is being compared with the Libby case) are pikers. Check out what a few Presidents have done, especially if you like your history served with a big dollop of wonkiness, on the blog run by Fortiusone, a company that combines “complex analysis of multiple data sources with intuitive, web-enabled visualization” (there’s apparently quite a demand for that). In fact there have been far more notorious pardons, many of them fairly recent: Patty Hearst, Jimmy Hoffa, George Steinbrenner (wow – I completely forgot about that one!) and the hugely controversial pardoning of Richard Nixon. Many of these pardons were about money or politics or both, which is probably what makes them noteworthy. One pardon you haven’t read about, because it hasn’t happened, involves a young high school star athlete from Douglasville, Georgia who at the age of seventeen had consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl and has now been in jail for two years of a ten-year sentence because of an archaic law that was changed after the fact and doesn’t apply retroactively. Seems like a good candidate for a pardon – except that neither money nor politics seem to be involved, only a human life.

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