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Archive for September, 2007

New York City has recently been host to other events besides President Ahmadinejad ‘s visit. For example, the Clinton Global Initiative just concluded its three-day conference. The organization was begun three years ago by former President Clinton with the goal of turning “good intentions into real results” through commitments to programs or actions in one of four areas: education, energy and climate change, global health and poverty alleviation. Membership in the organization is by invitation only. The conference this year brought together an assortment of people: current and former heads of state, business leaders, noteworthy academicians, and key non-profit representatives, along with some serious celebrity star power, courtesy of Shakira, the ever-present Jolie-Pitt team and Andre Agassi. Also present were folks like Tony Blair and Al Gore who bring their own brand of celebrity in the way certain ex-politicians do these days. The media was represented by people like the ubiquitous Rupert Murdoch as well as noted columnist Nicholas Kristof, who looked both delighted and stunned to be interviewing the stunning Ms. Jolie. At first, it appeared to be another one of those high-powered conferences, cerebral yet sexy, complete with notable invitees, fabulous food, stimulating conversation, important papers and press releases, all followed by plans for another conference. But appearances can be deceiving. CGI demands not only answers but action. Registration is $15,000 for the event, but all the money in the world won’t get you invited back if you don’t live up to your commitment. Real programs are initiated or continued, like the rebuilding program in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to which Brad Pitt is committed, bluntly and appealingly called “Make It Right.”

Mr. Clinton is expanding the reach of the organization in two ways, by reaching out to college campuses and allowing those of us with less money, clout or celebrity to become involved through its new website. Even though you and I may never get to hang with all the movers and shakers and beautiful people, we could conceivably be part of a vast private effort to right the world’s wrongs. Sure, it sounds naive but it also sounds lots more helpful than those conferences that produce ideas but no follow-through. This could be one group that, by virtue of its cross-cultural influence and PR savvy, might actually be able to make it right – or at least a little better.

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It’s only the second day of the New! Fall! Season! on TV and I’m already kicking myself for not buying the HBO/Showtime package my cable service offered last month. Call me a slave to lowbrow culture but I used to eagerly anticipate the new lineup of shows as much as any holiday. I’d watch nearly every show once, then make my selections. In the pre-Tivo days, I’d plan my evenings around those must-see shows and agonized when the networks scheduled favorites in the same time slot – those cads! Basic cable gave me more to choose from, especially with its summer series. Something’s off this fall. Nothing grabs me. Grey’s Anatomy? Been there, done that. House? I still love Hugh Laurie but his constantly curmugeon-y character is a drag to spend time with. Lost and 24sorry, but what the hell is going on anymore? The franchises are feeling stale and while I’m happy to see some of my favorite comedians hosting this or that game show, I’d rather watch their club routines on pay-per-view. I can’t tell on competition show from another – they all have one British (or Aussie) judge and another with some kind of issue (drugs? divorce? sexual identity? sleep deprivation?) The new stuff feels as if it’s planned for the 16-30 set – and maybe it is. Advertisers drive programming and apparently I am part of an undesireable demographic whose brand loyalty makes us less susceptible to the lure of new products than those fickle twenty-somethings. I won’t start on how wrong that thinking is – if they don’t believe our set is on the prowl for things to try and buy, it’s their loss. But I still want something to excite me. Maybe TV isn’t the best place to start; I do have a pile of interesting-looking books to read. Or I can still call my cable service; I think I’ve only missed two episodes of Tell Me You Love Me.

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Seasonal Disorder

Today was the first day of autumn, also known in astronomy as the autumnal equinox, when the sun crosses the celestial equator from north to south and day and night are virtually equal in length. Autumn, or fall, as it applies to the northern hemisphere, conjures up all sorts of images, most of them based on the topography and climate of Canada and the northeastern and central parts of the United States, which is to say vibrantly colored leaves, warm days and cool nights, several major holidays, back to school activities and a swirl of social events. Even in more temperate climates, the quality as well as the quantity of the light changes incrementally. The angle of the sun shifts and the days are indeed shorter. In truth, we are shielded for a time from the depressing experience of leaving work in total darkness; daylight savings time, which continues into November this year, allows us a glimpse at the sun’s dying embers as we board the train. Conversely, we wake to darkness, as do our kids, which is a tough way to begin the day. But on this day, the equinox, the light and the dark are in balance. That does not mean that the Earth’s gravitational pull is, however. One of the enduring science myths is that you can stand an egg on its end on the vernal equinox, which has led many people to believe you can do the same during the autumnal equinox. The fact is, that standing an egg on end doesn’t depend on any equinox or solstice; it can be done by those relatively few who have patience and nothing else to do on any day of the year. This sad truth, which I am embarrassed to say I learned only recently, didn’t stop me from trying to continue the tradition that was begun by my husband, who might have known better but was so good at balancing his eggs and his life that no one would have suspected. I, alas, am not nearly so talented and after my egg fell over for a third time this afternoon, I used it to make cookies instead.

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Pay It Forward

I was going to write about the value of friendship but instead want to talk about the kindness of strangers. See, I got up early this morning, went into Manhattan, had two meetings, ran for the train, grabbed some soup which I was sipping in the waiting room when I put down my purse and voila, within minutes it was gone.

I’m always so careful and this never happens to me, of course, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know I was safe and unharmed but still: my wallet, my cell phone, my car keys (and house and mailbox keys), my checkbook, several items I’d just bought, some papers I needed, some things of sentimental value and who knows what else (it was a large purse). A normally resourceful person, I couldn’t figure out how I’d get back, how I’d prevent the wholesale looting of all my accounts, how I’d get home from the train station, how I’d get my car out of the parking lot, etc. I was a basket case.

Enter the lovely customer service folks at New Jersey Transit who were as helpful as they could be. Bad things sometimes happen to good people, the chief rep advised me. How she determined I was a good person I don’t know, but she gave me a hug and promptly set about trying to make things better. She lent me a cell phone to call my credit card companies (one woman even looked up the telephone numbers!) and a free ticket to get back to Princeton. I rode home with another transit worker who lent me her phone to complete my calls and reach my friend, who came to pick me up, brought me to the house and back to the lot to get my car. When I returned, I had a call from someone who said my driver’s license had been left in his store and offered to mail it back to me. So yeah, there was one bad apple in the Big Apple but then a slew of people went above and beyond to help me out.

PS – When I finally got home, I kicked back with a glass of wine and caught up on the news, where I learned that OJ Simpson may actually spend many years in jail for a recent bit of stupid thugishness. Hmm, so if bad things happen to good people, maybe the opposite is also true?

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No Exit

This has been another depressing news week. I’m starting to understand why people put aside the front pages of their papers, turn off their radios, tune out cable news and spend copious amounts of time blogging over whether Britney is fat or malfunctioned in her choice of costume (well no, I don’t understand that last bit). The long-awaited report from General David Petraeus, our military man in Iraq, held no surprises. Maybe it all depends on how you define “progress” but all I could think about was that “Grey’s Anatomy” episode where Meredith has her hand inside a patient with a live munition inside him. She can’t pull out because it might explode; then again, it might explode anyway. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Some members of Congress at the hearing – those few who weren’t enamored with the sound of their own voices – expressed a high degree of frustration with the General and his report. What did they expect? He’s a military guy offering a military perspective. And didn’t a majority of Americans say in a recent poll that they trusted the military over the President to know best how to end the war in Iraq? Of course, that’s assuming there are no other solutions but military ones. As it stands, the report feeds right into our partisan mood. You’re either a “cut and run” coward or you’re a “stay and pray” idiot. Damned either way.

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What to Do On 9/11

I am called every year on or around 9/11 by members of the media looking for a quote. The farther we get away from the event, the harder it gets for them to figure out what to ask me. This year, the prevailing theme seemed to be “9/11 fatigue” – is America getting tired of commemorating the day? While I suspect this isn’t even an issue outside the New York metro area, it’s worth looking at. Are people tired of the event itself, particularly at ground zero, where the names of the victims are read aloud and the ceremony is covered locally by every major affiliate? Do they resent that public recognition of the 3,000 victims far exceeds that which has been given to victims of other recent tragedies and especially to those Or might they be disgusted with the endless wars and the endless warnings and the reminder that 9/11 sometimes seems to have changed everything and nothing.

The symbolism is wearying for certain but then again so is our tendency to make grandiose gestures. That doesn’t mean you can’t turn the symbol to your purpose. September 11 can be the day every year you do something positive for your community and register your good deed at www.mygoodeed.org. If you’re thinking globally these days, visit www.sfcg.org to support programs in conflict resolution or check out www.ourvoicestogether.org and help rebuild a life. Give money to Katrina relief or other emergency operations or your local women’s shelter. Then light a candle, say a prayer if you’re so inclined and trust me, my husband and the many other victims of the events of 9/11 and beyond will be more than honored.

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I’ve always been more of a word person myself but I’m drawn to images because they often get across a mood, a message, or a transformational moment in ways that words can’t. That’s how many of us probably felt about the hundreds of photos we saw on 9/11 and in its aftermath. I was reminded of that at a recent talk given by David Friend, author of “Watching the World Change.” It may be hard to remember how much power those images packed at the time, except for those of us who lived through it. In general the world, particularly the online world, seems have moved away from qualifying what we look at or what we read. Every picture, every word bears equal weight; the mundane, the outlandish, the gratuitous and the tasteless are presented alongside what is meant to be truly moving, momentous or even horrific. The effect is to distance us from the emotional content. We’re just spectators and it’s all entertainment, whether it’s the latest Britney or the most recent beheading. Been there, done that. I don’t see how, in a democracy, you can tell people what to look at and I don’t want to, as our public officials seem to have trouble these days knowing where to draw the line. Unfortunately, so do the rest of us.

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