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Archive for October, 2007

It’s the time of year when we get geared up to artificially scare each other in the annual and peculiarly American festival known as Halloween (although Parisians have taken the fete to heart, what with costumes and parties and pumpkins in and around its most venerable monuments. As Parisians have also taken to riding bicycles in and around their city en masse, I will overlook their odd choice of American pastimes to emulate). This year, there is an added contretemps attending the festival having to do with what the hanging corpses signify, or are meant to signify or have come to signify. It’s all about the noose, which, having been appropriated for the purpose of intimidation at both a high school and an esteemed university, is, for the moment off-limits. Honestly, I don’t think the vast majority of people who include hanging corpses in displays that also feature tombstones, haunted houses and headless horsemen straight out of a mid- nineteenth century novel have been thinking about the offense that particular image may cause. But they are now.

Not so with the politicians who are also seeking to scare us, courtesy of a growing proliferation of nuance-free catchphrases that were previously the province of rabble-rousing talk shows. In keeping with the spirit of the season, I’m going to list some of those vying for the title of most frightening. I’m not suggesting that these issues don’t need to be addressed, only that perhaps the phrases are getting thrown around for the purpose of frightening rather than educating the public. Feel free to scream or at least, depending on how long your memory is, to go out and buy lots of duct tape.

Illegal immigrants: undocumented would-be citizens or criminals and potential terrorists who are stealing our services, lowering our wages and affecting our quality of life?

War on terror: a battle of good and evil or a misapplied fight against fear?

Islamofacism: a movement whose adherents seek to take over the globe or a simplistic, not to mention insulting catchphrase that happens to roll off the tongue?

World War III: well sh-t, who wouldn’t be ready to bring on the bombs; never mind diplomacy?

Global warming: no question we’re screwing up the planet but can we move into solution mode instead of crisis mode?

Scared yet?

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Burning Questions

I’m watching NBC Nightly News (which probably marks me as old-fashioned but I’m also on the Internet so I’m technically straddling old and new media). Anyway, I’m following the stories about the fires in and around San Diego and Los Angeles with morbid fascination as figures come flying at me: driest season on record, biggest peacetime evacuation, of people from their threatened homes (dwarfing Katrina), one of the worst fires in California history. It’s nature at work, right? Just like this fall’s tornadoes in Michigan or the drought in Florida? It’s impossible not to ask: is there a connection between what’s going on and global warming? It’s also impossible to say definitively after only one strange autumn. The warm autumn of 2001 prompted similar questions – as did last year’s warm winter. But if you’ve been on the planet long enough (say 40 years or more), you can tell something’s afoot and it’s not just that the hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms, disappearing shorelines and fluctuating temperatures are being covered and reported like never before. No one’s proved to my complete satisfaction that there is a relationship between individual efforts at energy and resource conservation and the fires in California. Still, I turned off the TV, unplugged the coffeemaker and began to swap out my old bulbs for the new funny-looking, energy-efficient ones. Because it’s impossible not to believe it could make some sort of difference, no matter how small.

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On a humid gray Friday in mid-October when you have to wonder who forgot to order autumn or if Florida has decided to punish us for relocating our populations down there all these years by relocating its weather to the Northeast – on such an icky, sticky morning, it won’t do to dwell on the news. I mean, what do we have here: the House sustains the President’s veto on providing health care for uninsured children, because we wouldn’t want to start a trend of calling on government to aid its poorest citizens. Or how about the unrest, following the return of former Prime Minister Bhutto, in an already unstable Pakistan, whose alliance forms the cornerstone of our shaky Mid-East policy? Now that inspires confidence. Oh, the Coast Guard will be able to establish an operating base in the Arctic Ocean because the summers are warm enough now and because they want to be prepared to help clean up the environmental damage that will undoubtedly be caused by ships now seeking passage through the Bering Strait. Good to be prepared, right? For slightly lighter but not exactly happier news, we could read about the breakup of French President Sarkozy’s marriage or the bungled manner in which Yankees’ management handled their decision on Joe Torre. But I found something to brighten my day and it’s only a mouse-click away. No, it’s not pictures of cute puppies or heartwarming tales of reunited families. However, if you want to indulge your inner mean girl (or guy), break out the chocolates, pour yourself another cup (and don’t worry if you’re at the office – just be smart about noting who’s looking over your shoulder) and enjoy the reviews.

I’m talking about hitting up the movie section on MSN and going directly to “Celebrities Undressed,” a delightfully bitchy look at what some of our favorite famous ladies (and occasionally a few guys) wore to the latest red-carpet affair. Not being a celebrity blogger, I don’t follow the dish that regularly flows from sites like Perez Hilton or TMZ. But for a quick fix of low-cost, low-impact nastiness, the dressing-down of dressed-up stars can’t be beat. You can then return to your task, whether it’s crunching numbers, raising your kids, raising other people’s kids , waiting tables or waiting for the world to change, secure in the knowledge that no celebrities were seriously harmed during the making of your moment of fun during a dreary day.

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New York went through some difficult times in the seventies and the eighties. I lived there during the latter decade and there were places you didn’t go, people you didn’t look at, and times of day you stuck to well-traveled, familiar locales. Nowadays it’s about as clean, safe and friendly as a big city can be. How much of that is attributable to Rudy Giuliani’s tenure as mayor is subject to speculation – except if you happen to be Rudy Giuliani. In his worldview (or rather, his city view), New York is a place he twice rescued. We all know about 9/11, for he never fails to remind us. The first time, however, was when he took over as mayor in 1994. It’s true that he brought to the office his particular view that government must be made accountable and individuals must be made responsible. To that end, he managed to remove much of the bloat associated with welfare rolls and city government. He also inflammed racial tensions, wasted time overzealously prosecuting quality of life issues, and alternately exasperated and embarrassed his constituency with his public antics and private shenanigans. Those activities receive no mention in his speeches or campaign literature. Nor are there allusions to the robust national economy under Clinton or the arrival of the Mouse in all its corporate glory, which seemed to clear the way for the vast number of national brand stores so beloved by tourists everywhere. Today Times Square may look like just another theme park but it is indubitably safe and by god, New Yorkers do look each other in the eye. New York is fat and, if not happy, then self-satisfied. The Big Apple can handle being cast as the villain opposite Rudy’s white knight. After all, it gave rise to a thrice-married, opera-loving, gun-hating, gay-embracing immigration-accepting, Saturday Night Live-appearing mayor who is now running for President as a conservative. Hell of a town.

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If you had an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize, a lucrative career as a public speaker and author, the respect of millions around the globe; if you found yourself in possession of a platform from which you could expound upon the issues that mattered most to you without needing to modify, moderate, triangulate or focus-test your beliefs; if you hobnobbed with world leaders and with movie stars alike, showed up at summits and opening night parties, weighed as much or as little as you liked, wore your hair however you liked and generally felt more free and less dissected than you had in years, would you run for President of the United States? Asked and answered – or is it? Stay tuned.

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The House Foreign Relations Committee voted yesterday to condemn the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in 1915. The resolution, in particular the use of the word “genocide” infuriated the Turkish government, whose president strongly condemned the resolution and warned that Turkish support for US activities in Iraq could be seriously jeopardized. Turkey is already angry with the US for its perceived lack of support for Turkey’s incursions into Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels, a move which has been strongly condemned by a Kurdish lawmaker in the Iraqi Parliament.

Rather than condemn you to further reading about angry politicians in global hot-spots, I thought it would be interesting to consider resolutions like this most recent one. Today’s open question on Yahoo’s answer board was “Why does the US Congress Pass Resolutions Condeming Other Countries?” Bloggers noted that Congress had recently passed a resolution urging Japan to apologize for tricking South Korean women into sexual slavery during WWW II. One poster noted that the U.S. is loathe to condemn its own actions, which would seem to be borne out by a search for resolutions about slavery or the treatment of Native Americans. A resolution was passed in 2005 in the Senate apologizing for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation (a rather roundabout way of approaching the subject of slavery and the government’s complicity). That same year, the Senate considered legislation introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (Republican of Kansas and a candidate for President in ’08) apologizing to Native Americans; the resolution was apparently never passed. There was, however, a Congressional resolution passed in 1993 apologizing for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

Actually, many governments around the world issue resolutions as a way to make symbolic gestures for particular political constituencies. It’s tougher than ever for the U.S. to make such gestures in a community that views us as morally suspect. Still, resolutions have their place, if for no other reason than to prevent history from being rewritten. Where it gets a little silly is when Congress starts making resolutions condemning private organizations or citizens whose views, whether we like them or not, represent exactly that – private views. Instead of the intemperate rush to condemn, I’d urge Congress to move on. There’s work to be done.

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I’m more of a Mets fan than a Yankees follower (I retain a favored place for the hapless Cubs) but I’m a long-time fan of Joe Torre. The catcher (beginning with my hometown team, the Milwaukee Braves) turned manager (including several seasons for the Mets), has been a real class act over the last twelve years, a nice balance to the bombastic George Steinbrenner, who he has famously withstood. But twelve years is a long time, punctuated by several inglorious near-misses as well as those World Series wins, not to mention health scares for him and his family. So is it time for Torre to go? Even his admirers think that something’s gotta give. From the sports writers to the bean counters to the Ultimate Decider, everyone’s looking at job performance, return on investment and (hopefully) the team’s well-being. Someone is (or several someones are) then held accountable and action is taken. The Mets are going through the same painful process across town.

 

Accountability seems to be operational in sports, maybe because so much money is involved. Still, I can’t help but wonder why it doesn’t work better when it comes to our government. Technically, we’re all owners. It’s our money. Elections are coming up. Let’s take a page from the owners and hell, the fans and get more insistent about job performance, return on investment and the well-being of our nation. The buck’s gotta stop somewhere.

 

 

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