Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not With A Bang, But A Whimper

Calm your fears that George W. Bush, in his last two years in the White House, will do something to undermine Roe vs. Wade.

Yes, I’ve heard the arguments. That he could appoint Supreme Court judges to overturn it. That, as a lame duck he has nothing to lose, so he’ll do as he pleases.

But this won’t happen.

For one, any politician who would dare to touch that third rail would be a dead duck. Women as a body would rise up and smite the party that touches that amendment and the Republicans would find themselves out of power not just for a presidential term, but for a very, very long time. And for all their bluster, politicians know this.

For two, it could happen not by any move from the White House, but by the states, with cost-cutting done to balance their budgets. It could be done by hospital closures and that worst threat of all, consolidation of services.

Every once and a while there is a rumble of this in my area. There are two Catholic hospitals, one on either side of the river, in cities where there is also another (and on the eastern bank, two other) non-denominational facilities. There have been no closures but there have been consolidations and partnerships. The sticking point always comes in the fact that the Catholic hospitals do not perform abortions.

But the state is in trouble and the noose is getting tighter.

At noon today, Albany is set to release a report by the Commission on Health Care Facilities that will strongly recommend that nine hospitals in the state will be closed, and several others will disappear through consolidation. This also includes a number of nursing homes.

According to an article that appeared this morning in the Albany Times Union, this measure is necessary in order for the state to cut “excess” health care beds and save taxpayers millions in Medicaid costs.

In the Capital region, this calls for the closure of Bellevue Women’s Hospital, a facility that is celebrating its 75th year.

Also according to the article, “The commission also requires Ellis Hospital, now with 368 beds, and St. Clare's Hospital, with 200 beds, to unite under a single governing structure. The recommendation would bring together a Catholic institution with family planning constraints, and a non-Catholic facility that provides abortions.” (read the entire article) The report specifies that unless a Governing Board is developed to cut expenses for these two facilities, one or the other may be closed completely, putting the abortion services available at Ellis in jeopardy.

Situations like this one exist throughout the state. Locally, on the west side of the Hudson the Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals will be forced to merge. It is claimed that the Catholic hospitals will then be “forced” to provide abortion services. And we all know that isn’t going to happen. They’ve tried it before.

The president of Bellevue said that they have no empty beds and don’t understand why they are being targeted for closure. A grass-roots campaign is already beginning to support the necessity of the hospital.

Governor Pataki, a Republican and a lame duck, has until December 5th to recommend the report, as a whole, to the State Legislature, which has until December 31st to either accept or reject the plan as it is. A close aide to Pataki says that he’s certain to recommend it.

There’s got to be another way for New York to save money other than slashing services available at already-taxed hospitals and healthcare facilities. Not only might it put facilities that provide safe, legal abortions out of business, but already, fewer and fewer doctors and hospitals will accept Medicaid patients and this will only make their plight worse.

If you live in New York, or know someone in New York who might be affected, I’d urge you to take action. Contact your state representativeor your state senator to make your concerns known. And if this is happening in New York State, it could be in the works in other states as well.

Don't let them get away with this.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Let's Keep The "Thanks" In "Thanksgiving"

I’m protesting.

I’m protesting the utterly ridiculous commercialism and consequential lunacy that has taken over this country, fueled by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Best Buy and Target and all the other big-box retailers that have followed their lead.

I’ve blogged before about the advancement of the Marketing and Advertising Calendar, how all of the holidays have been accelerated so that Back To School happens in July, Halloween happens in September, Thanksgiving happens in October, and so on.

But now it appears that Thanksgiving has disappeared altogether. It’s become a rushed parade of “How To Make The Perfect Turkey” spreads in women’s’ magazines, stacks of jellied cranberry sauce cans and holiday TV specials that are more about stunt-casting for sweeps-week than the holiday. What I adore about this simple, non-religious holiday where we give thanks, eat tons of food then spend the rest of the weekend stuck in airport security lines is in danger of becoming lost in a swirl of Black Friday sales, mall traffic and stores opening at ungodly hours when we should all be sleeping off our turkey and pumpkin pie.

I have nothing against Best Buy and Target. I spend (or used to spend) a lot of money there. But first, why the hell are lunatics standing in line (in the rain, by the way) in the middle of the night in front of these stores to buy an overpriced videogame system when, if they had a modicum of common sense, they could have pre-ordered it on-line or…oh, my God, actually WAITED to buy a product that I guarantee would have been available somewhere after the craziness has passed.

Trust me. The world will keep spinning around if your kid doesn’t get the new PlayStation for Christmas. I didn’t get everything I asked for, either. Of course, I’ve been in therapy for the last two years, but that’s beside the point.

But why are these stores opening while it’s still dark outside? And what’s wrong with waiting until the leftovers are gone to start your holiday shopping? (and in case you haven’t heard, Wal-Mart employees will now be greeting you with “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Get ready for the picketing to begin.) Have we become that crazed with multi-tasking that we no longer know how to relax, kick back for a few days? Or are we so programmed to do what all of our other fellow lemmings do that once the parade of sales are announced, it kicks off something in our brain that repeats, over and over, “Must go to the mall…must go to the mall…” The parade of cars pointing toward Wal-Mart makes me think of aliens being called up to the mother ship.

So I’m protesting. I have not, nor will I go to the mall this weekend. I’m spending the holiday watching football and recovering from sugar coma, the way it should be.

Call me un-American. But I can live with that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Few Words of Thanks…

I’m going to be preoccupied with various things including making a couple of vats of cranberry sauce over the next few days (recipes will be supplied upon request), so in advance of the day we commemorate our forebears’ gratitude for surviving one especially tough winter, I wanted to list a few things in this world for which I am thankful. After my family, friends and faithful readers, of course…

• Lidocaine patches
• Even if I don't start a new novel for a while, the knowledge that a number of them still exist inside my head (and damn, it’s getting crowded in there).
• On-line shopping
• My physical therapist
• The New York Times Crossword Puzzle (except on Friday and Saturday)
• Spring peepers
• The occasional well-written sitcom that sneaks through the ratings guillotine (in other words, network execs are COWARDS for canceling “Arrested Development.”)
• Hot showers
• The way trees sound immediately after the rain stops
• The following writers, in no particular order: TC Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, Anne Tyler, Tom Perrotta, Michael Chabon, and, for fun, Janet Evanovich.
• Herman Edwards is no longer the Jets’ coach
• Cars that start
• That writers can now get their words in front of a lot of eyeballs without the traditional “gatekeepers”
• National Public Radio. Especially Garrison Keillor.
• Those three little words: “Two More Years”
• Any movie with Sean Connery
• Vanilla candles
• That I live in a country with indoor plumbing, basic human rights, no worries that I’m going to step on a land mine on the way to the grocery store, and that we are so fat and happy that watching people eat Madagascar hissing cockroaches for money actually passes for entertainment.

And what could be better than that?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mighty Casey Has Struck Out

When Shea Stadium is torn down, the last seat removed and the last hunk of grass unearthed, when the Mets’ new home is constructed just beyond what used to be the outfield fence where John Franco nurtured his tomato garden, it will be called Citi Field.

As an urban baseball park costs more than the owners were willing to pony up, especially in New York where the unions demand top dollar, Citicorp stepped up to the plate. The designers claim that with this park, as is becoming more common, they will return to the “retro” look of baseball parks, emulating the Brooklyn Dodgers old Ebbet’s Field.

Except with a big fat “Citicorp” logo slapped upon it. Citicorp logos on beer cups and placards and possibly, tattooed on each players’ rump.

Just kidding (Christ, I hope so), but I suppose corporate sponsorship has become a necessary evil in these days of construction and maintenance costs spiraling out of control. Except for a handful of holdouts (Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Jacobs Field, Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium among them), few parks are still named after their team, their geographic location or their owner.

When Husband and I first saw the earth movers over the outfield fence, we hoped that the name of the “new” Shea Stadium would stay among them. He suggested “Metropolitan Park,” which incorporates the full name of the Mets and still has that “old time” feel. Or (we hoped) that the name would commemorate some beloved personality from the Mets’ history: Casey Stengal, Tommy Agee, Tug McGraw.

But, as usual, nobody listens to us.

When the announcement came out, I was disappointed but I suppose it could have been worse. At least “Citi Field” sounds like “City Field” which is almost like “Metropolitan Park.” Kind of. We could have had a different sponsor and then had to bear with something completely stupid, like “Trump Park, The World’s Greatest Baseball Field Ever.”

Then I got thinking about how much worse it could have been. We could have been stuck with:

Gotti Field
Flushing Field
Head On Head On Head On Park
The Other New York Stadium
Number 7 Train Park
We Try Hard Park
John F. Kennedy International Airport Stadium
Waste Management Field
We Don’t Suck Park
Nathan's Hot Dog Field

So I guess Citi Field isn’t so bad after all. It would have been more fun to simply call it “Yankee Stadium.” After all, it’s been working well for “that other New York team” for decades.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

This Sewage System Brought To You By Proctor & Gamble

Picture this: The St. Louis Golden Arches. Painted yellow and slapped with the McDonald’s logo.

Don’t laugh. It could happen. We’ve already got a toe on the top of that slippery slope as it is. It starts with renaming perfectly adequate structures such as our three local bridges spanning the Hudson: The Kingston-Rhinecliff, The Mid-Hudson, and the Newburgh-Beacon. The names work, right? In all cases, a traveler from out of town knows where they are, in two cases, they’ll know the cities the bridges connect. But no, this wasn’t good enough. There must have been too much money in the budget (or else our Congressman has been too busy “bringing home the bacon” grown from tax dollars we’ve already doled out), so suddenly the bridges have shiny new names and shiny new signs to commemorate their shiny new names. Now they are, respectively, the George Clinton Bridge (named for the first Governor of New York, and not a relative of the former president), the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge (he lived nearby) and the Hamilton Fish Bridge (a beloved local politician who had something to do with the Newburgh/Beacon area, or so I’ve been told).

And for a small donation, your company or organization can “adopt a highway” which means that you get your name on a little blue sign that implies that you are somewhat responsible for that stretch of asphalt. Around here, these organizations include the Boy Scouts, the Vietnam vets, and my favorite, the Lesbian Visibility Project (although I’ve yet to see a single one anywhere near the parcel of road they’ve adopted).

With a little bit of lobbying and petitioning (and probably a hefty donation to someone’s reelection campaign), you can get an entire road named in someone’s honor. Locally, we have war heroes, politicians and other miscellaneous favorite sons and daughters. For instance, the road linking Kingston to Parts West is called the Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates Memorial Highway, named after a legendary African-American one-legged tap dancer who in 1951 opened a country club in Kerhonksen, New York.

OK, you say, these are not corporate sponsorships. But wait. We’ve had them for a very long time. The GE building in New York. The Sears Tower. The Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. And few professional sports organizations still play in venues named for the team, the owner, or the geographical area in which they reside. You’ve got Minute Maid Stadium (formerly Enron Field until they went bust), Tropicana Field, Comerica Park, and the Mets soon-to-be new home, Citi Field (more on this in an upcoming blog). And my favorite local example, a concert venue in downtown Albany formerly called Knickerbocker Arena, known lovingly to locals as “The Egg” for its football-like shape. For years and years it was the Knick, but now it’s called the Pepsi Arena. Something sinks in my heart every time we pass the shiny new sign on the Thruway indicating that you can get to the arena at the next exit.

And probably buy a Pepsi once you get there.

Now I hear that the city of San Francisco is having a little trouble coming up with the funds to repair and maintain the Golden Gate Bridge. (I guess Nancy Pelosi has been busy lately) You would think that McDonald’s would be the logical choice to step in but no. Wells Fargo was one of the first corporations to throw its saddle into the rodeo. I guess it makes sense, and is less tacky as far as corporate sponsorships could go. Wells Fargo was in huge part responsible for the development of the west, so why shouldn’t they be able to buy a piece of one of the most prominent man-made landmarks in California?

It could be worse. It could be the Jerry Garcia bridge, and they’ll play Grateful Dead space music through speakers all day until the toll-takers are so zoned they can’t make correct change.

But what remains of Jerry’s estate probably won’t be enough to pay for all those construction workers to stand around tripping out on Dead, whereas a corporation could merely write it off.

You think NASCAR is choked with corporate sponsorship? Just wait. There is a lot of crumbling infrastructure in this country, and a lot of companies who would gladly shell out for a piece of the rock.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Some Career Advice for Kevin Federline

K-Fed. Dude. Come on. Stop trying to win her back with your lame poetry, put down the weed and the Chunky Monkey and listen up. Yeah, I know. Getting divorced is a major bummer. But you don’t have to take this lying down. And you had to have known you couldn’t be Mr. Britney Spears forever. Just ask Jason Alexander. At least you had the job for more than a few hours. But before you fade into little more than an occasional National Enquirer crossword puzzle clue or a question on Jeopardy!, let me give you a little career advice.

1. Go into rehab. Even if you’re not hooked on anything. Better to check into the Betty Ford or wherever before the cops find you in the back seat with Divine Brown or before you slug down a pint of gin and a couple of Ambien and “accidentally” drive your Porsche into her favorite club. It builds sympathy points with the press and you’ll look not like some rank schlub loser who just got his ass dumped but A Good Father Who Has Realized The Error Of His Ways And Is Getting his Poor, Troubled Life Back Together. Just ask Patrick Kennedy or Mel Gibson. Trust me. And while you’re there fumbling your way through art therapy and making your own bed, it wouldn’t hurt to bulk up a little. Lift a few weights, do some crunches. Like, a thousand of them.

2. Send the two kids you had with Shar Jackson some money, for God’s sake. You can’t go around demanding sole custody of the children you had with Britney while ignoring the two you already had. Get with it. You’re changing your image, here. And lose the tattoo while you’re at it. Gang-banger tats don’t work on white guys. Seen Vanilla Ice lately? Huh? I didn't think so.

3. Cut another album. Don’t worry that the first one sucked. Soon you’ll be as hot as Justin Timberlake. It doesn’t matter that you can’t sing. Neither can he, and nothing seems to be stopping him. Just get yourself a few more lessons (under no circumstances let anyone know about this) and a better studio, and the best publicist you can afford. Make sure to include at least one of those heavy metal-type ballads that says, “I’m so over you, you untalented slut.” Oh. And learn some better dance moves. Please.

4. When your very expensive publicist starts getting you so much airplay that your Top 40 hit becomes a ring tone, hook up with a hot older babe. Ashton Kutcher would still be that stupid guy on “That 70’s Show” if not for Demi Moore. See if Janet Jackson or Julia Roberts is available. Then be seen everywhere.

5. Find religion. Don’t make it too obvious a stretch, like Tom Cruise finding Scientology or Madonna, that nice Catholic girl, studying Kaballah. Take your time doing research. Or have your agent do it for you. Find one that seems natural to you. Then make it public. When you agree to an exclusive interview for Rolling Stone magazine, say you’ve had a revelation that all that partying was just to replace a need in his life, and he’d been really been searching for something more spiritual for years. Unfortunately that was not one of Ms. Spears’ priorities.

6. Have your publicist get you a gig singing the National Anthem at a NASCAR race. It will show that even though you’re on your way to becoming a big hot star, you’re still a regular guy.

7. Get yourself a guest-voice spot on “The Simpsons.” If it makes fun of you, so much the better. It will show that you can laugh at yourself.

8. If you run into trouble, call Sean Penn, Lyle Lovett, or, in a dire pinch, Tom Arnold, for advice or a shoulder to cry on. NEVER let this happen in public. Unless you are all out with hot babes at the same time.

9. Now that your self-esteem is high and you’re coming into your own, hit the interview circuit and talk how much you love being a father. Stress that even though Britney is a sorry-ass flash in the pan, you will absolutely be there for the kids. That is, between dates with your Older Hot Babe and gigs and the occasional movie role.

Good luck, dude. We’re pulling for you.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Twistin’ By The Pool

I’m on guard against getting my hopes up where it regards something that might help my physical condition. After all, I’ve been burned so many times before. The meds that failed, the “miracle cure” that didn’t work, the doctors that came so well recommended. I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown running at Lucy’s football. Or, like any child raised on Saturday morning cartoons in the ‘60s, like a certain coyote awaiting his most recent order from the Acme Corporation.

It’s the very definition of insanity, you know. To keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.

But this time, I might be on to something. And it’s the simplest damned thing in the world. I get into a tank of hot water, and with the help of a physical therapist, I exercise and stretch my way back to a somewhat normal level of flexibility.

It’s as old as the Roman baths; yet it’s one of the last things I’ve gotten around to trying. All the magic bullet pills, all the new-fangled steroid injections, and still, I’ll be doing the same thing as Nero when he got achy after too much fiddling around.

I had my pre-therapy evaluation yesterday. Got bent like the usual pretzel, filled in the usual forms. Signed the usual places that protect my privacy yet allow Homeland Security access to my information in the event of a national emergency. Though why the President would need to know my range of motion or injury history during an anthrax attack escapes my understanding, unless it would used to screen out people who can’t run away very fast.

But Christ, I thought to myself as I filled out the Medical History form and reached the all-too-small space where I was supposed to indicate what treatments I’ve tried to date for my condition. Can we talk about the ten kinds of breathing techniques? The guided imagery CDs? The physical therapist’s double-jointed spine table? The giant needles full of cortisone jabbed into my back? The unreimbursable bucks I’ve spent on massage and supplements and acupuncture? Honey, you don’t have enough paper behind that desk for me to detail everything I’ve tried.

And it all could have been as simple as the fact that man comes from seawater. Albeit this water will be chemically-treated and bobbing about with four other women who will also be stretching their tired hamstrings and stiff ilio-tibial bands, but still.


Then the stardust clears from my eyes as William, my new underwater guide, gives me the tour. (I now have a therapist on land, and in water. Next I imagine I’ll find one who works at zero G. Don’t laugh. I’m sure there are some exercise physiologists at NASA researching this as you read this.) Anyway, I get a good hard look at this pool. The stainless steel and tile sparkle as the water undulates from some unseen source.

There are no stairs. I was told there would be stairs.

My stomach tightens. “Uh. William?”

“Yes?” he says.

“How am I supposed to get into this thing?”

He looks at me like I have three heads. “Well. You sit on the side,” (the edges are raised, at a height just above my knees) “And then you swing your legs over the edge.”

It’s the swinging my legs over the edge part that I’m having trouble with. I want to tell him, “Dude. If I could do that, then I wouldn’t need physical therapy.”

Seeing my concern, he points to The Chair. You’ve probably seen these. The hydraulic lifts they have at public pools to get the truly disabled or wheelchair-bound people into the water.

I’d failed to notice it before. And I glare at it. No. No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s going to be a frosty day in the netherworld before I have to be lowered into the pool in that thing.

I can do this.


But I’m not going to think about that now. I don’t have to. There are other things I have to think about first.

It starts with finding a bathing suit. My old one fit me…oh, when I was a couple of sizes smaller. But where does one find a disposable (read: cheap) bathing suit in November by Tuesday?

Hey, if I can do that, getting into the pool is going to be a snap. If man came from the sea, then surely he can, when needed, crawl back in.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Guinness World Records Day

It is a tribute to the success or the stupidity of the human race that we have the luxury to pursue not such things like ensure the survival of the species, provide shelter and food for our families, but compete on reality shows or do dangerous or inane stunts for money or for glory.

Take for example the Guinness Book of World Records. Oh, it has gone so far beyond what we remember from our childhoods – the man who was so fat he had to be buried in a piano box, the Siamese Twins, the world’s tallest man.

Now it has become a worldwide version of “Jackass.”

Thursday was “Guinness World Records Day,” and people from around the globe were showing their stunts and their stuff in order to make it into print. For instance, an American man, Jacky Bibby, tried to hold nine rattlesnakes into his mouth (and almost lost a thumb in the process). A New Zealander tried to set the record by putting as many socks as possible on one foot. But apparently this wasn’t enough for him, so he then planned to eat as much raw garlic as possible in one minute. (and afterward I hope he stuffs some of those socks in his mouth). Toronto was going for the world’s largest reenactment of the video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which included 150 “zombie” dancers. Italians in the town of Treviso created the longest line of pizzas (203.7 yards) and 6000 Parisians were performing a simultaneous lip-lock. (All right, these last two could come under the categories of providing food for our families and ensuring survival of the species, in that order.)

As long as we’re all fat and happy and have the luxury to do ridiculous things, here are some records I’d like to see attempted:

1. World’s Longest White House Press Conference – hey, maybe we’ll get some answers out of the guy before he leaves.
2. World’s Largest Buried Object – Let Rumsfeld find the supposed Iraqi jets and WMDs he claims are buried in the desert.
3. World’s Longest Chain of Thong Underpants – Let Bill Clinton organize this to keep him out of trouble while Hillary is out campaigning.
4. World’s Largest Christmas Display – I think my neighbor is going for this one. A few more lights and we’ll be able to see him from the space shuttle.
5. World’s Loudest Simultaneous Cheer – I’m not sure, but this either occurred along the length of the East Coast or in Seattle when Democrats took both houses or when Rumsfeld resigned. We’re still awaiting Guinness confirmation. And for our hearing to return.
6. World’s Second Loudest Simultaneous Cheer – will happen when Bush leaves office.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Good Reason To Kill Your Television

I guess this guy was not trying to emulate Jackass, but to win a Darwin Award. Too bad he didn't make it. But one can only hope his reproductive abililties were compromised from the blast.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Old State, New State, Red State, Blue State

So the die is cast and the people have spoken and Nancy Pelosi is gloating and Bush is probably furiously at work a speech that will contain phrases like “bipartisan cooperation.”

But that’s the way the pendulum swings.

With or without some horrible thing going on in the White House, after dancing with one party for a few years, the populace chooses to switch partners. And that’s the way it’s been since the ink on the Constitution was still wet.

But New Yorkers seem to like their dance partners very, very much. My congressman, Maurice Hinchey, ran unopposed. Our junior senator probably could have saved her entire reelection fund for her 2008 presidential campaign. And still, we’re bleeding jobs and taxes are so high that people can’t afford to retire here, let alone continue to live here, yet we keep electing the same people at each opportunity, hoping somehow for different results.

And if I remember correctly, isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Cuomo didn’t fix us, so we fired him. Then we thought Pataki would do the job. Not so much. I don’t expect Mrs. Clinton will be much help. New York already adores her, so she doesn’t need to do us any favors. Now Eliot Spitzer will be in the Governor’s office, and he promises not to raise taxes (although pols have this sneaky way of calling them “fees” or “reassessments” or “appropriations” or somesuch so they can claim they haven’t raised “taxes,” therefore keeping their campaign promises). Oh, right. Jobs. He promises jobs. And not just any old jobs, either. But good ones. Ones that will actually allow people to move out of their parents’ basements or afford to go to the doctor.

Frankly I have no clue how anyone is going to salvage New York without raising taxes, but perhaps I’m just not that smart. Maybe they’ll kick more people off welfare or build a few more Starbucks and Applebee’s. Yeah. That’s what we need. More minimum-wage jobs. Employers tell me they can’t even find enough people who want to work at low-paying retail jobs and now we’re going to create more opportunities for people to blow off their interviews. No wonder customer service is going downhill around here. Not too many people who think their job sucks are going to go the extra mile to get you the item that you can’t instantly find on the shelf.

I know, there are some very hard-working people around here, and I appreciate them and thank them whenever I happen to run across one, but more and more, they are in the minority.

As are New Yorkers who don’t consider themselves true-blue, down-the-line Democrats. Perhaps we should unionize, lest we become like the endangered Liberal of the Reagan years.

The first meeting will be held in my car.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Public Service Announcement From A Patriotic Penguin


That's all.

I don't care who you vote for. I hope you'll put a little bit of thought into it, I hope that you know what's at stake when you pull the lever (or punch your punch card, or touch your touch screen, or whatever method is used in your state).

But people have died for this right. People stood in lines for hours in Iraq, in Afghanistan, all around the world, sometimes risking their lives to do so. We should be embarrassed as a nation that the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot is higher in Iraq than here.

So go vote.

If you don't, you have no right to bitch about the results.

Unless you live in New York. Or Florida. Or just feel like carping about a certain group of politicians who are trampling on the Constitution.

Thanks for listening. You may now return to your regularly scheduled day.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Abject Begging and Character Assassination

So this is what it’s come to. Get in your last licks, spend your PAC money, work the media, fax around the talking points, slam the other guy, defend yourself against scandal.

Or, just another day in America.

Alan Hevesi, the sitting democratic Comptroller for the state of New York, has been spinning like Kristi Yamaguchi for the last couple of weeks, defending himself against what he now calls “a stupid decision” to use public funds and resources to provide a driver and protection for his wife. The bulk of what was supposed to be a “debate” between him and his challenger, Christopher Callaghan, became an inquisition between him and the moderator. He got a half-hour of media time on our local NPR affiliate, WAMC (in the guise of being allowed to be a guest on a regular show, Capital Connection) where the omnipresent president of the station, Alan Chartock, let him defend himself to the voters of New York. He explained that he’d gotten threats against him and his family, so naturally he wanted to protect his wife, and his job required him to travel a great deal, and he didn’t want to worry about her when he was away, so he asked the appropriate personnel if he could have protection, and all was on the up-and-up, or so he said, until we got to the part about the fine print: that of course you were entitled to these services, if you reimbursed the state of New York for them. Which he somehow forgot to do until someone (I assume from his challenger’s camp), reminded him of this tiny little stipulation. Then he paid back some $83,000 to the state, which got more media attention, and then he was taken to task by the Ethics Commission and put under investigation. When it was found that he indeed broke the law, he lost his public support from Eliot “Golden Boy” Spitzer. Spitzer knew about the “indiscretion” earlier, expressed only the mildest of doubts about Hevesi’s “fitness to serve.” (“Concerned” was how the media put it). But as Attorney General of the state, should have known that Hevesi had broken a law. It was not until the story broke that it WAS indeed a violation of New York Code that Spitzer pulled his support.

And Hevesi was ordered to pay more money back to the state.

And now that we’ve reached the days of abject begging and character assassination, he’s using the last of his media dollars on spots where he might as well be on his knees with his hands out. I haven’t seen this much public tap dancing since a certain intern snapped her thong on the Oval Office. Hevesi – looking most sincerely apologetic - basically says that he made a dumb mistake and as Comptroller he should have known better (because, you know, that was his JOB) but he wanted to protect his wife. And if the decent and compassionate citizens of New York would be good enough to trust him with their vote, he’d be eternally grateful to them…and not the politicians.

Oh, get off it, Alan. You know you’ll win. This is, after all, the Bluest of the Blue States. If you were a Republican, you would have been drawn and quartered by now. But this is New York. So take all that money you’re spending on those TV spots “defending” yourself, and give it to a homeless shelter. Or to the guy you used to drive your wife around. Call it a tip.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Collecting Snow Globes

I was thinking this morning of times in my life when I’ve been truly happy, the kind of in-the-moment happiness when you don’t think about anything else. When the experience isn’t tinged with the anxiety of what is coming next or when the happiness will end.

Several jumped out at me immediately – the obvious ones like the day I met my husband, our wedding, and when my nephews and nieces were born, and being on my own for the first time.

But there was always more to those stories than the pureness of the joyful experience. I guess it’s the writer in me, even before I knew I was a writer, stepping back to observe, to add context, to provide back story, to flesh out the characters.

Instead of just being one of the characters and being in the moment.

When I met my husband, we had an immediate connection, but alas, we were both involved with other people.

On my own for the first time, while a heady experience, was still a partially troubling one. All these decisions to make and what if I made the wrong ones?

And at the wedding, I’m smiling at the camera while worrying if everyone is having a good time. In those deceptively-serene looking shots of the bride preparing to take the stage, I’m fretting if all will go well, hoping that no one will step on my dress or get sick or start a feud. (Hey, I’d heard worse stories)

Even as my gaze melted into the beautiful baby faces of my nieces and nephews, part of me stepped away to speculate upon their futures. The sadness of knowing that their perfect innocence wouldn’t last forever.

There is one moment that in my memory is pure and crystalline, and it’s not a particularly earth-shattering or life-changing event, none of those stepping-stone experiences that you remember forever or commemorate with photographs or celebrations.

It was when Husband and I saw “Blue Man Group” in NYC the weekend before 9/11.

Admittedly, I was fretty and distracted before the show, my mind swirling with the usual thoughts I have when we go into the city – will we make the train, how are we going to find this place, what if we get lost in the Subway, where are we going to eat. As it got closer to showtime and I got hungrier, I got crankier. But we found a place. I don’t remember what.

But what I remember was the show.

The feeling of being so completely caught up in the experience that no other thought could intrude. We were sitting close enough to the stage to be considered in the “splash zone,” so we were advised to wear provided plastic ponchos lest we go home covered with paint, water, and whatever other goo they played with during the show. At one point, toward the end, they used strobe lights and sent rolls of toilet paper streaming over the audience and the Blue Men themselves stepped off the stage and climbed over the tops of the seats and it was just this pure, amazing, kinetic moment of sound and light and music that so overwhelmed me I could only surrender my senses to it. I broke free to glance over at Husband and he looked like kid seeing the circus for the first time, and the strobe light made him appear to glow.

We came out of the theater laughing.

And then we resumed the rest of our lives.

I’m told it’s a learned skill, the mindfulness of being in the moment. And as much as I practice it, I haven’t quite gotten it by the tail yet.

I keep working on it. I go for a walk and think about how the air feels against my face and the way the trees look and the crunch of the leaves under my feet and then I think about jumping into piles of leaves as a kid and other things about autumn and I’m into another story and I’ve lost my place.

In the shower I can’t just think about how the hot water hits the back of my neck and how the shampoo smells. The heat and water get my mind working and I’m thinking of something I want to write that day.

I get the idea, the mindfulness thing, but for a writer, it’s like herding cats.

The one place I’ve been the most successful is while washing dishes. I concentrate on the heat of the water through my gloves and the way the soap bubbles look trailing down a dish.

Guess you’ve got to start somewhere.

But I’ll get it. And someday I’ll have another pure little nugget of life captured in a snow globe, to put on the shelf with the others.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Waxing Nostalgic

I was on the phone with Gladys last night, and we started in on the effect that computers and the web are having on our lives and our culture. There is a lot of press about this topic lately, whether the magic of the technology is a good thing that makes us more efficient and more connected, or a bad thing that makes us more isolated and more stressed.

But there is a part of the revolution that is rarely discussed: what we’ve left behind in our zeal to move forward.

When Henry Ford started rolling out his Model T’s, he also started a revolution. But one that would put the whole of the horse-and-buggy trade out of business. This was no small segment of the economy. Horses had to be bred, fed, shod, housed, and tended to. Buggies were designed, handcrafted, repaired…not to mention the manufacture and maintenance of the hardware that connected one to the other. This wasn’t just a few blacksmiths put out of work. This was a whole way of life.

Similarly the computer changed the way we do business and the way many people earned a living.

For instance, the graphic design and printing trade, which I’ve been a part of for the past twenty years. As late as the mid 80s, if I was designing something that would eventually be printed, I needed to first sketch out the design, and plan where the text and graphics would be placed. I’d take a typewritten copy of the text, mark it up by hand with secret code for the typographer (this was called a “spec”), send it out to a type shop, wait for it to come back, proofread it for errors, send it back again, until it was perfect. The final type galley came back on impervious photographic paper. I’d prep the mechanical (tape an appropriately-sized piece of white illustration board to my drafting table and with a blue pencil, t-square and triangle, trace out the dimensions of your printed piece), then either run my type galley through a waxer or put rubber cement on the back, then trim it out with an Xacto knife, and paste it on to the board. Ad nauseum, until all the type was in position. Photos were merely indicated by red squares marked “FPO” (for position only), and the transparencies were given directly to the printer along with the completed mechanical.

The printer worked his magic and voila, my brochure or catalog or book cover was born.

No more. I can now create the entire document, color-corrected images included, FTP it to a printer’s server, where it is spit out directly into a printing plate.

No longer are the craftsmen of the printing trade needed. This encompasses a whole host of occupations: typesetters, negative-strippers, color-correctors, plate etchers.

I was an assistant art director at an ad agency at the cusp of this revolution. It was the mid-eighties, and we still created mechanicals by hand, although we were lucky enough to have an in-house type department. I remember my boss coming back into our office after a meeting with the president. He flumphed into his chair, looked at me dishearteningly, and said, “I have to go to this conference about ‘desktop publishing.’ What the heck is desktop publishing?”

We were all soon to find out.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for the change in the industry. At least as far as my job was concerned. No more sweating out if my crop marks were exact, no more worrying if the type would fall off the board on the way to the printer, no more contorting my body over drafting tables and light boards or slicing my fingers with the Xacto. No more breathing in benzene (from the solvent used to thin or clean off rubber cement) or coming home with bits of border tape stuck all over my elbows.

But with one mini-Mac and mouse placed atop a desk, then another, then another, a whole lot of people who couldn’t fit their specialties into the new world lost their jobs. These were artists—craftsmen—but that’s the way it went. The blacksmith had to find something else to do, too.

We were warned – evolve or become obsolete.

But a lot of people couldn’t evolve. Especially the older guys, who’d been stripping negatives or color-correcting plates for years. Or the ones who just couldn’t take to computers and longed for their drafting tables. Some left the business altogether. Paste-up artists became desktop publishers. Typesetters became data-processors, and eventually, some became web designers (HTML is remarkably similar to typesetter’s code). A color-corrector I knew went back to school and became a Pilates instructor. Some just retired.

I'm heartened to see that there are several museums dedicated to this part of American culture. After all, Ben Franklin was a printer. He hand-set metal type and operated a printing press. True, the majority of printing presses used in the US were German, and are now often Japanese or Korean, but everything involved in the printing business was a huge part of our economy for many years.

So every time you make a greeting card on your computer, or retouch a vacation photo on Photoshop, remember how it all started.

I'm considering writing a book about these lost arts. Ironic that it would be printed in the very manner that put them all out of business.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Politics Is Ugly, Part 1

Whichever political pundit coined these few weeks before Election Day as the “silly season” definitely had it right. And it seems that each year it gets sillier and sillier.

For example, in New York State (those of you not from New York or those of you who don’t care about politics might want to go power-wash smashed pumpkin and shaving cream from your front porches), the race for Attorney General is getting downright ridiculous. The seat is being vacated by Eliot “The Anointed One” Spitzer, who will probably win (in a humiliating landslide) his bid to become our next Governor. Battling for the position of Attorney General is Republican Jeanine Pirro and Democrat Andrew Cuomo (son of the former Governor). Not just Spitzer but Bill Clinton himself have thrown their support to Cuomo. No wonder. He started his political career working on his father’s campaign, and then in his administration, then served as Clinton’s HUD secretary in both terms of his administration. His resume looks good on paper, but as far as experience relevant to the position, Pirro has much more. She has been a prosecutor since 1978 and served three four-year terms as Westchester District Attorney, while Cuomo has mainly ridden his family name (straight into the White House), and worked for non-profit organizations. He calls himself “a fighter for social justice.” Which is all fine and good, but as Spitzer should know, the position of New York Attorney General requires someone with a lot of legal experience who is going to come in and kick some serious ass, and not a lightweight like Cuomo. And because this is the Bluest of the Blue States, he is going to win.

But wait, there’s more. There’s always more. Both candidates come with closets full of skeletons, all of which are being rattled, Pirro is under investigation. Not for anything as heinous as misusing public funds or sending subordinates pornographic instant messages. No. She is being investigated because of her unfortunate choice of mate. Hubby is a convicted felon who spent 11 months in the can for tax fraud. But her signature was also on the tax forms. Beyond all of that Geraldine Ferraro-like inconvenience, she suspected her loving husband of cheating on her and hired a private detective to investigate him. And somehow this makes her the bad guy?

Cuomo isn’t so squeaky-clean, either. He endured a messy tabloid divorce from his philandering Kennedy-family wife. He’s been accused of taking $87,000 in funds for speeches he made while HUD secretary, and, most recently, of accepting campaign contributions from Mark Green’s brother, who is backing racetrack expansion in New York, something Cuomo claimed to be fervently against.

And we still have a week to go.

Politics Is Ugly, Part 2

Brace yourself. It’s no secret that I’m not one of her biggest fans, but I’m defending Hillary Clinton. Because her opponent, John “Why Are You Wasting Your Time” Spencer, crossed the line. He told a reporter, in reference to Ms. Clinton’s days at Wellesley College, “You ever see a picture of her back then? Whew. I don’t know why Bill married her.” He added quickly, “She looks good now,” but credited it to “millions of dollars” in plastic surgery.

For one, this is a vicious personal attack beyond words. And anyone without a prayer in the world of winning an election should know better than to give himself even less of a chance. I guarantee that among the few people who will be pulling his lever, none of them will be women. It’s just unforgivable and cruel to bring somebody’s personal appearance into play. No matter what their politics.

For two, who the hell CARES if she had plastic surgery? The only reason I would get huffy about this is if she used taxpayer money to foot the bill (which she did not). It’s her own damned business and everyone should just shut up about it.

There are plenty of other things to get huffy about – her record in New York, the fact that once she gets re-elected, she will begin her campaign for the White House, which will leave the state with one (very busy) Senator – but her appearance – anyone’s appearance - is and should be off-limits. Yes, this is a shallow culture and appearance is everything and people are getting BoToxed until they can no longer blink, but HANDS OFF. Nobody rakes men over the coals about their personal appearance, and if they do, the end up sounding petty and ridiculous. Why should it be different for women?

And, sadly, we still have a week to go.