Thursday, December 30, 2010

Starving to Death in Designer Duds


Anorexia is perhaps the most bizarre of modern illnesses in a world where millions of people are starving. Isabelle Caro, a French actress and model whose emaciated image in a shocking Italian ad campaign helped rivet global attention on the problem of anorexia in the fashion world and beyond, has died at the age of 28.

In 2006, Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old Brazilian model, also died from the eating disorder. She was 5'8" and weighed 88 pounds. Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani was inspired to produce a 2007 billboard campaign which featured a naked photo of Ms. Caro with vertebrae and facial bones protruding under the slogan "No Anorexia."

Her affliction began at age 13, and she weighed 59 pounds at 5'4" when the famous photo was taken. She wrote a book in 2008, "The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Get Fat," served as a member of the jury on Top Model France, and worked as a film and television actress. She ended an online video with words of advice for aspiring models: "Believe in life." How sad that she was unable to take her own advice.

Some groups working with anorexics feared that the attention her ads garnered would encourage others with the disorder. Images of Caro appeared on so-called pro-ana, or pro-anorexia websites including one with her death notice and photo captioned, "die young, stay pretty."

The international fashion industry has been unsuccessful in attempts to address the health issues facing ultra-thin models. London Fashion Week organizers dropped plans in 2008 for international health certificates for models, while French industry representatives signed a government-backed charter pledging to encourage healthy body images by promoting "a diversity of body representations," but industry executives around the world refused to cooperate. A French bill that would have cracked down on websites advising anorexics how to starve was passed by Parliament's lower house but never considered in the Senate. I don't know of any such efforts in the US.

Needless to say, the effects of advertising campaigns featuring women who resemble Auschwitz survivors continue to be devastating to teenagers and young women worldwide, and their families. As long as this dangerous practice persists and emaciated women are considered the beauty ideal, many more will starve themselves to death, convinced that food and their own bodies are their enemies.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Joy To My World!

'Tis the season for Christmas brag letters, and they have begun to arrive in sickening splendor, so I thought I would write one of my own. I don't know the people I'll be writing about, but since the letters I receive never bear any resemblance to persons living or dead, it shouldn't matter.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS TO ONE AND ALL!

As another joyous year draws to a close, I want to share our good fortune with all you less fortunate beings so that you can eat your collective hearts out rejoice with us.

The first major event of 2010 was that I finally changed my name legally to the name I have used forever, as Donna was not nearly fantastical enough for the exotic creature I have become since I hitchhiked away from the family farm and never looked back. I am now Marcella in both word and deed, the name by which most of you know me, and which suits my fabulousness so perfectly.

In September, James and I bought the ketch of our dreams and look forward to sailing around the world with a small crew of 100, including a manicurist and colonic hydrotherapist, of course. There was some tough competition for this boat, but we outbid that upstart Donald Trump and the entire Hilton family, and she is now ours. Bon voyage to us, darlings! We have christened her "The Odyssey," naturalement, with many gallons of the best champagne.

Our eldest son, Lafcadio, the Captain of Industry, was lauded by Business Week as a Superstar Businessman. His Fortune 500 Company is indeed fortunate to have him. His filly, Heart O' Gold, won the Triple Crown this year as well, and his lovely wife, Loma Linda, gave birth to a baby with two heads, both of them gorgeous, proving the old adage that two heads are indeed better than one.

Our second son, Olfactorio, the perfume industry genius, launched his new fragrance in Paris and Milan, named for his loving mama, Marcella. He confided to me that he always knew that if what I have could be bottled, it would make billions. I'm so proud.

Our daughter, Cinderella, who washes dishes at the best five-star restaurant in New York, caught the attention of Georgio Armani and will be strutting the runway in his next show. Even a jealous mother dishpan hands can't keep a beautiful woman down.

Finally, our youngest son, Destino, who is twelve, has received early acceptance to Harvard. By a wonderful coincidence, he also won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer and the Library of Congress Living Legend Award. It's been quite an exciting year for our 7th grader.

2010 saw my wonderful James installed as President of the World, and if I may be immodest for a second, yours truly was featured in a delightful spread in Town and Country for my work with starving orphans in Rwanda. I am told that my generous gifts of designer clothing, worn only once, were much appreciated, and I plan to continue sending them all the jeweled evening purses their little hearts desire.

Our Christmas roundup letter would not be complete without mentioning that our French Poodle, Marie Antoinette, won Best in Show for the 4th time at Westminster this year.

The Ming vase I dug up while vacationing on the beach in Aruba has been added to the vast collections at the Louvre, and darling James surprised me with the Hope Diamond for our anniversary, just a little something to flaunt wear while sailing the Southern Seas in our ketch.

Our main residence, Valhalla, is being photographed for the March issue of Castle Homes Magazine, and we're all so very excited. Our racing silks won the Grand Prix at Monaco in April for the first time, and we donated the specially-built mechanical marvel to the Smithsonian amidst tremendous international brouhaha.

My toenail clippings were sealed into a Space Capsule to be opened in 100 years, along with photographs, of course, and I owe it all to darling James, without whom I would still be a little farm girl from a Red State, trying to become Miss Rheingold. It makes me humble.

From our houses to yours, I wish you all a healthy and prosperous New Year. Ciao, darlings!

Oodles of love,
Marcella

Saturday, November 27, 2010

London Bridge is Falling Down


I have never bought a copy of The Globe before except once, when I was very, very ill, but the headline screaming at me in the drugstore today was irresistible: Queen Elizabeth II has passed over her son, Prince Charles, and intends to vacate the throne in favor of her grandson, Prince William, after his marriage to Kate Middleton. Elizabeth has been Queen for nearly 60 years, since the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952, when she was 26 years old.

Her father, a second son, had become King in 1937 when his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated his throne rather than give up the woman he loved, a once-divorced and currently remarried American commoner, Wallis Warfield Simpson. Edward had struggled his entire life to be normal, a regular guy, as he was embarrassed by being a person requiring homage. So he was, in effect, an anti-monarchist, surely an unusual position for a member of Great Britain's royal family. Mrs. Simpson, allegedly eager to be Queen, sued her husband for a divorce so she could marry Edward, but the royal family wasn't having any of it.

The entire British government was extremely discontented and threatened to quit over the King's new policies and his politics -- his intended Queen was the icing on a very nasty cake -- and Edward was forced to either tow the line or abdicate. He chose the latter, and he and Wallis Simpson, now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, were married.

They were exiled from England and lived most of their lives in France except for a stint in the Bahamas where he served as Governor during World War II. amid accusations that he was pro-Nazi. He reportedly told an acquaintance: "After the war is over and Hitler will crush the Americans ... we'll take over ... They [the Commonwealth] don't want me as their king, but I'll soon be back as their leader." He also told a journalist that "it would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler was overthrown". Comments like these reinforced the belief that the Duke and Duchess held Nazi sympathies and the effect of the abdication crisis of 1936 was to force off the throne a man with extreme political views.

There has been rampant speculation about the Windsors, even rumors that Edward's mother, the Dowager Queen Mary, was told that Wallis Simpson had some sort of sexual control over Edward, and had released him from an undefined sexual dysfunction through practices learned in a Chinese brothel. Suffice to say that the royal family was not pleased. The future prime minister Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary that she was "an entirely unscrupulous woman who is not in love with the King but is exploiting him for her own purposes. She has already ruined him in money and jewels." What I want to know is how a woman attains such powers, and how I can get some.

By all reports, their marriage was miserably unhappy, a tradition apparently followed by Prince Charles and Camilla, his longtime mistress whom he continued to see while married to Diana, and married after her death. The Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, however, have seemingly enjoyed a very happy union for many years. For the first time ever, I feel almost sorry for Prince Charles, despite his abominable treatment of Diana, by all accounts a lovely person, and the fact that he resembles a flounder.

Prince William and his fiancee are extremely popular with the British people, and the Queen has decreed that Kate will be known as Queen Catherine upon William's coronation, which is expected to take place next year.

The Globe's cover also proclaims that Cher's transsexual daughter Chastity, now her son Chaz, has grown a beard. Now THAT is the kind of news we can relate to in America.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stir It Up


Flip looked up from his computer. "Barbara " " " " (indecipherable) line." He has Alzheimer's so all the words were garbled.

"What?"

He tried again. "Barbara " " " "." No luck. He walked into the kitchen and pointed to the glass mason jar in which we keep our coffee beans.

The charades game was on. "Barbara Boxer?" Blank stare. "Barbara Streisand?" Vigorous head shaking. "Bob Marley?" He nodded excitedly. Ahhh. "Bob Marley has a line of coffee beans!" He nodded again, beaming. And Flip wants to buy them. Of course.

"Are you thinking they have pot in them?" I asked. He looked hopeful. Ganja coffee. There are many flavored coffees on the market, it's not such a stretch. Jamaican Blue Mountain is my lifelong favorite coffee, but it sells for about as much as a Porsche, another brand I hold in high regard. I can't afford either, however.

Flip was intent on supporting Bob Marley's business enterprise. I reminded him that it would not benefit Bob Marley himself since he is dead. Flip looked crushed. Apparently he had forgotten. I felt bad for both of them, but I was on a roll. "He died in 1981," I added. I could have skipped sharing that detail. It was probably mean, although I was just trying to clarify something, anything, in hopes that our world would somehow return to its formerly reasonable state.

Rohan Marley, one of the singer's sons, founded the company as a tribute to the great reggae legend. He says, "My father came from the farmland in Nine Mile. There, he learned a deep respect for nature and humanity - respect that helped guide his life and ours. He said he would return to the farm one day. That was his dream."

Bob Marley's real name was Nesta Robert Marley. Maybe they're calling the new product "Nestacafe."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Why Can't I Own a Canadian?


I don't usually post things that I didn't write myself, but think this is hilarious:

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, written by a US man, and posted on the Internet.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev.11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, University of Virginia

PS (It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ennui Is Me


I am a misfit. The Giants won the World Series tonight and while I am happy for them and their many fans, I couldn't care less. San Francisco is exploding with screaming, cheering, honking horns, dancing in the streets and general hysteria, but the whole thing makes me yawn. I am laying low in my apartment, avoiding everyone so I won't have to pretend to a manic joy I don't feel, which I could fake about as well as the Saturday Night Live Coneheads managed to blend with their neighbors. Besides, I look terrible in orange.

I know it's downright un-American, even subversive, to prefer a good book when I could be watching baseball on TV, but I haven't had a favorite team since the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles when I was a kid. Like all New Yorkers, I felt abandoned. Betrayed. I could get psychoanalytical and say that I never got over it, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Far be it from me to rain on anyone's parade. Our nation's pastime is a perfectly fine game. I have even enjoyed playing it on occasion. But one team's victory over another does not make me walk taller. I have never understood sport rivalries when so many other things are more interesting. In fact, I am so disinclined to commemorate a baseball landmark that I didn't even remember to post this confession, which I wrote last night.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ode to Grandparents

Warren Charles Plauche',MD

I never had viable grandparents, although all four were living until I was grown. My father's parents lived in Brooklyn, New York, and I was on Long Island, but there was considerable bad feeling between him and them so we saw them only on State Occasions every several years. They had been separated since before I was born and I never heard them exchange a single word, although they sat on opposite sides of my aunt's Thanksgiving table. My grandmother supposedly disapproved of my parents' union, so they eloped two months before their planned wedding day, but always celebrated the official one. I have heard that she tried to break up their marriage even after my brother was born, but since I was not there and he, being six months old at the time, is an unreliable source, I don't know if it's true. Everyone who would know is now dead.

My cousin once told me that our grandmother taught her to knit and crochet and to this day, she said, she can do those things better than most people. I was fond of my grandmother but kept it to myself because I knew better than to express an opinion about anything which differed from my father's. My grandfather taught my brother to play chess, but since I was younger and female, he paid me little attention. He did write poems for me on all my childhood birthdays though, Edgar Guest-like rhymes on yellow cap, tucked into a card.

My mother's parents lived in California when I was born but moved to Ohio several years later. We visited them once, when I was seven, but I never saw them again until I went to college in Florida, where they were then living. My parents were more concerned with preserving my chastity than improving my mind, so I was shipped off to the least of the universities that accepted me because my mother's parents, two brothers and sister all lived nearby. I guess they assumed that this extended family would supervise my social life as stringently as they had to keep me "marriageable." To my relatives' credit, they didn't.

I adored my grandparents although I never felt as much a part of their family as my many Florida cousins who had known them all their lives. Every Tuesday, I took two buses from my dorm to my grandparents' house and we walked to Tyler's, their favorite neighborhood restaurant, for the Early Bird Special at 5:00. My grandfather would throw open the door and yell, "This is my granddaughter! Isn't she beautiful?" And every time, my grandmother rebuked him, "Charles, lower your voice." He would pull out my chair, grinning as he announced loudly, "I can't hear you, Daisy. I turned off my hearing aid." On their 50th wedding anniversary, he gave her a solid gold bracelet with large disks for each of their four children, engraved on the back with the names of the grandchildren. The largest disk said, "For 50 years meritorious service." He presented it to her at a large family party, and she read the inscription and threw it at him.

It has not escaped my notice that I have no grandchildren, although my three children are now adults with many qualities that would surely enrich another generation. But I only today put together this lack with the fact that I also lacked most of the experience of having grandparents, and I can't figure out what this means. No doubt some of you will dispute that it means anything at all, but I cannot believe it is random. Like any parent, I want my children to be happy in whatever way suits them. And while I would love to be a grandmother, it is absolutely, categorically, massively not about me. But it seems strange that I have thus far missed out on the grandparent issue from both ends if there is not a connection.

My brother knew all our grandparents better than I did because he was the only child in both families until he was six, when I was born, and he has eight grandchildren on both sides of the Atlantic. Did knowing his grandparents make it possible for him to be one someday? Was the die really cast all those years ago, when I was still a child myself? If I had known my grandparents better, would I now be swimming in grandchildren too?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Josephine the Plumber Got Nothin' on Me


I am inordinately pleased with myself. It does not happen often, so I am giving myself high fives and posting this in celebration. Doubtless you are wondering if I won a Pulitzer, Nobel, or Academy Award. Well, no. While those would all be nice and surely lead to unthinkable earthly delights, statuettes are nowhere near as useful as the award I gave myself, the one that will keep on giving. I changed a toilet seat.

I have had no previous plumbing experience. Flip and I spent seven years renovating an old house, but he did the plumbing and wiring while I ripped out paneling, painted, tiled and landscaped. He is no longer able to do mechanical things, so I am learning despite a decided lack of natural ability. Or interest. Necessity, as everyone knows, is a great motivator. In the grand scheme this is a pretty small achievement, but it reminds me that I can still learn new things. I won't say it shows that I can do anything because I'm a bit too cynical and self-aware for that, but I'll happily settle for being educable at an age when sadly, many people are resting on laurels. And while I hope that my epitaph will be a bit juicier, no accomplishment should be sneezed at.

I would like to commission an occasional poem to commemorate this extraordinary event. Where is that damn poet laureate when I need him? W. S. Merwin was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2010-2011 by the Library of Congress. I had to look it up. It seems odd that we are all familiar with the names of our leading generals in Iraq and Afghanistan, but our nation's leading poet is virtually unknown. I wonder if Merwin can change a toilet seat.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great Artists Never Die


This has been an incredible week in the Art world. A painting which is almost certainly a lost Michelangelo has been found in Buffalo, NY. The painting, called "The Mike" by the family which owns it, was knocked off its peg by a tennis ball-wielding child in the mid-70's, so it was wrapped and stuffed behind the living room sofa. It has been there ever since. Martin Kober, a retired pilot, claims to have had no idea the painting, which he inherited from his great grandfather, was valuable.

The unfinished painting of Mary and Jesus may be the art find of the century. It is part of a series of Pieta paintings done by the great master, and Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian specializing in Michelangelo, believes it is authentic. He says it is even more beautiful than others hanging in Italian museums. When contacted by Kober, he assumed it would turn out to be a copy, but a scientific analysis of the painting proved that it is probably the real thing. Infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting -- on a 25-by- 19-inch wood panel -- show many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, with an unfinished portion near the Madonna's right knee.

"The evidence of unfinished portions demonstrate that this painting never, never, never could be a copy of another painting," said Forcellino. "No patron pays in the Renaissance for an unfinished copy." He added, "The first time I saw it, I was so struck by the strength of it that I felt breathless. Only a genius could have painted this; the darkness which underscores the suffering, the Virgin who looks as if she's screaming and the figure of Christ after he has been deposed from the cross. It's small, but the technique is extraordinary."

The ownership history shows a long and tangled path to that upstate NY living room. The work was done by Michelangelo around 1545 for his friend Vittoria Colonna, 45 years after he did his famed "Pieta," or pity, sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, housed in St. Peter's Basilica. The painting was given to two Catholic cardinals, and then to a German baroness named Villani who willed it to her lady-in-waiting, Gertrude Young. Ms. Young was the sister-in-law of Kober’s great-grandfather and she sent the work to America in 1883. It has been in the Kober family ever since. It is now stored in a bank vault, and will be restored and exhibited in Italian museums next year. It is probably worth about $300 million.

What a magnificent gift to the 21st Century this is! In Art there is hope, perhaps even the reason for our human existence. The key to our redemption. You would think that such an object of reverence would emit a radiance which could be seen and felt for miles around, like the Star of Bethlehem.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When is Zheng He Day?


Tomorrow is Columbus Day, and guess what? Christopher Columbus was an also-ran sailed. An imitator. A Johnny-come-lately.

Half a century before the first Europeans suspected the world was round, an armada of Chinese ships crossed the China Sea and ventured west to Ceylon, Arabia, and East Africa. Many scholars now believe that Zheng He, the most famous of the Chinese explorers, discovered America while circumnavigating the world. From 1405-1433, the treasure fleet made seven journeys to ports around the Indian Ocean, trading Chinese silk, porcelain, and lacquerware to Arab and African merchants for spices, ivory, rare woods and pearls coveted by the Chinese Imperial Court.

The fleet consisted of giant nine-masted junks and supply ships, water tankers, transports for cavalry horses and patrol boats, with a crew of 27,000 sailors and soldiers. The largest junk was over 400 feet long by 150 feet wide, while the Santa Maria, Columbus' largest ship, was only 90 by 30 feet, with a crew of 90.

It's interesting that the Chinese under the Ming Emperors chose not to exploit these newly discovered lands politically or commercially, as the Europeans did when they arrived. They did not slaughter or enslave any Natives. Zheng He didn't even open a restaurant. We may have to change a lot of place names from Spanish to Chinese when this hits the fan.

Meanwhile, the Nobel Peace Prize was just awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for campaigning for political reform and human rights. His government has censored the news, blacking out all mention of it in the media, although his wife was allowed a visit to inform him of the honor bestowed upon him. She is now under house arrest and unable to communicate with anyone. Chinese authorities consider Liu a criminal and said that his winning "desecrates the prize," while the state-run newspaper called it "an arrogant showcase of Western ideology" which disrespects the Chinese people.

I wonder if Zheng He would be in prison if he were alive today, not for discovering new lands but for declining to turn them into mindless authoritarian states.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Real-Life Enchantment


One of my favorite childhood fantasies was finding a secret attic in my house filled with treasures from bygone eras, especially art works. If I had visited Paris as a child, it would surely have figured into my reveries.

Recently, an apartment in the 9th arrondisement in the middle of Paris, locked and untouched for 70 years, was opened after its owner died. She had moved to the South of France shortly before World War II but continued to pay rent on the apartment, a veritable time capsule, for the rest of her life. It was filled with furniture, books and paintings, including one by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini which recently sold at auction for $2.9 million US.

The untitled painting of a woman in a pink evening gown, painted in 1898, was of the artist's muse, Marthe de Florian, a French actress, and had never been listed, exhibited or published. Her granddaughter was the owner of the apartment. A scribbled love note from the artist to his muse was also discovered. One art expert said it was like creeping into Sleeping Beauty's castle, where time had stood still all these years.

Boldini was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 and moved to Paris in 1871. He was greatly influenced by Courbet, Manet and Degas, with whom he established lifelong friendships. He became known mainly as a portrait artist whose subjects included the Duchess of Marlborough, Giuseppe Verdi and Edgar Degas. In his portraits of elegantly-dressed women, he developed a 'whiplash' style in which the model appeared to be thrown onto the canvas. Boldini died in Paris in 1931.

Marthe de Florian had entertained her many admirers in the apartment and kept letters from her lovers in packets wrapped with ribbons of different colors. The calling cards of senior statesmen from the period were found tucked away in drawers.

Happily, the exquisite painting went to a good home. The art specialist who authenticated and appraised the portrait said, "It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion." I find that most fitting for a work that was doubtless created in passion and, like Sleeping Beauty, waited silently all these years for the right person to open the door and break the magic spell.

Note: If anyone owns a painting of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on velvet, it is probably not a Boldini.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Brother's Keeper?


A Tennessee family lost its home last week as firefighters watched it burn to the ground with three dogs and a cat inside, along with everything they owned. The rural community of Obion County charges an annual $75 fee for fire protection outside the South Fulton city limits, which the owners had not paid.

Homeowner Gene Cranick said, "I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong."

The firefighters refused to respond to several 911 calls, although Cranick offered to pay all costs if they would save his house, and only came to the scene when the field of a neighbor, who had paid his fee, caught fire.

Cranick begged the fire chief to make an exception and save his home, but the chief said, "The city manager will make a statement in the morning and ya'll can see him in his office." The town's mayor sided with the fire department saying, "Anybody that's not in the city limits of South Fulton, it's a service we offer, either they accept it or they don't."

Friends and neighbors said it's a cruel and dangerous city policy, but Mr. Cranick doesn't blame the firefighters themselves, only the people in charge. "They're doing their job. They're doing what they are told to do. It's not their fault," he said. I beg to differ.

Small bureaucratic minds believe that if they make an exception, the rules become meaningless and nobody will pay the fee. I would like to think that most people are basically good when they follow their conscience, but a mindless adherence to inhumane policies is a slippery slope. The Holocaust should have taught us that.

(I don't make the rules; I just work here. I'm just following orders. It's not my problem. It's not my fault.)

I believe that we do have a responsibility to help others when we can. It's unconscionable that firefighters, generally perceived as heroic, even checked their ledgers when the 911 call came in to see if the caller had paid his fee, and even more unforgivable in tough economic times when $75 could buy a family's groceries for a few days. I wonder if we are devolving as a species.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dream Big


Ernest Pullen, a 57-year old Missouri man, won $1 million in a lottery in June and this month he won $2 million in a second lottery. Needless to say, the odds of winning either are astronomical, about 1 in 2.28 million, while the chances of winning both cannot even be calculated because they are independent games, so let's just say that Mr. Pullen is very, very lucky.

He quit his job after the first win but claims that he will continue to purchase lottery tickets. I am always amused by people who win millions and proclaim that it won't change them in any way and that they will continue to work as garbage collectors until they are old enough for Social Security.

Mr. Pullen, who took the cash payment instead of the annuity for both wins, received $700,000 for the first and about $1.3 million for the second, before taxes. Maybe he could win a third lottery to pay the taxes on the other two wins. He plans to use the money to fix up his new lakeside house. That's a lot of fixing, but it's good to have a project. He's probably not a golfer.

I am intrigued by the fact that six years ago, he dreamed of winning a lot of money, but didn't feel that the dream was "complete" after winning the first lottery. It probably is now, but what would I know? I have never won more than $2 in a lottery and gave up buying tickets long ago because I got tired of never winning. I guess most of us are just meant to earn our own money and I'm ok with the concept because lotteries are capricious and I'm a control freak. But I am delighted to see someone beat the odds, and hope Pullen enjoys his new wealth and does good things with it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mindless Conformity Can Be a Religion, too.


A 14-year-old girl has been suspended twice from school in North Carolina for her nose piercing, which she claims violates her First Amendment right to exercise her religion. Ariana Iacono and her mother, Nikki, belong to the Church of Body Modification, a small group with a clergy, a statement of beliefs and a formal process for accepting new members. The school states that she is in violation of its dress code.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that she has the right to wear her nose ring and has contacted school officials with concerns about her religious rights. The school's policy does allow exemptions to the dress code on religious grounds. Ariana's mother asserts that school officials are judging what constitutes a "real" religion. "We pretty much flat-out asked them, what guidelines are you following? What do you need to establish a sincere religious belief?," she said. "We were told that if we were Hindu, or she were Muslim, it would be different."

Richard Ivey, the Iaconos' minister, says,"They're basically saying, because they don't agree and because they choose not to respect our beliefs, that it can't be a sincerely held religious belief." He describes the church as a non-theistic faith that draws people who see tattoos, piercings and other physical alterations as ways of experiencing the divine. "We don't worship the god of body modification or anything like that," he said. "Our spirituality comes from what we choose to do ourselves. Through body modification, we can change how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world." The two-year old church claims 3,500 members nationwide.

Sally Gordon, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who focuses on Constitutional law and religious issues, says schools have the right to issue rules on dress as long as there's a good reason and no specific religion is targeted. "One of the remarkable things about religious freedom is that people have all kinds of beliefs that look to others as bizarre but make internal sense to them," Gordon said. "We really can only claim to be a country that respects religious liberty if we respect the variety of beliefs that exist in the country — both new and old."

The ACLU, like the Iaconos and their minister, hope the issue can be resolved without going to court. Meanwhile, Nikki and Ariana pick up schoolwork for her to do at home while her peers sit in class. "I hope they're going to stop suspending me and clear some of these absences from my record," Ariana said. "I want to get into a good college."

You would think that with all the really important issues going on in the world, a teenager's jewelry would be small cause for concern. The fact that it is goes beyond petty control issues and sounds the death knell for individuality in our society. And that to me is the real tragedy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Never Again

Remembering American heroes and innocent lives lost -
September 11, 2001.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Still Stupid After All These Years


The photo accompanying this post gives new meaning to the word "mug" shot, which should probably be changed to "mugging" or perhaps, "simpering" shot. Las Vegas police claim that Paris Hilton was released within three hours of her arrest on suspicion of cocaine possession to avoid disruption of jail house operations.

Several people, including a woman who regularly posts bonds for hookers detained for nonviolent soliciting, are outraged that the hotel heiress received special treatment. It is, indeed, shocking that the legal justice system could be so crass, so unjust. So predictable. Hilton is scheduled to appear in court on the felony charge in October. Last month, she was briefly arrested in South Africa for smoking pot during a World Cup match but the charge was dismissed. Apparently her family's influence works in any currency.

In the incident on August 27th, Ms. Hilton and her boyfriend, Cy Waits, were stopped by police because their Escalade was emitting a trail of pot smoke and Waits was driving erratically, for which he was charged with DUI. She opened her purse in front of a police lieutenant and a bag of cocaine fell out. She claims that neither the purse nor the cocaine was hers, and that she was merely looking for a chapstick. The purse must have belonged to one of her girlfriends, who was not identified. (The World Cup weed wasn't hers either. I'm not sure if ownership of the boyfriend has been determined.)

If stupidity were a crime, I doubt she would ever get out.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Is There a Worldwide Conspiracy?


For years I've heard rumors of a secret society that runs the world. It sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel, but Fidel Castro recently condemned the Bilderberg Group, an unofficial, invitation-only conference of about 130 influential people in the fields of politics, banking, business, the military and media. Heads of state, prominent politicians from Europe and North America as well as board members from many large, publicly-traded corporations have attended. It is based in The Hague in Holland, but meets annually in different cities. Because of its secrecy and refusal to issue news releases, the group is frequently accused of political conspiracies. The organization, also known as the Bilderberg Conference or Bilderberg Club, is closed to the public, and despite Castro's interest in it, no one from a so-called Third World country has ever been a member.

Denis Healey, British labour politician and Bilderberg founding member, has said:"To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly untrue. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."

The Bilderberg Club today controls 33% of the world's wealth. In 1973, some of its members established an even more powerful center of research and analysis, the Trilateral Commission, led by David Rockefeller, president of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Members include Sirus Vance, Warren Christopher and Zbigniew Brzezinski, chief executive of this group which manages 60% of international wealth.

Both groups are empowered by the vast wealth they control and from the political appointments, presidents and prime ministers they place in office and guide. Candidates are chosen to comply with the international decision-making philosophy. They must not disturb the global balance, which refers to the global profit and loss account so as to ensure the income of the two international centers. Politicians are servants whose masters do not allow them to make any independent moves. These centers determine every important aspect of the lives of ordinary citizens in every country, including the percentage of international wealth they are allowed to claim. If a head of state does not go with the program, he is terminated by scandal, forced resignation or assassination.

Their worst fear is that people around the globe will wake up and demand the wealth that is rightly theirs. To prevent this, the NSA (National Security Agency) was founded in 1952. It has more than 2,000,000 agents and scientists worldwide, but it is not listed anywhere as an official agency; therefore, no laws control its activities, but documents exist to protect it. It has the most comprehensive computer center in the world which constantly monitors information and oversees the telecommunications of both friendly and enemy countries.

The NSA cultivates the impression that the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) are in charge of spying operations for the United States, but they are actually subordinate to the NSA, which is the executive organ of the Bilderberg Club and the Trilateral Commission.

If all this is true, the only thing that will free us from such totalitarianism is a universal awakening. When politicians value their own integrity over ego gratification and the privileges of office, they will refuse to be tools of powerful special interest groups. It is extremely dangerous to opt out of the program and few have such courage. But until ordinary people cause things to change, most of us and our children's children will continue to live in oblivious servitude to the few who hold all the power on our planet.

I thought conspiracy theorists were all nutjobs until I researched this topic. I'm not so sure now. It's easy to write something off as "conspiracy theory," but just because some people see conspiracy in everything is not proof that it doesn't exist. As Delmore Schwartz, 1950's Greenwich Village poet and short story writer said, "Even paranoids have real enemies."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bears Will Be Bears


Early Wednesday morning, a mother grizzly bear with three cubs attacked a sleeping camper at a campground near Yellowstone National Park, dragged him 25 feet from his tent and mauled him to death. The bears then attacked campers in two other tents, injuring but not killing them. Wildlife officials said the attacks were surprising because none of the campers had any food inside their tents.

The sow was euthanized today after DNA testing proved that she was the bear who had attacked the campers. An autopsy will be performed to determine if there was a medical reason for her unusual actions as bears normally do not commit unprovoked attacks on humans. The fate of her cubs has not yet been decided, but some fear that their mother has taught them predatory behaviors. Grizzly bear mothers spend up to 3½ years showing their cubs where and how to obtain food. They are highly intelligent animals whose ability to form mental maps and remember locations may exceed that of humans. The lives of these cubs may be spared if a zoo will accept them because they are very young.

While I feel terrible for the loss of life in this incident, the fact remains that we humans are encroaching on territory which has always belonged to other animals. And as we develop more and more of those lands, we leave them with less and less area in which to find their food and to live comfortably.

I have always cringed at the arrogance that places us at the pinnacle of Creation with the implicit entitlement to control and destroy all other creatures as we please. Animal species including ours are interdependent to an extent which our "modern" culture has largely forgotten; what hurts non-human animals ultimately hurts us, too. All creatures play a role upon which all other creatures depend, whether or not we are aware of it.

I think that these particular bears must have been desperate for food to attack humans because bears are predominantly vegetarian. Executing them is just another attempt to reassure ourselves that we are still in control, despite all evidence to the contrary. Sometimes I think that like Pooh, we are Bears of Very Little Brain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No Forgiveness Possible


Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon on December 8, 1980, is up for parole in early August. He will be interviewed by a three-member parole board panel for the sixth time. He was originally given a sentence of 20 years-to-life for his crime, and is allowed to apply for parole every two years since he became eligible for release in 2000.

Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow, music partner, soul mate and the mother of his younger son, Sean, has consistently opposed Chapman's parole on the ground that she and his two sons would not feel safe for the rest of their lives. She also makes the valid point that Chapman, himself, would be in danger since he killed one of the most beloved figures in the world. In fact, he has been incarcerated in a special unit apart from Attica Prison's general population since he began serving his sentence.

The board denied Chapman's last request for parole in 2008, citing the massive impact of his crime. "Your conduct thus precipitated a horrendously tragic event which has impacted many individuals," the board wrote. "Your discretionary release at this time would thus not be compatible with the welfare of society at large, and would tend to deprecate the seriousness of the instant offense, and undermine respect for the law."

It is unthinkable that this man should ever be free again. He shot John Lennon at close range as John and Yoko returned home from a recording session, and Yoko has been forced to live with these gruesome memories for nearly thirty years. John's sons Julian and Sean have had to grow up without their father, and the world has been deprived of the music and wisdom John would surely have produced if he had been allowed to enjoy a normal life span.

Chapman is now 55 years of age, while John Lennon would have been 70 this October.

Please sign this petition asking the NY Parole Board to deny Chapman's release.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/no-parole-for-mark-david-chapman.html

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Vigilantes, Go Home


Things have gotten a tad dicey in Arizona.

Governor Jan Brewer signed a controversial new immigration law in April which allows police to question a person's immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The Minutemen Movement patrols the desert on foot, horseback and in airplanes, reporting suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, which has more agents than ever.

And now Jason "J.T." Ready, an ex-Marine with ties to the National Socialist Movement, has declared his own war on "narco-terrorists." The NSM is a neo-Nazi organization that believes only non-Jewish, white heterosexuals should be American citizens and that all non-whites should leave the country, "peacefully or by force." He and his group wear military fatigues, body armor and gas masks and are heavily armed with both assault rifles and the conviction that they are operating in service to God and country, which history has shown is a most dangerous combination.

"We're not going to sit around and wait for the government anymore," Ready said. "This is what our founding fathers did." It's hard to picture George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in powdered wigs with swastikas on their sleeves. Law enforcement officials say that such patrols undermine the work of officers on duty along the border, especially if they try to enforce the law themselves by vigilante "justice." This can only end badly.

The people who came to America, and in many instances brutally displaced the Native Americans, viewed these shores as a place of refuge from persecution, poverty, and a lack of opportunity to pursue success. The United States seems to be suffering a schism of identity in which we still pride ourselves on being a free country which welcomes immigrants while we also strive to keep them out.

The Statue of Liberty welcomes people to New York Harbor with these words engraved on her base: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." Her upraised torch is a symbol of enlightenment, showing the path to Liberty. She is not in Arizona.

If we no longer believe in the concept symbolized by this statue, perhaps we should dismantle it and return it to France, which gave it to America in 1885 to celebrate the friendship between the two countries and a shared reverence for freedom. But if we fail to control vigilante activity wherever it exists, a statue of Hitler might take her place.

Friday, July 09, 2010

What About Cars for Seeing Eye Dogs?

This week, the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech demonstrated a prototype vehicle equipped with technology to allow a blind person to operate a car independently. The technology, called "nonvisual interfaces," uses sensors to let a blind driver maneuver a car based on information transmitted to him about his surroundings: whether another car or object is nearby, in front of him or in a neighboring lane.

My first reaction was frankly, skeptical. With all respect, there are already too many seemingly blind people driving in San Francisco. But it's an intriguing idea. Louis Braille opened worlds to the blind in the early 1800's because he desperately wanted to read. The arrangement of raised dots he invented has been adapted to nearly every language on earth. Perhaps no disability is as limiting as we generally assume.

Advocates for the blind consider the invention of such a vehicle a "moon shot." President Kennedy, who urged America to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth, would surely agree. He said, "We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask 'why not?'..."

Licenses requiring eyeglasses could become obsolete. And the words, "Waddya, blind?" so beloved of New Yorkers, could lose their impact along with brandishing middle fingers at other drivers who can't see them. Big changes, people. Big changes coming.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Armed Robbery with Special Circumstances


The latest candidate for Mother of the Year is Ethel Mae Nelson of Newberry, SC, who took her 7-year old daughter along while she held up a gas station at knifepoint. The clerk gave her about $300 and she fled with the money and the child. Soon after, a deputy spotted her in a taxi and apprehended her. She tried to run away, leaving the child behind, and broke her leg in the process.

She has been charged with armed robbery, possession of a weapon and unlawful conduct toward a child.

Ms. Nelson is hospitalized and her daughter has been placed in state custody. It's really rough when you need to commit a crime but can't afford a baby sitter. There oughta be a law.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dick and Jane Do a Museum - See Dick Run


Claude Monet: "The Seine at Vetheuil"

Yesterday, we went to the de Young Art Museum in Golden Gate Park to see an exhibit called "The Birth of Impressionism," which is on loan from the Musee d' Orsay in Paris. Some of the paintings and I were old friends who hadn't seen each other in half a lifetime. I was thrumming with excitement at the thought of seeing them again.

The lines were obscenely long and slow moving and snaked around extensive real estate like endless airport security queues. We weren't even allowed to get in line for an hour after our arrival - I'm sure security requires that they let in only as many people as they can monitor - so we killed time in the gift shop. Flip got an overpriced tee shirt and I looked in vain for postcards of the exhibit. As soon as we got on the line, Flip decided he'd had enough and wanted to go home. He held up his bag with the tee shirt and said, "Let's just take this and go."

I explained that we had already paid to see the exhibit and I really, really wanted to see it. He persisted. I explained again. He got more and more upset with the lines and chattering people but each time the line moved a little, I told him with false cheer that we were nearly there now.

"Where are we going?" he asked. "We're in a museum," I said. I told him that the canvasses had arrived clandestinely in huge moisture-controlled crates unlabeled or marked "croissants," accompanied by security details in unmarked cars between airport and museum. They were unopened for 48 hours so they could acclimate to their new home. "Let's just go," he said. My happy mood floated away like a liberated balloon.

Edgar Degas: "The Dancing Lesson"

I often took my children to the Metropolitan in NYC when they were toddlers, and they adored such outings. "This is bullshit," Flip said. "I want to go home." The "real" Flip was an art lover. Apparently, Alzheimer's Flip is not.

"I'm sorry, but I'd really like to see it." I thought of ways to kill myself. Every time the line moved a foot, I cited this as evidence that we were nearly there. The Art Dodger wasn't having any of it. I wondered if hemlock was painful. After more than an hour, we entered the exalted space with paintings by Renoir, Degas, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Cezanne, Pissarro, Morisot and other artists, and it did not disappoint.

Flip went into near-cardiac arrest when he saw "Whistler's Mother," which is huge. It is always a shock to stand in front of the actual canvas an artist worked on, close enough to touch it if security weren't watching ones every move, especially when the work is one that has been reproduced millions of times. To me, this is as thrilling as if the artists themselves were standing before me, reaching out in greeting across the years.

James McNeill Whistler: "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother"

In late September, the de Young will host a second show, "Post-Impressionist Masterpieces From the Musée d'Orsay" featuring works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec. The Musee d' Orsay is undergoing extensive renovations which would have required storing about 250 paintings. Instead, they decided to mount two touring exhibits, but the de Young in San Francisco is the only museum in the world which will host both collections. This particular combination of paintings will never travel again.

Transportation costs are over $1 million for each exhibit, while insurance exceeds $1 billion each. "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother," by James McNeill Whistler, was required by the d'Orsay to travel in an unmarked plywood crate with a pine base and protective coat of varnish, face up, cushioned by shims for spacing and foam of varying density to soften vibrations. Gloved technicians removed her from her crate and hung her on a wall with hooks strong enough to hold a car. The contract between the d'Orsay and the de Young specifies that all crates remain inside the museum, a stipulation intended to guard against vermin.

Today, I am going to visit my favorite art supply store and see which medium speaks loudest to me. I haven't painted, sculpted or worked in pastels since I was in my early 20's but the exhibit made me realize how much I've missed it. No masterpieces will be created, but I'll be smiling broadly at the self-medication of it all.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

With a Friend like This...


For a couple of years, Flip and I have attended a support group run by the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California and Nevada. They divide participants into two groups, the diagnosed and their caregivers, which meet in adjoining rooms. Each is run by a facilitator. Flip has complained to me several times that the woman who leads his group has been mean to him. She has scolded him, treated him like an imbecile when he tried to contribute to the group, and on one occasion, said, "Just spit it out already" as he struggled to express himself verbally. One of the symptoms of this disease is the increasing inability to do so.

It's possible that he misunderstood her intentions. Since I was not there, I can't say for sure. But I think she's a bully who believes that those in her group lack the capacity to report her treatment of them. If so, she underestimates them, and perhaps she overestimates the degree of job security she has. I would think very seriously about going after someone's job, but it is unacceptable for Flip and other victims of this disease to be treated with anything less than respect and kindness.

We have not attended the group much the last several months despite our need for any support available. There is something terribly wrong when someone in an Alzheimer's support group feels ostracized for showing symptoms of Alzheimer's by a representative of the organization founded to fight the disease. It makes you wonder.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Move Over, Hallmark


The newest fashion statement for summer is temporary cleavage tattoos with such statements as "Happy Birthday," "100% Natural," or "Paid For," in case they aren't. They last for about a week and are a steal at $12.95. The company founder says, "Ta-ta-toos allow you to express traditional statements in a unique way. They’re for when you want to do more than wear your heart on your sleeve."

Many designers are featuring them in their new collections. Even the venerable House of Chanel has the iconic double "C" logo available so you can look expensive-trashy if you're conflicted about your intended message.

Also available are inks that say "Special Delivery," "Let's Celebrate," "Naughty/Nice" and "Guess What? I'm Pregnant." I would suggest "Since You're Talking To Them Anyway, They Might As Well Join The Conversation" if it weren't so long. I don't know about you, girlfriends, but I don't have room for that much verbosity on my whole body.

It sure beats worrying about oil spills that threaten to swallow North America, the economy (which already has) or the many wars we're fighting. How about "I'm a twit" and "Ditto" on the other one?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watch Out for Exploding Barbies


It's never too early to become a terrorist. Alyssa Thomas of Ohio, who is six, is on the US Homeland Security Department's "no-fly" list. Her family learned of this while attempting to board a flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The purpose of the list is to prevent people with known or suspected ties to terrorism from flying.

Her father said, "She may have threatened her sister, but I don't think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers."

The Thomas family was allowed to make its flight, but later attempts to remove Alyssa's name from the list were unsuccessful as the FBI confirms that a list exists but will not discuss who is on it, or why. Does this not sound a bit Orwellian? Alyssa's parents were told that her name will stay on the list but that the FBI will rely on the common sense of security agents every time she flies. The family flies often and this has never been an issue before because the Secure Flight Program just began for all domestic flights.

This makes me uneasy for a couple of reasons: I don't argue with the need for such a list, but the information on each listed person should be more precise and at the very least, should include a photograph. Since that is clearly not the case, leaving decisions to the common sense of security agents is worrisome. Six-year old Alyssa was allowed to fly, but where will the lines be drawn? How about a twelve-year old? Fourteen? Seventy-three? Also, my first and last names are common, so it is only a matter of time before someone with the same name becomes a security risk and I end up in airport jail.

The other day, Carly Helm, a ten-year old girl flying from Atlanta to Milwaukee with her sisters was forced to abandon her 2-inch pet turtle in its cage before the flight would take off. She dumped him in a trash can by the boarding gate and re-boarded the plane, sobbing. It's hard to fathom how a tiny animal could be a flight risk.

This is not a good summer for little girls on airplanes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Kingdom for a Horse


Or a bag of meth.

A couple tried to sell their 6-month old baby for $25 outside a Walmart store in Salinas, California. Patrick Fousek, 38, and Samantha Tomasini, 20, approached several women with offers to purchase the child, but the women became suspicious and alerted police. Officers who arrested the couple said they appeared high on methamphetamine. The baby's mother told Child Protective Services, which removed the baby from their home, that she had breast fed the infant while under the influence.

You really can buy anything at Walmart.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All I Need is a Miracle


Ever since Viagra met blockbuster success in 1998, the drug industry has sought a similar pill for women.

Now, Boehringer Ingelheim, a German drug giant, says it has developed such a pill and is trying to persuade the FDA that its drug can help restore a depressed female sex drive. The effort has set off a debate over what constitutes a normal range of sexual desire among women, with critics saying the company is trying to turn low libido into medical pathology.

It would be the first drug aimed specifically at low sex drive in premenopausal women and includes side effects of dizziness, nausea and fatigue. The idea of women performing normal non-sexual activities like driving while experiencing potentially dangerous side effects makes it sound like the main benefit of this drug would be for men. Also objectionable is making women who already carry more than their share of life's burdens feel inadequate because their libido does not measure up to the imagined sex drives of "other women." I think we would all like to know who those other women are, and how they got so lucky. As far as I know, these libidinous populations have not been determined or at least, disclosed. Or maybe they are in protective custody.

Needless to say, the drug companies are gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of raking in huge profits at least equal to those reaped by the sale of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra.

It is too easy to label women as suffering from sexual dysfunction, especially without taking into consideration other legitimate demands on their energy. The willingness and ability of their partners to arouse them should also not be ignored. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but today's postmenopausal women were often encouraged to feel generally inadequate. It's hard to imagine that the drug companies are not attempting to capitalize on such tendencies to sell their product.

Leonore Tiefer, a psychologist and professor at New York University who has researched female sexual desire for more than a decade, says Boehringer has gone too far with its publicity effort. “Women’s sex lives are often a struggle, a disappointment, an archipelago of regret,” she said. “Is there a small group of women who could benefit from medical intervention — probably.”

But she believes that if the drug were approved, “the much larger group of women without any medical reason for their sexual distress will inevitably be misinformed and misled into thinking that there is a pill that can get them the sex life they read about, the one they think everyone else is having.”

The drug companies have even come up with a name for this brand new medical malady: Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, which will doubtless soon be abbreviated to HSDD as we become more comfortable with the idea that many women are basically flawed and need medication to make them "normal." It's well known that women have a more complicated response system than men, so finding us abnormal by male standards is both impractical and stupid.

I think that inventing a drug to alleviate some of the passion-stealing concerns that consume most women might bring about an amazing recovery in sluggish female libidos. And if treatment consisted of a few weeks in Hawaii or Montego Bay, we could probably be very healthy indeed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Still Sailing to Byzantium


I feel quite wrung out this week. I followed with horror the story of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year old American sailor who attempted to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe but ran into a storm in the Indian Ocean which destroyed her mast. I sat at my computer hours past my usual bedtime, seeking news of her plight as she drifted 2,000 miles from land on any side.

It brought back memories of my family's 32 foot cabin cruiser exploding in the ocean when I was seven.

One perfect August day, we left our boat slip on Long Island, New York and headed out to sea. Our destination was Nantucket, off the Massachusetts coast. My older brother and I were sitting in the fore cockpit with our Irish Terrier, Patty, enjoying the sunshine and salt spray.

My father, who was an excellent swimmer, had taught my brother to swim, but my mother did not know how, nor did I. I owned a child-size life jacket but was not wearing it that day. It was stowed in a cupboard in the cabin, and there was no access to the cabin from our perch in the bow of the boat. To get there required inching around the catwalk holding onto a rail along the edge of the upper deck, above my reach.

The sun sparkled on the waves as we plowed through them, and soon there was no land visible in any direction. We cruised for hours until suddenly, my brother and I heard a loud explosion. Turning, we saw the cabin engulfed in flames and felt the searing heat.

My brother grabbed our dog, threw her into the ocean and jumped after her. I was afraid she would drown but didn't know what to do about it. I didn't know what to do at all, so I waited. The flames leaped higher into the blue sky. The heat was intense and the air looked wavy. It would have been beautiful if I weren't so scared.

After several minutes, my father eased his way around the catwalk holding an adult life jacket. He had been unable to get to mine because the hardware on the locked cupboard had melted. He tried to drape the adult one around me, but his hands were burned and it fell on his new Sperry Topsiders and ricocheted into the water.

"Should I jump?" I asked.

"I'm afraid you'll have to," he said. He seemed apologetic, which I noted because I had never known my father to evince any kind of remorse before.

I held his pinky for a second, then jumped into the icy water. The fire raged toward me because I had jumped off the leeward side of the bow. The orange life jacket had already disappeared, so I paddled as fast as I could to get away from the flames leaping off the boat as it burned down to the waterline. Within minutes, there was nothing left of it but smoke and the charred black wooden hull that got smaller so fast it looked as if something were eating it. The water was bitter cold and dark.

About an hour later, just before sundown, three men in an open fishing boat who had seen the flames from afar approached and found me struggling to stay afloat in the water. They held out a long pole with a hook on the end for me to grab, pulled me into their boat and wrapped me in a rough gray blanket. I was shaking violently and burst into tears.

"Why are you crying now?" one of the men chided me. "You're safe now."

I stopped crying immediately, ashamed that I had forgotten I was not allowed to cry. The fishermen took me into port, several hours away, and handed me off to a policeman on the dock. I didn’t see my family anywhere.

The next thing I remember is visiting my mother in the hospital where she was being treated for third-degree burns on both legs. She had been standing above the hatch when the engine blew up. Her legs were slathered in Vaseline and covered with white gauze bandages. My father had kept her afloat until help arrived.

She noticed that I had been washing only the part of my face I could see, leaving the back of my neck gray and grungy. She asked a nurse for a washcloth and rubbed my neck hard until it was pink and sore as the water dripped down my back.

I am older now than my father was when he died. But even from an adult’s perspective, I don’t understand why he couldn’t save me and my mother, too, instead of consigning a seven-year-old child to the deep, to literally sink or swim. I swam.

The next year, he bought another boat. It was a 34-foot ACF, one of very few pleasure boats made by the railroad car and locomotive manufacturing company, American Car and Foundry. Some of the new boat’s appeal was unquestionably its exclusivity.

My parents never mentioned the boat accident or my ordeal again, as if it never happened. I don't dwell on this memory consciously, but as I followed Abby Sunderland's story, hardly daring to breathe or even sleep, I felt like a terrified seven year old in a cold, dark ocean again. I even dreamed of drowning, and yesterday I took a book out of the library about the drowning death of Natalie Wood although I normally eschew celebrity books.

I cannot imagine taking a small child out on the ocean without a life jacket. I also cannot imagine allowing a sixteen-year old to attempt a solo sail around the world. Perhaps most bizarre of all is the fact that this same week, a rare photograph emerged from history's attic of two slave children which was probably taken by Matthew Brady, the famous 19th century photographer of President Lincoln and General Robert E. Lee. The same North Carolina attic yielded a document detailing the sale of one of the children, John, for $1,150 in 1854. Both children are ragged and barefoot, their faces hopeless as they contemplate the short, brutal lives awaiting them.

There are still many children like John and his unnamed companion in the world today. In fact, there are many more such children than those who possess 40-foot yachts to sail around the world in pursuit of a record. Rescue missions from several nations went to enormous trouble and expense and even put themselves in danger to save Abby Sunderland, and while I am glad they did, it makes me wonder why such effort is not mobilized to save other children from slavery, starvation and disease. And it makes me ashamed.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Addicts Have All the Fun


I am hatching a plot to get into rehab. There is a place that advertises on TV which looks so very peaceful with beautiful rolling fields and mountain views. People with drug or alcohol addictions can go there to hang out and eat spa food off trays in the sunshine, waited on hand and foot, day and night. It sounds delightful. The only problem is, I'm not an addict.

I've inventoried everything I do that could be considered excessive. I buy a lot of plants. I really like raspberries. Sometimes I talk too much. I read constantly. Does chocolate count? Surely there is some reason I belong there. I promise I wouldn't be any trouble, plus I am small; I don't eat much. I can even fake it if I have to, not DT's, maybe, but the jonesing. I know I could do that.

Do you think they have massage therapy there? That would be heavenly. They probably have group sessions in which everyone talks about his problems. No problem. I used to wish I could try peyote, or shrooms. I never did, but surely it's the thought that counts. I know I could pass the audition if I didn't brush my anarchic hair for a day.

Suggestions, anyone? I really need a vacation.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Love 'Em and Leave 'Em



Today I attended an estate sale in a mansion 1/2 block from San Francisco Bay. Although it was within easy walking distance of my home, I do not live in such a place. The views from its high vaulted windows, framed in wrought iron, were of the postcard scenery for which this city is famous: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Marin headlands, and the bay clotted with weekend sailboats of every color.

There were many huge and tasteful pieces of furniture, none of which I could afford or have room for, but I was enchanted with an English enamel walking stick decorated with flowers in my favorite colors. What is more, it was the perfect height for me, which is unusual. I love canes because they are often handmade, carved with fanciful animal heads in beautiful woods. I always admire them in antique stores but do not own any. I have often thought they would be a delightful item to collect.

The one I saw today was affordable, also unusual, but I am superstitious that owning a cane would cause me to need one to get around. At present I do not, although I have osteoarthritis (maybe) and bursitis in both hips, plus fibromyalgia. Thus far, my determination to stay active has made navigational aids unnecessary. I would like to keep it that way.

I reluctantly placed the beautiful cane back in its place next to the grandly carved wooden banister and strolled home along the bay, practicing the air guitar version of walking with a cane. They say practice makes perfect, so if the time ever comes that I need one, my muscle memory will already possess the skills. All I will need to do is choose my weapon.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Overkill


I couldn't help staring. I know better. My mother taught me manners, but the woman behind the counter at Nordstrom was shocking. She looked exactly like Jocelyn Wildenstein, aka "the cat woman." Seriously. I needed my sunglasses tightened so they would stop sliding down my nose. She offered to call the sunglass person but I knew she was probably on her break, so I left them with cat woman.

She caught me staring. "You look like a famous model," I blurted, "but I can't think of her name."

"Everyone says that, but nobody can remember who it is," she replied. "I have one of those faces..."

Oh, trust me, Sweetheart. You do NOT have one of those faces. Any real face you ever had is long gone. But nobody wants to invoke the "W" word.

Her eyes were pulled back so tightly that she probably can't drive without a seeing eye dog, and her fishy, collagen-bloated lips must make eating impossible. To say that she resembled an astonished alien slanders aliens. Her long platinum hair was not long for this world.

I don't get it. We all want to look beautiful and stay youthful as long as possible, but trusting our faces to Dr. Frankenstein is insane and has become epidemic. Such addictions used to be a malady of the rich and famous, but now even people in minimum wage jobs are saving every penny to buy themselves a new look and hopefully, a better life.

Call me crazy, but such drastic, permanent changes would feel disloyal, even ungrateful. I am also curious about how the natural process of aging looks as I journey through it.

While there are extremely talented cosmetic surgeons out there, even Hollywood stars often end up looking worse than they did before their nips and tucks. Apparently, there are no guarantees, and that's too much of a crap shoot for me. I would rather look old than deformed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tiffany-Brittany-Ashley-Crystal-Brandi and the Dinosaur Dung


On the sidewalk, I encountered a young woman with a large, squatting dog on leash. The dog was producing the biggest turds I have ever seen, and I have had many very large dogs - and a wolf. I've had ponies. This dog was a freak of nature. After he had filled most of the concrete squares within a two-block radius, she yanked his leash and began to sashay away, flipping her voluntary-blond hair.

"You're not going to clean that up?" I asked.

In a voice so impossibly high that only dogs could hear it, she wailed, "I don't have anything with me."

"Use your hands, bitch" was the appropriate answer, but I was holding my breath against the odor - not the best way to have a conversation. She pranced on her way, dragging poor Fido, who must have weighed at least 20 pounds less than he had a few minutes before.

So here's the thing: If you're walking a dog in the city, you should be carrying plastic bags for poop scooping. It's the law. Unless you have no intention of abiding by it, which clearly she didn't. Nobody loves dogs more than I, but many dog owners seem to think they're exempt from the responsibility that goes with it. I'm not feeling the love right now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And She's Not Even Running for Office


Journalist Joe McGinniss, who is working on an unauthorized biography of Sarah Palin, has moved next door to his subject.

The Palins had just returned to Alaska after attending rallies in other states. She went outside in shorts and tank top to enjoy a little sun, a rarity in the far north, and noticed a strange man on her neighbor's deck. Her husband walked over to introduce himself and learned that the "peering stranger" was the journalist, normally based in Massachusetts, who has rented the house for five months.

I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, and that's a colossal understatement because I try to keep my sailor's parrot rants to a minimum on this blog. But I really think this is taking First Amendment rights too far. While McGinniss is not breaking any laws, he is totally intruding on her privacy and her family's. His action offends my sense of the sanctity of ones home. While his dedication to his work is impressive, scrutinizing anyone and her entire family under a daily microscope is wrong, no matter who she is or what she stands for, and is tantamount to stalking.

It makes me uneasy because he could as easily be a sniper. We live in a free country and I am extremely grateful for this in all its ramifications. But I think that with such freedom should come responsibility not to abuse it by trampling on the rights of others. The families of celebrities should not be considered fair game, or fodder for a journalist's pen. A line has been crossed here, but it is admittedly a nebulous one. McGinnis has done nothing explicitly "wrong" but implicitly he has committed a wrong, in my view, no matter how indefinable it is.

It's easy to write off his actions as amusing if one does not care for Palin. But if we truly believe in the equality we tout so proudly, it must apply across the board, both to those we like and those we do not. What are your thoughts on this? I'd really like to know because I am always open to other views. Let's talk.

UPDATE: May 27 - Mr. Sarah and his buddies have erected a 14-foot fence around the property. Now McGinnis will have to buy a giant crane.