Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seattle Light Rail Connects to SeaTac Airport...and a Hike

It's the apex of holiday time and again we're confronted with planes, trains and automobiles...and light rail.  Here in Seattle, the final stop on the Link Light Rail system opened on Saturday, finally connecting the 15.7 miles between downtown and SeaTac airport. Almost.

Catching your plane via light rail isn't so simple. Somehow you've got to get to the train, and not by driving, as none of the stations have parking lots.  Once on Link, you won't find luggage racks.  And finally, after you reach the spanking-new SeaTac station, you debark onto a platform 60 feet in the air.

From there, you've got to schlep your luggage outdoors, unprotected from cold and wind, down a level, across a bridge, and the length of the enormous parking structure (which holds 13,000 cars, ostensibly the largest garage in the world), finally crossing over to the terminal--where you start the indoors hike to your airline.  (Rental of a luggage cart is $4.)

As the Seattle Times suggests, "With its open-air walkways, chill breezes, highway and tarmac vistas, visible pipes ans jet fumes, the station seems to celebrate the maelstrom that is modern air travel." The article continues, "People-movers were not built, because those would cost millions, nor do the Port and Sound Transit keep electric carts, rental wheelchairs or pedicabs at the station."

Well, what do you expect for $2.3 billion?  And that was for the first 14 miles of track that opened in July.  Latest reports show that November ridership slipped to its lowest level.

This is of interest as my family prepares for travel to Hawaii (oh, yes!) where my husband will continue working and the rest of us plan to soak up a few of those 80-degree rays.  We're not checking luggage, given that the first piece costs $15 each way, and we've got heavy "personal items" and must tote our Northwest coats.

 Is the light rail an attractive means to reach the airport? Well, let's see: It takes longer for us to drive to the nearest station than it would to get to the airport and be dropped off right in front of our airline.  The cost of gas is no more for all of us to ride in one car than the multiple fares on Light Rail would be. And with a car drop-off, there's no grappling with bags down stairs and during a lenghty (and time-consuming) outdoor walk.

Funny, I've asked several groups if anyone's tried the Link light rail, and not a single person has.  Why not? Because we value our time, our convenience and our money.  Greg Nickels, outgoing mayor who proudly cut the ribbon at the SeaTac station opening Saturday, is hoping that people will forego all of the above, in sync with a liberal philosophy that views cars as evil and independence as selfish.

Taxpayers who wouldn't ride light rail are forced to pay for it.  Even the liberals who support mass transit in principle won't sacrifice time and effort to take Light Rail to the airport when cars are so much easier and faster.  Our left-leaning government thinks it knows best how we should travel, but no one's willing to give up personal freedom and comfort.  I'll be eager to see if Mayor Nickels or any other politican toasting the new station Saturday ever rides light rail again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Messages of Chanuka, Christmas...and Tiger Woods

Happy Chanuka; Merry Christmas.

They're not at all the same, even though we're all surrounded by the vivid colors and jocular commotion of the Chrismas season.  Last Saturday night, my husband and I joined at least a thousand others walking around Seattle's Green Lake, a three-mile path that glowed every few feet on both sides with flickering luminaria. Every so often, groups of people gathered to sing carols. Not winter songs, but traditional melodies celebrating the birth of Jesus.  The temperature, about 30 degrees, hadn't varied much all week, and the lake ice splayed reflections from the lanterns on the frozen water like Crystal Craze.

Chanuka's a quieter holiday.  True, we put our menorahs (candleabras) in our family room window, where theoretically neighbors can watch the display increasing by one light each night, climaxing next Friday evening, when all eight (plus the shamash, or "helper") celebrate the triumph of Jews faithful to God over those willing to assimilate. The menorah in the window publicizes God's part in the miracles of the holiday, and shows our fidelity, saying, "count us among those who uphold God's laws." 

It's almost ironic that culturally, Christmas and Chanuka are so often linked as dual celebrations of the season. Christmas marks the materialization of the spiritual, the coming to earth in human form, of God.  Giving gifts and putting up Christmas trees and decorations (increasing "stuff") extends the idea of God's taking tangible form.

Chanuka focuses on the non-physical--flame, light--and ridding the Bait HaMikdash (Holy Temple, in 164 BCE) of man-made gods.  It celebrates the Temple's rededication to its prescribed functions, and we to the special non-spacial stratum of Jewish study and concentration we overlay on our concrete activities.

Not to imply that Jews eschew the physical (or that Christians ignore the spiritual).  The holiday of Purim affirms God's (hidden) role in physicality, and we express that by feasting and drinking and testing what we see (by wearing costumes) and hear (by twice listening to the Book of Esther).  But that's later, in March (actually the Jewish month of Adar).  Right now, as darkness seems pervasive here in the Northwest, with late dawn, cloudcover, and early night-time, we need to know that there's more than just what we're able to discern.

For Jews, Chanuka is the victory of light, of God's immaterial essence, over Hellenistic, hedonistic, touchable idols in our world.

Which of course relates to...Tiger Woods.  Some say he is a broken idol. I don't really follow such sordid stuff, an achiever, a hero, whose wholesome image is merely a veneer for betrayal, lying, adultery--the short-sighted selfishness that many call "just sex" and excuse with a shrug.

I don't think women are so charitable in their views of philandering sports stars.  Every phone call, every text message, every step through a door and unacceptable placement of his hand was a transgression.  It's not like there was one suggestive word, though that, too would be a choice.  Every single action directed toward a mistress or sex-mate was a cut in the basis of his marriage, in the trust expected by his wife, and by extension the fans and sponsors who believed not just in his talent but in his character.  It's not "just sex" but the destruction of the package that is the person.  The once-honorable person.

Back to the message of Chanuka: Don't fall for idols. Be true, be trustworthy, even though you have to forsake the immediately rewarding for long-term principles. Then, as now, it's easier to just go with the flow--to pick up the Hellenistic culture, the undemanding idols. To succumb to peer-pressure and feel-good temptations.

I know some people who love gossip and think Tiger Woods' (and any celebrity's) disgrace just lets normal folk feel better about their own lives: "The most famous and successful golfer ever, a mega-millionaire with a super-model wife blows it for some ridiculous sex--even I'm better than that."  I just find it sad.

I'd rather bundle up against the cold, light my menorah and enjoy the season.

Merry Christmas; Happy Chanuka.  And may you find bright light in your family room, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NY Show Feeds Graffiti Vandal B.N.E.'s Criminal Ego

This isn't the first time that a graffiti vandal gets glory. But it may be the first time one gets a Big Apple "art" show, sponsored by the New York office of a British advertising agency.

The tagger called B.N.E.--who's less a tagger than a paster, because he plasters 10,000 printed stickers monthly, with "iron grip adhesive," in selected cities internationally--put his unexplained three initials on a 15-foot wall in Manhattan as part of his exhibit. Seems hypocritical that he's challenging corporations ("You have these billion-dollar companies, and I've got to look at their logos every day. Why can't I put mine up?") but sponsored by an agency called "Mother" happy to exploit his "globally recognized and valued brand."

And he got an interview in the New York Times today, too. And for what? For sullying private and public surfaces from Japan to Bangkok, Prague and San Francisco, where liberal mayor Gavin Newsom, who you'd think would approve such added "art," is offering a $2,500 reward for his capture.

I can understand ad agencies trying to boost clients with edgy appeal, in itself not the most original of strategies.  They probably adore conventional folks' publicity-generating disdain.

But come on--all this does is fuel egomaniacs, whose "art" has the sole aim of increasing their personal domain, leaving evidence of their existence in much the same way dogs lift their legs to mark their turfs.  Dog urine, however, is a biodegradable substance, legal, and doesn't require human costs of time and expense to correct.  Nor does it stir neighborhood consternation and police action.

  In some cases, owners of homes or small businesses scarred by this smug defacement lack the wherewithal to remove it.  Santa Monica, California, where I used to live, provided property owners paint to cover the blight. Like many cities, it has a "graffiti removal team," and on its City website asks, "Which of the following impacts does the appearance of graffiti have on a neighborhood? 1.Decreases property values 2. Increases residents' fear of crime 3. Attracts more graffiti "artists" 4. All of the above.  If you answered '4, All of the above,' you're correct."

 Promoters who abet this community disfigurement, like the ironically named "Mother" and organizers of commercially-sponsored "jams" are responsible for its increased proliferation.  A program called "Graffiti Hurts," started in 1996 by paint-makers Sherwin-Williams (probably hoping their Krylon spray-paints wouldn't be banned or restricted, as many cities proposed) offers prevention and eradication information as well as school curricula to shape kids' attitudes.  They provide statistics showing that Jams for graffiti vandals, sponsored by video game makers, clothing companies, artists' agencies and even Hawaiian Punch, cause an increase in output in the surrounding neighborhood within hours of the events.
This doesn't bother ad agencies one bit.
Now, I support the free market system; the creativity of advertising agencies fosters the supply and demand that enlarges our options and makes our economy thrive.  But "pushing the envelope" by encouraging destruction of property, criminality and visual intrusion on the landscape ultimately doesn't get clients more business. Hawaiian Punch pulled the plug on a 2006 Houston jam because the community expressed its concern.
When my husband sees a new tag on a freeway wall, he goes into a funk. If the tag stays there more than a week, he phones the mayor's office to urge its removal.  Seattle applied for $547,000 from Pres. Obama's stimulus package to fund a Graffiti Investigation and Prosecution office with a dedicated detective, City Prosecutor and aides, to promply paint over and address the problem.  The plan wasn't funded, but clearly our town sees the increasing amount of audacious freeway and street tags as a plague.
When Paul Allen's vanity rock museum, the Experience Music Project, opened in Seattle Center in 2000, it featured an exhibit glorifying graffiti, showcasing a real New York Subway car whose original gray lay deep under wall-to-wall spray-paint. Photos of early taggers and their imprints appeared in glass cases for school kids to admire.  With fancy lighting and interactive videos, the show legitimized trashing somebody else's property and environment. I don't think the EMP would mount that display today.
B.N.E. knows he's a fugitive, and I think that's part of the allure--getting away with something despised by the establishment (governments, homeowners, businessmen) and lauded by a fringe underground.  Vandals splash their tags conspicuously as proof they can foil rules.  "I've always rebelled against authority," B.N.E. boasts. "Like any kid, I wanted to write the whole neighborhood. Most kids like that would then want to go out and do the whole city.  In my case, I wanted to do the whole planet."  Well, we're encouraging him, with glitzy ad agency "shows" and features in the New York Times.
B.N.E. arrogantly suggests his despoiling urban environments is freedom of speech:  "This is my voice," he insists, "and if you try to remove it, you're shutting me up."  (OK then, shut up.) Thus the super-tacky adhesive on his stickers. He loves being a famous snot.
The chairman of the Queens, New York, City Council Public Safety Committee, Peter F. Vallone, Jr. is right: "This is an unrepentant criminal who has cost honest taxpayers a lot of money, and he's profited from it." Times writer Corey Kilgannon as well as Mother brass know who this guy is and could end his career. But they wouldn't betray B.N.E., because they think cool and edgy trumps respecting the law.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Obamas Homogenize the Holidays

Pres. Obama is minimizing Chanuka and miniaturizing Christmas because he wants to religiously homogenize the world.  A New York Times piece about social secretary Desiree Rogers includes her reference to the first couples' desire for a "non-religious Christmas," to many minds an oxymoron.  Apparently there was debate about displaying the terra cotta and wood White House creche, an 18th Century carved wood gift from Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Jr. that's been on display in the East Room every Christmas since 1967.

As an aside...I've attended two Bush White House Chanuka parties, and the creche (left) was discretely removed for the occasions. The souvenir booklet about the White House given guests, however, describes it.  I doubt Jewish visitors would have disapproved of the nativity scene any more than the Christmas trees that filled every room, but the sensitivity was noted.

Is it that same sensitivity that drives Pres. Obama to want to make his first White House Christmas "non-religious"?  Or, is it a more disturbing agenda?

I maintain that this is a small step that figures neatly in his broader plan.

Pres. Obama was raised in a Muslim milieu, even if he was not actively Muslim, and he knows that the Peace Prize he’s junketing to Oslo to pick up is predicated on his trying to build a religiously neutral world. Despite his 20 years in the congregation of Rev. Wright, the point of which was to build up his cred in the black community, I doubt he believes Jesus is his savior. I'd say he thinks this holiday is an American tradition, and if he were to ignore it, he’d alienate a lot of people.

With a somewhat megalomaniacal desire to better humanity according to his personal world-view, his underlying purpose is to homogenize just about everyone and everything. Rich and poor must be equalized. Male and female, ditto. America and other nations, ditto. He’s taking it in steps: first downplay the holidays (even the celebrations of his most strident supporters) and ultimately make “The Season” a Unicef Card, with paz, pasques, peace, shalom, and the Arab equivalent floating equally around a scene of an arm-linked circle of people of many colors.

Social Secretary Desiree Rogers calls it the Obamas' "philosophy" of being "inclusive, diverse, representative of all Americans, celebratory, authentic."  But at Christmas time, "representing all Americans" is not "authentic."  Our nation was founded by and is populated mostly by Christians.  In 2009, 75% of Americans say they're Christian.  That figure is down ten percent from 1990, but pundits speculate that's because it's now more OK to tell a pollster "no religion" than it used to be, not because the panoply of religions in the nation has expanded.

This time of year, Jewish publications are filled with advice on resisting the Christmas flavor around us.  Truth is, Chanuka carries exactly that theme--Jews who embrace their religion know that the underlying message is loyalty to the Torah; the Festival of Lights celebrates the restoration of the Holy Temple to its traditional role in 165 B.C.E., in defiance of those who would assimilate into the Hellenistic culture. Anyone secure in his Judaism isn't threatened by a benign American Christian culture, and in fact our family appreciates the holiday lights, happy caroling, and the air of conviviality and charity that circulates in shopping centers and with the tinkle of the Salvation Army bell at the entrance of our grocery store.

We wish our neighbors Merry Christmas, and we wish the Obamas could do the same.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Governors Aren't Judges: Huckabee's Well-Meaning, Politically Fatal Mistake

Keep reading: I'm going to tell you the politically fatal problem with the 1,033 commutations and pardons by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of which led 9 years later to the massacre of four policemen in Lakewood, Washington on Sunday.

I heard Gov. Huckabee yesterday on my favorite talk radio show, and I was disappointed with his continued defense of his 2000 commutation for killer Maurice Clemmons.  (I also heard my fave host catch him today on an inconsistency between assertions on the show and on another interview later in the day.)  I get the feeling that Gov. Huckabee, whom I like and admire generally, is looking for the most acceptable spin on a serious mistake.

His new tack paints Maurice Clemmons as the youthful victim of a racist and over-zealous judicial system, and his role in commuting his sentence from 108 to 47 years as righting that wrong.  He insists he thoroughly read every page of the thick file detailing Clemmons' violent and aggressive behavior while serving the 11 years that preceded his petition. Huckabee, who says he granted clemency on the recommendation of two judges, couldn't know what Clemmons would do after his release--he didn't have a crystal ball, did he?

Hearing Gov. Huckabee sympathetically describe Clemmons' robbing an elderly woman (he threatened he'd shoot her; she called his bluff so he whacked her down and ran off with her purse), minimizing it by saying the haul was only $16, was jarring enough. But he never mentioned that in 1990 (a decade before the clemency petition), Clemmons added 60 years to his already lengthy list of sentences by burglarizing a State Trooper's home, stealing $6,700-worth of property, including a gun. Omitting that offense, Huckabee went on to say that a 108-year punishment for "two crimes committed at age 16" was excessive.  Not only did the governor have the facts wrong; not only was his compassion misplaced, but to my mind he did something even worse.

He implied he was wiser than the state's entire judicial system.

For a politician to exert his power in a few cases--okay. But Gov. Huckabee considered interfering with the outcomes of trials and processes of justice several times a day. (He granted more than three times the petitions of the previous three governors combined.)  He claimed he read the records of all the prisoners petitioning for clemency or pardon, evaluated them, and dismissed 92% of them.  He granted 8% of the requests, thereby discarding sentences decreed by judges who had presided over cases beginning-to-end.

Now, it is entirely possible that a sentence can be overly harsh. And that racism was a factor in Arkansas, as Gov. Huckabee said yesterday on the radio.  That's why there's an appeal process. That's why juries, rather than individuals, render verdicts.

It's also wonderful to show empathy, and one of Gov. Huckabee's most appealing characteristics is his caring demeanor. He comes across as perhaps the most visible example of "compassionate conservatism," combining solid values with regard for others' welfare.

But a governor represents the executive, not judicial branch of state government.  Voters hadn't elected him to spend time absorbing details of 12,912 convicted criminals' cases to determine which sentences to change.  Gov. Huckabee's insistence that it would have been far easier and more politically safe to routinely deny all the petitions rather than scrutinize them, seems a bit self-serving, suggesting he magnanimously endured the risk to doggedly pursue justice and fairness for these victimized prisoners.  Nice guy; not his job.

That's why Gov. Huckabee probably ruined his chances as a presidential candidate.

I would not want a president who felt compelled to examine and correct Supreme Court decisions, any more than I want a Court that furthers a social agenda via sweeping rulings that state legislatures should decide.  The "emanation of a penumbra" scotched state legislatures' varying laws on abortion, and similar derivative language may yet nullify the will of millions of voters who've firmly supported traditional man-woman marriage.

A governor and a president do pursue a platform, but as "executives," their roles are administrative. Yes, they can put forth or veto proposals, but can't single-handedly enact or eliminate laws.  We have three branches of government, and a bicameral legislature to prevent kingly pronouncements.

And that may be what makes me so uneasy with Gov. Huckabee's stance on Maurice Clemmons' commutation. He sounds a bit too much like the imperial President Obama, who is so sure he knows what this nation needs, and sounds ever-so-slightly frustrated that even some in his party don't see things his way.

I don't really support the idea of executive clemency--but in any case, governors should use it only rarely, in special circumstances.  Gov. Huckabee pardoned or commuted a sentence nearly every other work day for ten years in office.  And he says he read 12.5 times as many case histories as he granted.  Something's wrong with those priorities.

With the flags at my kids' school at half-mast, mourning the deaths not far away of four dedicated police officers, we are reminded that the purpose of imprisonment isn't primarily punishment or deterrence, but public safety.  No matter how crowded jails get, the single most important criterion for parole or release should be the prisoner's potential to harm.  Even the eloquent and intelligent Mike Huckabee can't convince us that in 2000 Maurice Clemmons' record suggested he met that most fundamental standard.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Murderer Clemmons Dead after Frightening Seattle and Raising Questions of Compassion

Update this morning on Maurice Clemmons, killer of four Lakewood, Washington police officers, cause of city-wide concern and unease, and source of Mike Huckabee's future political demise.

As I'd hoped in my post of last night, Clemmons was found, about 2:40 am. And, due to the criminal's own bravado and stupidity, killed, saving taxpayers the expense of trial and incarceration and probably executing him anyway.

Clemmons, who had evaded capture with the help of nefarious low-lifes, decided to steal a car.  The vehicle's owner, Harvey Lagon, watching TV in his South Seattle home about 12:45 am, heard his car revving and, looking out the window, watched it being stolen. He decided to call the police rather than pursue the thief himself. That choice might have saved his life.

Several blocks away, Officer Benjamin Kelly, on routine patrol, came upon the car with the hood up and motor running. He determined the car was stolen, and began the paperwork when Clemmons approached. Kelly recognized him and commanded him to stop. When Clemmons ignored two further commands and reached into his waist area, the officer fired.  On Clemmons' body was a firearm taken from one of the Lakewood murdered officers.

The collective sigh of relief in Seattle is audible.  The day began with this beautiful dawn (I took the photo), the opening of a sunny day in the light-starved Northwest.  Today my daughter and her friends can walk to class at the University of Washington with less trepidation.

I hope this tragic episode can motivate support for government aggressively eliminating danger and effectively punishing criminals. We need to shift the mindset so that perpetrators are seen as responsible decision-makers, rather than victims of a society that owes them help and sympathy, since it failed to provide optimal upbringing.

The economy and individual freedom depend on citizens' living in safety. Providing that is the most fundamental task of government.  I'm sure Gov. Huckabee--and we all--now regret that nine years ago he didn't keep that duty foremost in mind.

Huckabee Mishandles Cop-Murderer Clemmons' Sentence Commutation

For my daughter, a student at the University of Washington, the world is askew because a murderous gunman is on the loose.  Maurice Clemmons, 37, mowed down four police officers at a coffee shop near Tacoma on Sunday morning, then headed north, bearing an abdominal bullet wound received in the attack. Police thought they had him when they surrounded a house not so very far from where I live. They were wrong; it was empty. Then today, he was spotted at the University of Washington. My daughter, who couldn't miss class, headed to her lecture despite her dad's pleas; she said police were everywhere.  Campus buildings were closed tonight, just in case; my daughter came home so she'd have a quiet place to study.

I only found out about the peril when my husband called, about 11 am, assuming I'd heard. No. And thanks for the worry, honey.

The story gained national attention because Mike Huckabee, as governor of Arkansas, 9 years ago commuted Clemmons' 60-year sentence for a series of robberies and burglaries (received while already sentenced to 48) after the felon had served 11 years. Clemmons' behavior while incarcerated certainly added to his punishment--he'd lunged for a gun, hidden a metal hinge in his clothes, and thrown a lock at a bailiff (missing, but hitting his mother, who'd come to bring him clothes). The Arkansas parole board reviewed Clemmons' case and released him anyway; he immediately went out and robbed some more, was convicted but released again in 2004, when he moved to Washington State.

Clemmons' (pictured) rampage Sunday occurred just six days after his release from Pierce County jail on charges of second degree child rape and seven other felonies. His freedom (with a tracking ankle cuff he cut off) was secured with $15,000 he put up from unknown sources, and a $150,000 bond from a bail bonds company called Jail Sucks.  Apparently, he was enraged either because of a domestic confrontation after "discovering a child" (according to a story in this morning's Seattle Times) or because he was generally mad at having been incarcerated. He apparently told acquaintances to "watch the news" because he planned to "kill cops."  He's been chased around Seattle, sometimes based on a trail of blood, abetted by others who, police say, have been lying for him.

It's all sad, scary and horrible, the loss of four brave officers, and this criminal on the loose, a wounded, armed animal whose mental state is some degree of crazy.  The "flat out execution" of the officers comes on the heels of the Halloween murder of Seattle policeman Tim Brenton, "allegedly" (according to eye-witnesses) by Christopher J. Monfort, called by police a "domestic terrorist" who had bomb-making supplies in his apartment. Monfort was shot and is in custody.

What I find especially appalling is the reluctance of Gov. Huckabee, who I admire, to express regret or take responsibility for the fact that Clemmons was in circulation. If he had not been moved by a handwritten plea that used the perpetrator-as-victim excuse, the compassionate governor might have let the repeat offender's sentence stand.  Gov. Huckabee, who explained his 1,033 pardons and commutations (one every four days of his ten years in office) on the O'Reilly Show this evening (embedded below) had evaded responsibility earlier today, blaming a "series of failures in the criminal justice system in Arkansas and Washington State."

 On the show he did admit "I am responsible" but qualified that he merely acted on the recommendations of the parole board and the judge in the case.  He emphasized that the commutation shortened Clemmons' 108-year sentence to make him eligible for parole, which was actually granted not by him, but by the parole board itself.

I find this unacceptable.  A repeat offender who had more than the three strikes, and who earned through the justice system 108 years in prison is a hard-core criminal. That a judge and parole board recommended his commutation is bad enough; the governor's office and Gov. Huckabee himself should have seen those facts and denied the request.  On O'Reilly, Gov. Huckabee said he did turn down 92% of requests for pardons, and that he studied the paperwork in each case. If that was true, then apparently the governor had enough time to consider the records of 12,912 criminals.  If he took no vacations, holidays or weekends off, Gov. Huckabee pored over the files of about four cases every single day during his tenure.

Even conservative pundits see the Clemmons commutation as a huge gaffe, an error of such Willie Horton-esque magnitude that it could easily dash Gov. Huckabee's future presidential aspirations.  If Gov. Huckabee had immediately and forcefully taken full responsibility, expressed extreme regret, and bent over backward to vow high priority to public protection from repeat criminals, he might have finessed his failure. But to my mind, even his O'Reilly "explanation" seemed defensive rather than definitive.  I think Gov. Huckabee is a good man, but he needed to address his zeal to free Arkansas offenders, and take a hard line against crime.

It's too late for him to do so now. We can only pray that Clemmons is apprehended tonight, for the safety of the citizens of Washington state...and the peace of mind of all the mothers whose children will walk to class tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Holiday movies should Uplift, not Depress

Christmas-time movies have been rolling out since before Halloween, echoing the tinsel and snowflakes prominent in the malls where multiplexes rule. I've seen two holiday releases; one is worth your investment and will leave you glowing with seasonal spirit; the other is depressing and, should you stupidly go to see it, will undermine any family holiday occasions with suspicion and dissatisfaction.

The one to miss is "Everybody's Fine," starring Robert DeNiro.  I seldom accompany my husband to screenings, since my criteria of no violence, suspense or slapstick only leaves a repertoire of romantic comedies.  But this was billed as a heartwarming story culminating with a happy Christmas scene, so I thought I'd take advantage of spending the evening with my man.

I should have known better.  On the way there, my husband said, "Any movie with Robert DeNiro in it is bound to be depressing."  Unfortunately, we were on the freeway, or I'd have gotten out immediately.

DeNiro plays a recent widower, pathetically lonely in his 1940's-style house; when all his far-flung adult kids cancel a reunion-at-home weekend, he sets off to "surprise" each of them with a visit.  In his travels, complicated by a respiratory problem caused by a career making PVC coating for telephone wires (a sappy theme--wires that communicate, versus his family that didn't), he discovers that for years his wife had conspired with the kids to spare him from family unpleasantries.

"Everybody's fine" was the euphemism that covered myriad long-festering problems.  You come out of the movie wondering who in your circle is hiding something; whether you've missed a deep-seated issue that you should have seen--and whether those you love who you think are doing well really aren't.
What a downer.

But across the hall at the multiplex is bound to be Disney's "A Christmas Carol," the 3-D animated masterpiece wonderfully faithful to Dickens' original story.  Jim Carrey offers all the malevolent timbre you expect from Ebeneezer Scrooge (he plays the three ghosts as well), and the magic of the animation takes you so close to his world that you can see every wrinkle on his miserly countenance was honestly earned.

Little kids might be spooked by the scary Christmas Yet to Come, but for those about age 8 up, the creative vantage-points (sometimes so weird they're a tad distracting) and roller-coaster-like glides (perhaps one too many) will enthrall.  The colors and detail will amaze, as will the exhilarating ending that every viewer knows so well. Finally, you'll leave with a new song in your heart, specially written for the film by Alan Silvestri.

I look forward to the holidays--twinkling lights, beautiful carols, Hanukkah parties...I much prefer to celebrate the closeness of my family, which is real and enduring, than sink in the dysfunction of others.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coed Dorms Increase Risky Behavior? Maybe.

A new survey of 510 students at five geographically-diverse campuses reported in The Journal of American College Health says coed dorms dramatically increase the likelihood of collegiate binge-drinking and sex. As reported in USA Today, pupils in coed housing are 2 1/2 times as likely to binge-drink weekly, and nearly a third more likely to admit having at least one sexual partner in the last year.

As I read the story, I mumbled the statistician's mantra, "but correlation does not imply causation." Certainly those less inclined toward partying would choose the single-sex living situation, right? Apparently not; the study authors, Brian Willoughby, and his former professor Jason Carroll, both currently at Brigham Young University, say their findings "really caught us off-guard."  Plus, they say their "analysis controlled for potential selection effects," and that the colleges, not the students, made the housing assignments.

Maybe the result is an artifact.  After all, of the 510 students surveyed, only 68 lived in single-sex dorms.  But that's still enough for a potent statistical analysis.

Willoughby and Carroll's earlier work found that more than 90% of college housing is coed; their new study assumed that single-sex housing is the booby prize offered only after all the coed slots are filled.

Apparently, there's no getting around the fact that coed college living is deleterious.  Weekly alcohol binging (reported by 42% of coed dorm residents versus 18% of single-sex dorm residents) was most startling, but they found co-ed housing also correlated significantly with admissions of multiple sexual partners and use of porn. Even after controlling for the effects of age, gender, religiosity, personality and relationship status, "there was still something unique about living in a coed dorm that was associated with risk-taking," said study author Willoughby.

Then again...I have a daughter who lived in a single-sex dorm, and a second daughter who lives in a sorority. My sorority girl's house has rules about men's presence; definitely a chaste environment.  But you can't say that her type of single-sex environment deters or decreases drinking.  That daughter's currently writing a sociology paper on the phenomenon called "Thirsty Thursdays."

Still, I believe that many--probably most--women thrive in environments without the complications that sexual electricity can bring.  A government study of women-only colleges describes how such environments foster leadership and allow women to achieve in traditionally male-dominated subject areas more easily.

But the bottom-line truth is that women have a civilizing effect on men.  George Gilder said it years ago in his insightful Men and MarriageThe most disturbed and destructive segment of the population is single men. When they each commit to a woman and gain the responsibility of family, they move from selfish, sexual carpe-diem behemoths to dutiful, long-term-focused adults.  It makes sense that colleges would want women and men in the same dorms--usually on separate floors--to civilize the men there.

I'd postulate that if Willoughby and Carroll had looked at the differences in drinking, sexual promiscuity and porn use by gender, they'd find some not-so-surprising differences.  One comment on a report of the present study said colleges installed co-ed dorms to minimize damage to their facilities.  That makes sense. Just as guys together can create Animal House, guys tempered by women probably won't.

I don't think it's necessarily a good thing for women to have to share the same floor with men.  Proximity breeds familiarity, goes the maxim.  And it often takes more strength of character to hold to one's principles than to succumb to the lowest common denominator.  I mourn the loss of so many women's colleges, and wish that more than just 13% of college dorms were single-sex, to allow more freedom of choice.  But on the other hand, I don't know that this study is worthy of panic.  Much more troublesome is the nonchalance with which collegians accept alcohol use and abuse, whether in co-ed dorms or in the taverns of University Avenues across the land.

(The photo's from a Time article on the evolution of college dorms.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Observations on the Coverage of the Fort Hood Terrorist

Just a few days short of Veteran's Day, an army psychiatrist, proclaiming "Allahu Akbar," goes on deadly jihad at the nation's largest military base, slaying 13 soldiers and wounding 29.  Everything I read calls Nidal Malik Hasan the "alleged" "shooter" (not murderer), or the "suspect," when dozens of eye-witnesses watched him in action.  If he had been taken out, (as surely he would have been if this occurred in Israel), would he be called the "alleged" shooter?  The "suspected" killer?

My favorite radio talk-show host distinguishes between this calculated attempt to kill as many soldiers as possible, and a "tragedy," which is news media's ubiquitous term for Hasan's rampage. The Fort Hood deaths and woundings were each enormous crimes.  Shakespeare wrote tragedies, in which characters, often due to personality flaws but never intentionally, fell or met their doom.  Tragedy involves destiny, the collision of events, an inevitably sad, but unplanned result.  The monster Hasan left a trail of behavioral and online breadcrumbs that should have led superiors to the devouring witch of Islamic fanaticism.

I'm annoyed when news outlets like the New York Times continue to elevate this premeditated murderer by using the title of Major.  My father advanced to the rank of Major in the army during World War II.  He served at many posts, one of which was running a prisoner of war camp in Anchorage, Alaska.  I grew up hearing his profound respect for the dedicated officers with whom he served, and of the efforts he made to achieve that rank.  Hasan the murderer no longer deserves the title of Major.  I think he should be called the Fort Hood terrorist.

And he is a terrorist.  I was flummoxed by early media stories insisting that Hasan wasn't one. But recently-uncovered associations and rantings now make his deadly agenda undeniable.  Still, few news outlets are willing to call the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, which Hasan attended in 2001 with three 9-11 hijackers, a well-organized, dogma-driven source of anti-American fervor. Oh, no.

John McCain did directly label Hasan's rampage "an act of terror."  In an Associated Press story that again "alleges" Hasan's culpability, McCain clarified to University of Kentucky students that it's clearly terrorist to kill one's fellow military on a base, motivated by "an extremist interpretation of an honorable religion."  Awk, even he can't stop pussy-footing.   Let's get this straight:  Hasan considered non-Muslims infidels and wanted them cowed; last week, he wanted them dead.

I took the time to read all 50 screens of the powerpoint presentation Hasan gave to a group of army doctors in June, 2007, when he lectured on Islam, instead of sticking to his assignment to discuss medical issues.  Aside from plentiful grammatical and spelling errors, the most notable aspect was the plethora of quotations that explained Muslim beliefs on reward and punishment, defensive and offensive jihad. Much is cryptic and requires explanation. The concluding slide recommends that Muslim soldiers be allowed the option of "conscientious objector" release from the military, "to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events."  And then, Hasan perpetrated a horrific "adverse event."

Veteran's Day is a time to celebrate those who served our country--who are alive to be appreciated.  On the eve of Pres. Obama's announcing the extent of additional troops to be sent to Afghanistan, we must renew our gratitude to the men and women and their families who continue to defend and protect us.

We who are so blessed to live in the United States chug along, heads down, thumbs poking our iPods and Droids, contemplating which t.v. program or movie to watch tonight. We are so spoiled. As the Fort Hood massacre reminds, life is fragile. One minute, one ideology, can change everything.

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Adventure on Seattle's New Light Rail

A gloomy Sunday in Seattle, perfect for a ride on our city's new Central Link light rail system, which opened to great fanfare on July 18 this year. After thirteen years of fits and starts and voters approving and then junking (three times) and then okaying and then resenting the $4.7 billion it took to open the 14-mile, 12-station train line, my husband and I wanted to experience it. 

The route goes from downtown Seattle to Tukwila, a town near SeaTac airport. A station close to the terminal is slated to open in December.  Projected daily ridership is 21,000 by the end of the year--the figures so far, though, show a slight decline from an August high of about 14,800. Given the extent of debt for its creation, Seattle might have dug itself into more than one kind of hole.

While it's a subway through downtown, Link rides above-ground through the lowest-income parts of town and industrial areas. Built with no parking whatsoever, riders are expected to walk, bicycle or bus to a station, with suitcases in tow, walk down three flights to tracks, and juggle luggage during the ride (cars have no racks).  At the last stop, airport-bound passengers must disembark, then find the bus that stops at the far end of the airport.

My husband and I boarded at the downtown terminus, Westlake, purchasing tickets ($5 per person) from a machine tucked at the top of a steep stairway.

We descended (there's no escalator down, only up) to find that buses and Link share the same two transit lanes. It wasn't clear where along the curb Link would stop, but after watching five busses pass, the sleek new trains noisily pulled up about 25 feet from where we stood.  We jumped on, settled into two seats in the nearly-vacant cars (which each hold 200), noticing an empty liquor bottle on the floor.  A young man at the end of our car proceeded to eat a sandwich, change his clothes and shoes, drink wine from a bottle, and then peruse his laptop computer before alighting.

At the first three stops, no one boarded, but at the next, a family entered, two parents and two little girls, one holding tightly to her mom's hand.  The elder girl, about 8, debated where to go, stepping out of the car--just as the doors closed.  The parents frantically pounded on the closed door as the train pulled away, their screaming daughter running alongside, falling behind as the car accelerated.

At the next station, just three minutes away, the family jumped off; the conductor announced that the parents of a girl left behind at the previous station should return, an easy task as the opposite-direction train would arrive just a few feet away.  Clearly, this little drama would end happily, and we could return our attention to the now-visible outdoor scenery.

As the train wobbled and bumped nauseatingly, a panorama of dilapidated homes, graffitti-splashed warehouses, cars on cinderblocks, cheek-and-jowel-stacked "affordable" condo construction, strip malls with signs in unknown Asian languages, treeless avenues, paved lots of service vehicles and semi-trailers defined the view.  This was a Seattle I hadn't considered, a broken-down town with none of the sophistication, energy and intellectual dynamism of, say, Ravenna, Magnolia, Fremont, Queen Anne, Greenlake, Capitol Hill--all  neighborhoods pulsing with character and style.  Central Link light rail takes passengers through the seamy, sometimes necessary but gritty fringes scrambling to maintain.  I thought about vacationers, flying to Seattle to see the sights, traveling from the airport balancing their rolly suitcases on their laps, forming their first, mistaken impressions of a city sad and decrepit.

Still, the ride was exhilarating.  I'm a closet anthropologist; seeing how others live, glimpsing their backyards; passing by loading docks, distribution centers, diners with uneven neon, storefront churches, all excite me.  I loved every moment.  It was at least 40 minutes since we left downtown, but it blinked by, and soon we arrived at Tukwila.  End of the line. I snapped a few photos as the 4 pm sun slanted beneath the gray blanket of clouds, suddenly brightening the miles-around view from the elevated station.  Trees were yellow with autumn, Cascade foothills outlined dark behind.  A handful of passengers boarded the two connected cars equipped to hold 400, and soon we were on the return ride, back past the graffitti, the sprawling assembly and dissemination plants, the urban ticky-tacky condos. So much to notice, largely bleak and unattractive but nonetheless compelling.

Just $5 for an afternoon's fascination.  But the junket convinced me that light rail is a complete waste of taxpayer money.  The smattering of customers, each of whom is subsidized about $130 per ride, could have taken a bus, probably much more conveniently.  No official checked to see if we'd actually purchased a ticket; I wondered, given their torn clothing and odors, whether two riders had actually paid.  Supposedly, stubs are randomly checked, but we never saw a conductor on any of the trains we rode or passed.

Everyone knows that light rail is a financial disaster. I can't find any instance where publicly funded rail lines have made a profit. Rather, they serve a political agenda--to eliminate private autos and ultimately, independent travel. It's part of a larger worldview that promotes leveling the field--eraticating differences between people based on wealth and achievement.  Often camouflaged as an effort to promote environmental causes, the crusade against cars and for mass transit really seeks to quash anything that differentiates and individualizes people and their choices.

I can understand that classic subways, like Manhattan's or Paris' are necessary--they serve cities built before cars, urban sprawl and suburbs.  But west-coast towns, like L.A., San Francisco and Seattle burgeoned because of the automobile; trying to reconfigure these cities to light rail is like trying to cram toothpaste back in the tube.

I certainly enjoyed my jaunt today on Seattle's downtown "tube." It was cheaper and lengthier than a ride at Disneyland.  Unfortuntately for taxpayers, like the attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Link light rail is also built on fantasy.  No one wants to give up his car to take four times longer and pay perhaps double or triple, with much greater inconvenience.  Even friends who, in principle, support light rail admit they don't use it.  Every time I drive by the Mount Baker Station on Rainier Avenue, which I do often, I search the station for activity. Usually there's no one, either walking near the station or on the trains. Once I saw an orange-vested maintenance man.

Seattle just elected Mike McGinn its new mayor, by a super-thin margin.  His primary promise is to expand light rail; he worked to block new suburban roads. He's a Sierra Club officer and rides his bike to work.  Though he'll rationalize Link's poor performance and lack of customers, sanity may still prevail.  Given the cost over-runs and delays inherent in building light rail (Central Link is the most expensive such project in the nation, ever), he'll long be out of office before the next segment can break ground.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why God Made Naked Mole Rats

I've always been a fan of naked mole rats.  It's true; I've been known to drag friends to our Seattle Science Center so they can join me going ga-ga over these absolutely bizarre and awesome--as in causing true awe--creatures.  So I was delighted to find one of my favorite mammals in the news again, this time helping humans avoid cancer.

A new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, covered by the New York Times, explained why these hairless, nearly-blind, eusocial 3-inch-long burrowers who eat their own poop and live up to 28 years never get cancer.  Apparently it's because they, like us, have a cancer-inhibiting gene called p27kipl that kicks in when cells are invaded.  But those queer Eastern-African Heterocephalus glabers, whose teeth are outside their lips, and who can nearly turn around their bodies within their floppy skin, have a first-level defense, an additional gene, p16ink4a that repels cancer upon immediate contact.  It's discovery of that extra cancer-fighting gene that interests scientists and made news.

But naked mole-rats are worthy of fanclubs for many of their astonishing characteristics.  For example, scientists are also trying to glean how it is that the tunnelers don't feel pain when exposed to acids or hot chilis that cause torturous burning in every other creature.  Apparently mole rats lack a neurotransmitter, but weirder yet, according to National Geographic News, "The researchers also found that nerve connections in the naked mole rat's spinal column are different than those of any other animal."  Once they figure out the unique mole-rat nervous system, they can adapt it to spare humans chronic or post-operatic pain.

But that's not all.  They're also teaching us how we might combat all sorts of deadly conditions caused by lack of oxygen. Naked mole rats, while mammals, are cold-blooded, but have no means (like perspiration or fever) to maintain body temperature. They spend virtually their whole lives in close underground quarters, in earth so compact they've evolved so they can function beyond 14 hours in just 3% oxygen (our air has 21%).

They live in colonies averaging 75 (but up to 300) members, all with well defined roles. There's the queen, who, after vanquishing all challengers, grows the space between her vertebrae so she can churn out four or five litters per year of up to 27 pups each, with her three hunky consorts. There's the support crew, who tends the young. There are egalitarian male and female soldiers, who rush forward when they whiff a predator (usually a snake) and fight him off, shoving dirt in his face, clawing at him, and occasionally, for some altruistic souls, sacrificing themselves.  Then there are the workers, who use their tusk-like pairs of incisors (that move separately!) to make miles and miles of tunnels, replete with turnouts, latrines, nurseries, mess halls and communal bedrooms, all in search of food.  They talk, by the way, with chirps, and when a digger hits pay dirt, he returns to wave a chunk of his find, chirping loudly to summon the others to retrieve the bounty.

They find their sustenance by luck, and have been known to unwittingly burrow mere inches from a juicy target. Cuisine for a mole-rat is tubers, those fat roots of plants in the Sahara, where it may not rain for years, selflessly shared by all.  Mole-rats do not drink, and host special symbiotic bacteria and protozoa who help them digest tough fibers.  They carefully gnaw out only the inside of the tuber, so it can regenerate, thereby feeding the commune for years. Which is a good thing, because food can get mighty scarce, and when it does, the mole rats drop their metabolisms by 25%, from already half that of a regular rodent--perhaps one reason why they live ten times longer than a mouse.

If they can survive lean years, and never get cancer; if they can dig a mile-long labyrinth in three months, if they can fight off predators and maintain social order--how do other colonies get established?  After all, naked mole rats, called "sand puppies" by native Africans, are rife, with a conservation status of "least concern."  It turns out that even in mole-rat colonies, a few square pegs may not fit in the round holes.  Research by biologist Justin O’Riain of Cape Town University found that a few fatter and lazier ones get wanderlust, heading topside and journeying by night as far as a mile to find a similarly-inclined mate to start a new colony.

I'm not sure what we're supposed to learn from that, but it's Jewish teaching that we are to learn about God and about human behavior from animals, and naked mole rats seem to have plenty of messages to share.

If you, like me, are captivated by naked mole-rats, you'll love this Smithsonian zoo site, and want to peek at the naked mole-rat cam.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Defense of Halloween

That Halloween should be debatable is something few American children consider--unless they hear it from their parents.  As our neighborhood front yards become blanketed in giant cottony webs, hanging ghosts, tombstones, stuffed witches, and orange outdoor lights, it appears that even in the midst of economic uncertainty, our community is more enthusiastic about this holiday than ever.

A local charity held a kids' Halloween party a few days ago, offering families storytelling, costume-judging, pumpkin carving and oodles of sweet treats, in exchange for a donation.  It sounded wholesome and positive, yet I couldn't think of any in our circle who would let their children participate.  Being Jewish, many of them think Halloween sends a counter-religious message.

Not me. I'd defend Halloween as a secular American diversion--not a real "holiday" but a year marker, pleasantly unique in its lack of real meaning, hidden agenda or malevolent purpose. Every elementary public school classroom in the land boasts fat construction-paper pumpkins, arching black cats, prancing oversized spiders, and for the older grades, skeletons, warty witches and ghouls.  I've yet to meet kids who take the festivities as something serious--for them, it's a chance to indulge fantasy through costume, and, of course, collect a sack of chocolate. No child means "Trick or Treat" as a threat to the smiling neighbors who willingly open their doors bearing platters of sweets; instead, most think it's a single word sounding like "triggertreat," as in "these syllables trigger my getting a yummy treat!"

The way we celebrate is clearly American, even if you somehow make the precarious link to its supposed origins.  Those who condemn it point with disdain to the Celtic holiday of Samhain 2,000 years ago, when ancients, worried about winter, hoped the dead might give their priests a weather warning.  It morphed dramatically, though, when the Romans invaded and combined it with two of their goddess holidays.  When Catholics came along in 800 AD, they put their stamp on it, turning it into All Hallows Eve.

But there was no Halloween in Protestant colonial America--clear up to the mid-1800s, when the Irish potato famine brought Catholic immigrants, whose observance of the day was already pretty benign.

Americans immediately made sure the festival was stripped of any deathly associations, and observed mainly in community get-togethers. Trick-or-treating didn't start until about 1930, and didn't really catch on until the Boomers turned the nation kid-centric. Now the holiday is seen as a chance to carve jack-o-lanterns, take the joyful kids around the neighborhood, and sneak a few pieces of the stash you've bought to hand out at your own door.  College students consider it one of their thousand excuses to party.

Some people glean their smiles from ookey costumes of ghouls with fake blood, but even more choose to dress up as princesses, cats, pirates and cowboys. Vampires have made a resurgence due to the popularity of "Twilight" and its ilk.  In every case, the purpose is enjoyment.  The pickle-people who frown upon it are certainly free to keep their porch lights off. 

Aside from the fun re-connecting with neighbors, our economy gets a big boost from the holiday, with happy revelers choosing to spend an average of $56 this year, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation, down $10 from before the economy tanked. That's the second biggest spending occasion, behind Christmas.  You may want to return or recycle your yule gift, but nobody takes back his extra candy.

While I respect their views, I think parents who negate Halloween deprive their kids of a cultural celebration, a chance for families to notice the season, and take it in the direction they choose.  Some churches mark this time with "harvest parties" where costumed kids play games; many parents who let their kids trick-or-treat make sure they spin the outing so their children know it's a fun time, and not a scary or religious one.  Given that Halloween is ubiquitous, we might as well embrace it as an American tradition, though it's inconsequential and weightless as the blowing autumn leaves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Amelia:" Far More Fascinating than the Flick

Political correctness has turned Amelia Earhart into a brave, flawless feminist symbol.  The reality is much more complex but missing from the new Hilary Swank-Richard Gere flick "Amelia."

What we get is a uni-dimensional picture of a young girl thrilled by aeronautics who fulfills her dream, becomes a media icon, gets married to an adoring spouse on whom she cheats and then retreats, and finally attempts a historic round-the-world flight with a tragic end. Nothing to tarnish or enrich the popular image.

I happened to see a screening of the film at Seattle's Museum of Flight after viewing a fascinating exhibit about Amelia's life. Watching the real Amelia in newsreels and commercials gave me a feel for her charm and the model-esque beauty that caused GP Putnam, still married to the mother of his two children, to select her to ride on the first trans-Atlantic flight, and pursue her romantically.  It didn't matter that she was engaged at the time; the two shed their bonds and formed a "partnership with dual control" in 1931 that included Amelia's demand for an open marriage.

Amelia was far more than a daring aviator.  From the movie we never learn that in her early life, sympathy for World War I soldiers had led her to Red Cross training and a stint as a nurse in Toronto; she continued nursing into the 1918 epidemic of the Spanish Flu, which she caught, hospitalizing her, requiring surgery with a year's convalescence, and leaving her with a sinus drainage tube in her cheek.

It's true that Amelia's determination to fly drove her, but the film skipped how she became America's 16th woman pilot: through savings from jobs such as truck driver and stenographer. It also cruised right past her accomplishments in fashion design, and her hands-on creation of several fashion lines sold in a single upscale outlet in each major city.  Or her career as a writer, including an editing job for Cosmopolitan Magazine.  She authored two books and wrote regular columns and essays; the only hint of that in the film is a salvaged love poem GP uses to renew her affection.

Her affair with Gene Vidal, father of Gore, also began while Vidal was married, though that's never broached; he's supposedly an aviator, but their connection never gets off the ground.

It's a bad sign when you check your watch often during a film. The lack of any chemistry between Gere and Swank, and droning aerial views of water or African giraffes grow tiresome.  I knew from the exhibit that Amelia's globe circumnavigation failed about 3,000 miles short of completion. Scenes interspersed in the story showing her in flight at increasing mileage points led me to think, "just 10,000 more miles 'til this is over..."  The movie takes 111 minutes to run out of fuel, but the richness of her life had plenty more to offer.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The urgency of the changing leaves

Autumn reminds of life cycles, which is perhaps why Jewish holidays fall at this time.  As the leaves magically shift from serene greens to brazen reds and oranges we receive their strong cues that time should not be wasted.

Today our Jewish community received word of the passing from cancer of a young boy, who just celebrated his bar mitzvah this weekend in his hospital bed. His parents are beloved in our community, and his mom blogged her personal journey through these several months of treatment, hope, sadness.  My son's school, where the boy's dad is a dean, disbursed; when my son phoned asking to be picked up, I heard that heavy just-crying voice.  I think that the pain, being communal, could be even worse for some than a private grief.

We musn't waste a day.  I'm going out in our neighborhood with my camera to document the changing leaves, wishing I could capture time, and knowing I must rush before the next storm strips the branches bare.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Autumn Shock and Awe

How can people waste their lives looking downward to little metal squares, texting and emailing and phoning...when it's autumn and there's a spectacular show going on?

I'm amazed that God makes so much matter--zillions of leaves--every spring, created in such a way that in a few short months they turn explosive colors, shouting "look at me!" before dropping off and crumbling away into brown nothingness.  I'm also mind-boggled by the world's tilted axis, creating seasons with constant change and diversity in our environments.  Why should the earth tilt?

I'm no scientist, obviously, but I intently observe it all, marveling at the shockingly vibrant colors here in the Northwest.  Yesterday I went to our local Japanese Garden, where kimono'd hosts welcomed us to the annual "Maple Viewing" event.  Japanese music performed live lilted over the koi-marbled pond; tents for dabbling in Japanese arts attracted families, and squeals of joy from visitors punctuated their strolls as they discovered new vistas of astounding brilliance.

We must not let the colors go unappreciated. Gasps of awe and gratitude are appropriate. (photos by me, copyright 2009)