Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fancy Mogadishu Hotel is like the setting for a novel--but Reality is more Gripping and Horrifying

The Sahafi Hotel, before the attack

"If there is one hotel everyone knows in Mogadishu, it is the Sahafi. Warlords and militants alike used to hang out and plot schemes in the lounge and courtyard while sipping grapefruit juice and pulling apart camel meat steaks."

"...the hotel's owner, Abdirashid Ilgayte, used to welcome guests into his incense-scented office just off the hotel's entrance and regale them with stories of violence and intrigue from Somalia's darkest days..."

Sounds like the beginning of a spy novel. You can almost inhale those succulent camel meat steaks pulling tenderly from the bone...

But instead of the enticing opening to a juicy intrigue, this is a NY Times news story, dated November 2, reporting the latest bloody attack by "one of Al Queda's most murderous offshoots," the Shabab, who rammed an exploding car through the hotel's front gate to allow entry to a cluster of terrorists who shot everyone in their path, then roamed the floors looking for more to kill. The murderers held the charred, rubble-filled hotel for hours; a second car explosion in front two hours after the first wounding or killing several more people, many of whom had come as reporters to the scene.

The original rampage occurred at dawn; "By 11 am, African Union troops in Somalia, along with government forces, overpowered the attackers and shot them dead."

The Sahafi Hotel, under siege
This is just the latest in a series of hotel attacks the Times calls "one of the hallmarks of the Shabab, who have killed scores in Mogadishu in recent years by overwhelming security guards at the gates and then sending in suicidal fighters." The article, by Mohammed Ibrahim and Jeffrey Gettleman, notes, "most of their victims have been fellow Somali Muslims."

We in America listen to the World Series and plan our Sunday outings, while the rest of the world endures a reality we cannot fathom.

"Mogadishu may be safer than it used to be but it is still not safe," the news article continues. "The Shabab once controlled much of the city, bull-whipping women and terrorizing the population by enforcing a harsh version  of Islamic law." The writers observe that the Shabab "seemed to have perfected mass murder on the cheap, including an attack on a university in Kenya in April in which four young Shabab gunmen killed more than 140 people." On the cheap!?

Did you read this article? Are you as appalled and horrified as I am that this kind of ruthless extermination is almost reported ho-hum--just another instance of ubiquitous violence and murder to further an extremist vision of Islam aimed at the entire world? What are the churches and universities supporting BDS (boycot, divestment and sanctions) against Israel doing to combat this much more lethal and festering Islamism?  Then again, it's easy to protest a democracy; not so simple to cut down terrorist extremists whose suicidal tactics prove their complete disregard for life.

I can pray; I can write blogs pointing out these atrocities. These actions seem lame given the enormity of the enemy and the virulent expansion of this deadly power. Then our privileged life happens and we toss the day's newspaper into the recycle bin. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Steve Jobs" Movie and the Democratic Folly to Tax the Rich

Steve Fassbender (left) plays Steve Jobs (right)
This week I saw the new film "Steve Jobs," a bioptic starring Michael Fassbender in the title role, and Kate Winslet as his loyal conscience, er, assistant, Joanna Hoffman. My film-critic husband gave it three out of four stars, a rating with which I'd agree.

But just as important as its cinematic quality is what it suggests about the Democrats' incessant bashing of "the wealthy."

Steve Jobs' character is so narcissistic, so sure he's right and will change the course of the world, he flattens those around him in his tire-treads. His assistant tries to assert herself, but consistently bends to his dictates. His daughter reaches out for his affection-- with even a desperate hug-- and receives only icicles. His friend Steve Wozniak, the tech wizard behind Apple's operating systems, relentlessly begs recognition for his co-workers' efforts, but Jobs, relishing his God-like power, spurns him.

The film is populated by the new "one-percent." There's a whole Silicon Valley, and several other cities nationally, filled with start-up millionaires, website successes, and app-Princes. They're young, they work incessantly, and they make big money for it. Additionally, they want to keep that money.

Bernie Sanders & Hillary Clinton want the wealthy's "fair share."

Hillary Clinton, in her opening speech at the Democratic debate, spoke of being "the grand-daughter of a factory worker" who seeks to "even the odds." "Right now, the wealthy pay too little and the middle class pays too much," she asserted, "So I have specific recommendations about how we’re going to close those loopholes, make it clear that the wealthy will have to pay their fair share..."

One wonders if all those website, app and start-up developers agree they're not "paying their fair share." These young entrepreneurs are mostly products of elite universities (or dropouts from them) where liberal,er, progressive politics are assumed and promulgated as fact and truth. And yet they want the prize for their labors. They're an important voter group that by their age should support Democrats, but by their accomplishments and self-interest may not. 

This June, Verdant Labs came out with a ranking of professions by party affiliation. No surprise: In academia you'll find nine Democrats per solitary Republican. In Internet technology, the Democrat to Republican ratio is 3 to 1. In a post-2012 election analysis, Nate Silver in the NY Times showed how the Silicon Valley is growing ever more blue. 

But will that turn around when Democratic candidates demand successful techies pay much more to the government? After all, using standard assumptions in the State of California, someone earning $250,000 this year forfeits nearly $100,000 of it to mandatory taxes and deductions. Bernie Sanders says tax on the wealthy should be "a damned lot higher than it is now," and approvingly cited rates of 91% under President Dwight Eisenhower. Will that sound appealing to millennials amassing their fortunes?

Here's an excerpt from Sanders' interview this May with John Harwood of CNBC:

Harwood: When you think about 90 percent, you don’t think that’s obviously too high?

Sanders: No. That’s not 90 percent of your income, you know? That’s the marginal. I’m sure you have some really right-wing nut types, but I’m not sure that every very wealthy person feels that it’s the worst thing in the world for them to pay more in taxes, to be honest with you. I think you’ve got a lot of millionaires saying, “You know what? I’ve made a whole lot of money. I don’t want to see kids go hungry in America. Yeah, I’ll pay my fair share.”

Bernie Sanders wants to tax rich at a "damn lot higher rate."
Nobody wants to see kids go hungry in America. That's why this year 46,674,000 people receive Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program funds from the government.

I'm eager to discover how this generation of tech successes places its divided loyalties in the upcoming election. Will they cleave to their political histories and support Democrats, or will they guard their wealth and quietly move toward Republicans?

It's my guess that Hillary and Bernie's cries of "tax the rich!" will turn well-to-do techies decidedly fiscally conservative (even as they remain socially liberal), driving this growing constituency right into the moderate Republican camp.

Steve Jobs' politics weren't covered in the movie, though it's said he supported Barack Obama. In the film, though, he uses his wealth to wield power over his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his daughter. I can't imagine work-obsessed tech millennials willingly parting with most of the fruits of their labors (and giving up the power that comes with it) to solve "inequality" for the masses. No, Bernie, you won't find many techies saying "You know what? I've made a whole lot of money...and want to give it to the government." Whomever gets the nomination will learn that fairly quickly, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pop-Tarts and Junk Food: Parents Can't Stand that the School sells 'em

Pop-Tarts, aka "bad choice."

On a town-wide internet forum called Next Door, a polite but passionate battle brewed this last week sparked by a mom who posted her disdain that our local middle school sells 'junk' like Pop-Tarts. The neighborhood fairly crackled with responses.

The appalled anti-sweets mom began the volley with, "Yes, I'm that mom that brings oranges as a snack instead of cupcakes. BORING, MOM! Well, I'm sorry but to me it's not a popularity contest, it's about our kids health."

She doesn't even approve of juice, dinging the Izze drink that one responder noted is only juice plus 10% water. The complainant, however, feels "Sugar is sugar. If you want some orange juice, eat an orange. It's not as good for you without the rest of the fruit."

Then a registered dietitian with a doctorate in human nutrition replied that no food is inherently bad when integrated into a well-balanced diet, and consumed in moderation. She noted that yes, obesity has complicated causes, including genetics, exercise, other behaviors as well as diet--but it's not a problem in our own highly-educated community.

She continued that many factors enter into a school's decision of what to offer, including cost and convenience. Of Pop-Tarts she says, "if you read the ingredients you'll see stuff that is good for us and stuff that the popular press has vilified without sufficient scientific evidence to support that vilification."

But many well-meaning parents seem to have a visceral hatred for sugar. Offer children
sugar, it seems, and children will take it, even when warned, educated and regulated by their folks about "good choices." It's wrong to offer kids "bad choices" because kids won't listen to the warning, educating and regulating they hear.

The debate got so heated a fed-up reader rather crassly asked, "Are we now bitching about chocolate milk? I've decided to cut off my cable TV, because who needs 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' when I've got the real housewives here?"

In this lovely town where I am fortunate to live, before dawn the sidewalks thump with the footfalls of runners in well-reviewed shoes, lighting their paths with headlamps. Bootcamp classes are full. Every park has tennis courts; clubs offer weight machines and television-topped treadmills. Kids engage in all sorts of sports--swim team, soccer, Little League, lacrosse.

So the brouhaha about Pop Tarts, with parents arguing whether it is their or the school's responsibility to insure that children consume only healthy food during the day, seems a bit misplaced. On the other hand, every parent wants his child eating a healthy diet. It's the luckier parents who seem to care the loudest.

But maybe this noisy discontent is beneficial. Certainly food choice is an important topic. Sooner or later, at least by high school, children will spend money on snacks without mom's protection. There will be Pop-Tarts. There will be junk food--to buy, avoid or ignore.

As a kid, in my family,  dinners were home-made "square meals" with meat, salad, starch. I never heard the term "unhealthy choices"--largely because convenience food was more expensive than mom-cooked food. We drank (whole) milk or water and never juice, soda or chocolate milk. The usual dessert was fruit. I'd ask, "what's for 'dez'?" and my mom replied "fruit" to my predicable groan. But that was the choice--fruit or nothing. We did not eat ice cream or cake or candy; it just wasn't there.

When I entered middle school, I was astonished to see a snack corner selling Jujubes, Sno-Caps, Good and Plenty, Hershey Bars. Things I'd only seen at movie theaters in glass cases. Did I find them irresistible? They seemed like a waste of money, of which I had very little.

In the morning break, which was called "Nutrition," you could get a hunk of bread slathered in garlic butter; fifteen cents bought a spiral cinnamon bun sticky with sugar, the size of a baseball glove. These "bad choices" never beckoned because no one labeled them, so I just didn't care.

When I got to high school, I became friends with a girl whose (overweight) parents bought "babka" at the local bakery. That was a gooey, rich confection that you could peel apart in layers of moist chocolate. This friend had soda in her refrigerator. She had potato chips in the pantry. All these were foods I'd seldom seen, much less had easily available.

Did I eat them when I was sleeping over at my friend's house? A little, but they never really attracted me. I don't like carbonation. I loved babka but the sicky-sweet of more than one piece tasted yukky.
This is chocolate babka. Incredibly yummy.

What that suggests is that each home has an eating culture that creates habits and comfort zones. All these worried parents in my town reveal a lack of confidence in their own influence as molders of their children and more importantly, as good examples.

Now, my children keep kosher and vegetarian, neither of which protects from "bad choices" or an unbalanced diet. But eating shellfish, just like munching candy during my youth, is just "not something we do."

For many years, I've taught workshops about how naturally thin people eat. It's simple: eat when you're hungry, listen to your body and get exactly what you want, enjoy it to the fullest, and stop when satisfied.

If we teach our kids to ignore their body's messages and to consider candy and soda and Pop Tarts forbidden, then we increase their allure. Obesity became a severe problem not because cheap junk food proliferated as much as the fact that people bought it, over-riding their bodies' signals. Of course, the problem of obesity is complex, but fostering a culture of honest eating--that is, an "eat to live," not "live to eat" mindset--lets individuals respond to their own bodies' needs rather than rely on some nutritionist or diet guru or finger-wagging neighbor.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lions and Tigers and Bears--at Northwest Trek, not a Zoo

My family recently took a field trip to Northwest Trek. An odd name for a wild animal park where the tourists are confined and the animals roam free.

It's located not far from Mt. Rainier, about an hour and a half's drive from Seattle. Excitement built as we left the city and eased onto roadways through pastures and firs, and finally, the forest.

Northwest Trek immediately welcomes with a gentle, wholesome atmosphere. Staffed with fresh-faced animal lovers rather than "cast-members" or salespeople, it's about wildlife, not providing wild life. There's a grassy picnic area for unfurling your own blanket, no regular restaurants. The view is breathtaking Cascade foothills, looming Douglas Fir, a curvy lake with the descriptive name, "Horseshoe."

You board a tram that's not on a track, open on all sides (except the top--this is the Northwest, and rain is expected), and even parents feel like it's a class outing. The young guide inquisitively searches for movement along the road. We slow to a plod as a mama moose, trailed closely by her baby, saunters in front of the tram. After they wander into a wood, we see a herd of long-horned sheep lying in the shade. Peculiar bumps poke from a muddy pond as we pass--bull frogs that each year multiply so freely that soon they'll unbalance the habitat.  Over a clearing of bleached grass we find where the buffalo play--or rather, lie around, several generations together. Our tram comes so close that if we violated the no-hands-out rule, we might have stroked them.

Next to us, on an embankment at eye level, a white mountain goat returns our stares. Later, some resting reindeer whose antlers impossibly weight their heads barely acknowledge our movement just a few yards from their siestas.

The deer and the antelope did play, though not together. The 435 acres of free-range area lets them live pretty much predator-free. On the perfect-temperature day we visited, we saw no animal conflict. White trumpeter swans floated next to colorful ducks on a serene pond; rams sat contentedly together. So droll to live in harmony.

Northwest Trek does have its zoo-ish aspects. Wild cats have enclosed areas, as do certain fowl, like the barn owls perched waxen-like in a faux barn. The Snowy Owl appeared wise, peering out from a small structure that might have been its library.

Unlike the Washington DC National Zoo that we visited recently, the forest setting felt relaxed. A huge area with viewing huts on opposite sides contained bears that managed to elude my zoom lens other than one who revealed his, um, lumberingly large backside. And there were the otters and beavers and skunks and porcupines, and all the Northwestern creatures at which you wouldn't normally marvel.

In Yiddish, you'd call Northwest Trek "haimish," kind of family-style, accessible, easy to embrace.Though you can't actually embrace the wild critters here, the emphasis
is on them, not on providing humans with a selflie-stick moment. After the tram-ride, we enjoyed a sandwiches-from-home picnic, and then headed for an adjacent un-plugged-in adventure--an aerial obstacle course, with tree-platform stations connecting rope bridges, tightrope, ziplines and wood-slat walks that challenged confidence and courage.

Our best family memories are on days like that, when we can together encounter amazements of God's world in person, not on a screen. The perfect way to admire the beauty of the Northwest with enough education and enlightenment to take home as a souvenir.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Weirdest Government-form Instruction Ever

I admit I wasn't swelling with civic pride when I received a summons for jury duty. I'd served on a jury less than three years ago, and don't have time now for the interruption, especially for the princely wage of $10 per day. Given that the President wants to raise the minimum to $15 per hour, he might first start by a campaign to pay jurors at least that per day.

But OK, it's a privilege to serve on a jury; we should indeed be thrilled when randomly selected (again) to support our fair and uncorrupted courts system, as well as appreciate the reminder that we live in a just and law-governed land. I even enjoyed serving, last time.

Unfortunately, this time the date I was called to appear is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. At least it's not an obscure holiday, like the last day of Passover, Shavuot or Shemini Atseret, all biblically-mandated festivals when normal activity is forbidden. So I set about returning my summons with a request for deferral.

The summons is a single sheet, and to return it, you fold and mail. Except that in bold-faced type, under the return address, were the following stern instructions: 
"Fold in half top portion with this side facing out, sealed with two 1" pieces of tape at the top within 1" of the lead and trail edges OR within 1" of the lead and trail edges within 1" from the top"

There was no period at the end of the command, and only the single comma, leaving unclear whether I should fold in half the top portion, or to fold in the half-top portion, both of which would have been impossible with that side facing out.
 I did understand I was to seal with two one-inch pieces of tape, though I was left adrift as to type of tape (masking? duct? Scotch?) as well as whether one-inch was to be tape width or breadth--or need the pieces be square?

Most baffling were the "lead and trail edges." I'd never heard the terms before, so I whipped out my trusty Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, the one that got me through high school, college, and eight years of graduate school (yes, I have a Ph.D, which leaves me unequipped to return government forms). Despite twelve definitions for the word "lead" pronounced "leed," and four for "lead" pronounced "led," nothing referred to paper or an edge or a trail. has 56 definitions of "lead," (pronounced "leed") none of which have to do with paper, edge or trail. Ditto for "Trail."

So, I asked Mr. Google to "Define 'lead and trail edge'". No definition was offered, even drilling five pages of responses deep. One promising link said "Lead and trail edge haze!!" which accurately described my mental state, but no, the site was a professional printing forum, gleaned from its name, ""

Google did provide me with some images when I refined my search to "What are 'lead and trail edges'?" I'm not sure, but think they were diagrams of the insides of printers.

The last resort was to phone the court. I was prepared for a long triage, to "oprime numero uno," and then endure interminable Barry Manilow oldies looped with assurances about how much they value my call. To my delight, the wait was short, and a seemingly competent woman answered.

I explained my confusion about the envelope command, and asked her to please define  "lead and trail." She got out the form, read it, and...started laughing.

Of course, by then, I was a bit whacko and queried on. Can I use patterned duct tape? Where is the period at the end of the instruction? What if the one-inch tape is greater than one-inch from the lead? What about from the trail?
She did not know what "lead and trail" are. She said to just secure the sheet so it doesn't flop open in the mail, and no punishment would ensue should I egregiously mistape. She wondered aloud who she might approach to clarify this intimidating but nonsensical instruction.

I sense frustration in the making. Trying to simplify government gobble-de-gook is a losing battle, given that bureaucrats and legislators exist for the purpose of creating gobble-de-gook.

Perhaps my befuddlement could have be avoided if response was possible via website.  The Superior Court in which I served previously had such a site; this District Court does not. But then again, government employees write the content of websites, too.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Redefines "Marriage" as "Love"

Celebrating Supreme Court ruling on marriage
President Obana was so romantic when commenting on the Supreme Court 5-4 ruling that same-sex marriage be permitted nationally.  "Love is Love," he declared, in a puzzling statement of the obvious.

Yes, love is love. but it is not marriage, though the president implied that's so. Do all people who deeply love each other naturally want to marry?

The nursery rhyme that "love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage" is as outdated as the horse and carriage. Nowadays more Americans are single than married. Many live together; many just hook up. Others cultivate relationships for years but don't marry.

Love is love. It is a feeling. It can waver and wane and disappear. More marriages based on how spouses feel will mean more divorces, and divorce is inevitably sad, divisive and, when children are involved, becomes difficult, uncomfortable and complicated.

Redefining institutions is a dangerous business. Changing an institution into a feeling is absurd, but it has happened. Marriage, in every culture, through all time, was the setting designated as the procreative, child-rearing core of societies. Without the purpose of man and woman creating offspring that they together raise, marriage would not have endured. Why would the world's major religions sanctify--set aside--marriage as a glorified institution if societies have no stake in its welfare? Marriage would have faded or morphed thousands of years before if it was defined as a declaration of feelings.

Pres. Obama declaring "love is love," meaning 'love is marriage.'
 But now that the Supreme Court has decided love is the legally recognized criterion for marriage, they're going to have a tough time upholding other criteria. Triplet sisters with a close bond certainly deserve to marry as much as two strangers! And should they decide to obtain sperm and become pregnant, isn't it nicer for a child to have THREE mothers rather than merely two? Doesn't a child deserve more legally recognized love, rather than less?

Love is love, and now it's marriage. Love comes in many different types, none more than a mother for her child. I know many who claim their mothers are their best friends. That bond cannot be surpassed; who is to say it is less permanent than those of the same generation? Children should be able to marry their mothers. At age 4, my son Danny pledged to marry me. I remain solidly married to his father and Danny chose a brilliant wife, but we continue our commitment to each other, so why not marriage?

Love is love, so if someone currently married to another--or others--finds a willing person to add to his/her constellation of love, then clearly under the new definition, he should not be denied marriage. Isn't it better for children if Mom and Dad or Moms and Dads, remain together? Why should the government require divorce? Isn't that bad for children? Isn't divorce economically disruptive? Love is love. How dare the government limit one's love to just one other person?

Ahh, but government makes many inconsistent laws. When logic dictates one thing, legislators often ignore it. Love is marriage for gay and straight unrelated couples. Love as marriage is forbidden if you love too many people, or love family members or have no divorce.

There are many ways to show respect for those with all sexual orientations. Government does not impede private relationships between people. But like every other culture at every other time, our nation retains a stake in children being born and raised in the environment that offers them the best opportunity to thrive.  That is the only relationship that should be encouraged. Every person is worthy of respect, but not every relationship is worthy of marriage.

The American version of the English language is confused when love is defined as marriage and marriage defined as love. Feelings make poor basis for reliability and predictability, and so with this change, all marriages become tougher to uphold and defend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Making Much of Womanhood: Caitlyn, Hillary and Women Who Ran for President

Hillary: Too late to be the first
Headline in USA Today, "Clinton: Gender a factor in campaign." Hillary makes it such because that's the main thing she's got going for her, what with those nasty fails in her background--a foundation that takes money for State Department favors, four dead people in Benghazi, and, perhaps most fascinating, a husband who can't keep his hands off women, even when he's their superior, even when he's in the most hallowed space in the the country, even when impeached for lying about it.

There's all that stuff and lots more, so the New York Times shifts its disdain to the wife of Republican candidate Marco Rubio's thirteen traffic tickets over the last 18 years, including one for going 23 miles per hour in a school zone. Mrs. Rubio is a woman, by the way, so her stints in traffic school must be news. Her husband, a comparatively sedate driver, over those years received four citations, two of which were dismissed. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, who last year admitted she has not driven a car since 1996.

Caitlyn Jenner: So shocking you have to look
Female gender is hot enough that Vanity Fair used it to resuscitate its readership by sensationalizing poor Caitlyn aka Bruce Jenner, dressing her in bust-popping corsets and revealing the extensive plastic surgery the 65-year-old endured to femininze her features. The skanky layout gave the issue of gender steam, letting Mrs. Clinton highlight something more titillating than issues facing the country.

Being a woman, being a man wanting to be a woman, admitting to "coloring my hair for years" and learning how to apply eye-liner (Caitlyn used Tom Ford Eye-Defining Pen)--these are topics gaining attention. They inspire the public to purchase magazines and, Hillary hopes, cheer at her rallies.

Hillary wants to capitalize on her gender because she's aware it's "trending."

While repeating that she's a woman, she'll conveniently forget to remind us of the more than thirty-five other women who sought the presidency before her, including candidates in her own party. Notably, Hillary won't mention a black congresswoman who represented Brooklyn, New York for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983, Shirley Chisholm, whose slogan and book were "unbought and unbossed."

Rep. Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972 (when Hillary and Bill were in Yale law school with my husband), and with only $300,000 at her campaign's disposal, won 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination. Rep. Chisholm was direct, articulate and feisty, and earned as much comment about her gender as her race.

"When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men," she reflected in 1982, on her way to teach at Mt. Holyoke College (as quoted in her New York Times obituary of January, 2005).

Rep. Chisholm wasn't the first woman in recent memory to earn delegate votes at a major party's national convention. The Republicans did it first in 1964, with Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate, representing Maine for 32 years. She always emphasized her competence over her gender. When asked upon announcing her presidential candidacy if she expected the continued support of Democratic women, she answered, "I take the position that women Democrats and Republicans are not supporting a woman because she is a woman. I think the women of this country are looking for qualified candidates..."

Sen. Smith founded the women's divisions of both the Coast Guard and the Marines, and in 1950 was the first Republican to publicly denounce Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communism tactics in her "Declaration of Conscience" speech, in which she said, "I speak as a Republican, I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American." In that ascending order.

This contrasts with Mrs. Clinton's spotlight on her sex. In its coverage of her campaign reboot speech a few days ago, the New York Times noted, " was clear that Mrs. Clinton will make gender more central to her campaign this time. In her closing remarks, she called for a country 'where a father can tell his daughter yes, you can be anything you want to be, even president of the United States.'” Earth to Hillary: fathers and mothers have been doing that for two generations now.

She must also grapple with the issue of her advanced age, a problem Sen. Smith could not surmount, even though she would have been three years younger than Mrs. Clinton, who if elected will take office at age 69. To deflect age questions, Mrs. Clinton shifts focus back to her gender, saying in her reboot speech, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

Screen grab from Carly Fiorina's recent speech in DC
Carly Fiorina, 60, would prefer a different outcome. I saw Ms. Fiorina electrify the Road to Majority Conference this weekend in Washington DC, and I left the hall to the excited buzz of newly-converted admirers. See her superb 20-minute speech here.

Democrat Geraldine Ferarro in 1984 was the first woman to capture a major party's nomination for Vice President, followed by Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. They both already demonstrated women's acceptability for high office.
Sec'y Condoleeza Rice: Universally respected

And there's another woman who, like Mrs. Clinton, has international experience. A concert pianist, National Security Advisor to the President, Secretary of State, Stanford provost and professor, corporate board member, College Football Playoff-picker, and seven years younger than Hillary: Condoleeza Rice. Unlike Hillary, she has no family baggage or scandals to detract from her record. Adding her as VP to any ticket--as suggested by my husband--undercuts Mrs. Clinton's "I am woman" mantra, and adds Dr. Rice's proven national security expertise.

Hillary isn't gaining fans, and in fact, it appears she's losing them. It could be her stiff, five-miles-an-hour delivery of stump speeches. It could be her unwillingness to answer direct questions, or her squishiness on foreign enemies and solving domestic economic lethargy. Most likely, the public's just tired of her, because she sounds tired. She never earned their trust or friendship. Mitt Romney can attest to the importance of a candidate who "cares about people like me," and with a net worth somewhere near $30 million, few are "people like Hillary."

So Hillary is reduced to touting her gender. Voters want a candidate with a record of competence, but with a trail of scandals and embarrassments, the Democratic candidate just keeps singing her slow-tempo "I am Woman" refrain as Republicans with momentum pass her by.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pressure for Women to Look Good is Imposed by Bottom-Biting Media

I write here of two problems: that women feel badly about the pursuit of beauty, and that
Commentator Megyn Kelly, part of the pressuring media.
some cannot express their conflicts properly.

An opinion article in the New York Times recently bemoaned feminists' needs to make themselves look as--pick your favorite--young, sexy, stylish, desirable, nubile, beautiful as they possibly can.

   "The Pressure to Look Good" noted women's hypocrisy in insisting on achievement and empowerment while, well, squeezing into Spanx. The writer, an author, lamented that she received a compliment for her Time Magazine piece encouraging her daughter to aspire beyond appearances-- while on her way for Botox injections. "How can you tell your girls that inner beauty matters when you're texting them the message from your aesthetician's chair?"

   Admittedly, I don't know what an aesthetician is, and neither does my word processor, but I do know one thing: writer Jennifer Weiner failed in assigning blame. She writes, "Social media has done many wonderful things for women, and for writers, and for activists, and for women writer activists...But, in terms of beauty, it's really bitten us on the bottom."

     Leave aside that women, writers, activists and women writer activists likely do not share a collective bottom.

     Focus instead on a more troublesome and ubiquitous problem. Media are plural. Social media HAVE done many wonderful things, but THEY have not bitten bottoms. Or a singular, shared bottom, with their plural teeth, a most peculiar metaphor to visualize.

    One might have thought a woman writer activist would realize that the word "media" is the plural form of the singular "medium." Or, at the least, one might have expected that copy editors at the New York Times would be so informed.

     However, preparing for the possible snap of another's cell phone camera, and the photo perhaps going viral on Twitter, blogs, Facebook and Instagram requires a lot of advance primping. Which leaves little time for proof-reading. "There have been entire afternoons that I could have spent with my daughters where I've been in the salon instead, getting my gray covered up and my calluses scrubbed," Ms. Weiner admits, awkwardly. After all, today's women know "that being out in public means being looked at, and possibly photographed, assessed in a way that men still are not, and maybe never will be."  Such is the thinking of women writer activists.

     Reminder to Ms. Weiner and all feminists everywhere: men and women are different. Despite a new definition of marriage that equates genders, the way the real world works is that women first gain attention for beauty  and men first for dynamism and career success. It's not fair, it's not egalitarian and it's not politically correct, but something drives Ms. Weiner to "squeeze into viselike undergarments and heels so high that I can barely hobble..." She admits a motivation is "just liking to look good," and fearing what happens online to "any woman who doesn't."

May I suggest two things. First, just as a physician takes an oath to "do no harm," professional writers should swear to use proper grammar. (Incomplete sentences exempt.) Specifically, writers should not confuse "media" with "medium." Contributing to the problem is that the word "media" is usually preceded by "the," as in "The media are about to abandon Hillary Clinton despite their liberal bias." Why not just return to the uncluttered and direct use of the word "media" without an unnecessary "the" beforehand? Media, are you listening? Alas, I realize you're not.

Writer Jennifer Weiner: conflicted.
Second suggestion: Admit that women seek recognition for their physical appearance, and choose to honor that desire and be comfortable with it (or not). Just don't complain about it and then publish surprise that you perpetuate it. Success and attractiveness can co-exist even as in many situations the former is dependent on the latter. The newscaster can offer astute commentary from her lipstick-rouged mouth as it speaks above her cleavage. She can provide sharp analysis, while seated in a short skirt. If smart journalists jointly refused to show off their nicely dressed bodies, well, ratings would suffer, and some other woman who has it all (brains and beauty, both) will come take the job.

I am a feminist. I am a realist. I am a grammar geek. Feminists can acknowledge or eschew the reality of gender differences (whether they exist by acculturation or biology), choosing how to respond to that reality. Some things, however, cannot stand, and those include nasty, bottom-biting media.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Seatle Got its May Day Riots--" Smackdown Mom" was Right

This is not me, but could've been.
The meaning of May Day has morphed, from innocent and happy to sinister and angry.

 “To old-fashioned people, May Day means flowers, grass, picnics, children, clean frocks. To up-and-doing Socialists and Communists it means speechmaking, parading, bombs, brickbats, conscientious violence," said an article in Time Magazine in 1929.

I was an old-fashioned child, born after Communists were rooted out and Socialists never mentioned in my carefree American home. In my public elementary school in Los Angeles, each grade prepared dances for a May Day performance for parents. Girls wore flowers in their hair, boys wore crepe-paper bow ties, each class distinguished by a different color. The dances were in circles, squares and lines, and the children were reminded to smile. Sometimes there'd be a May Pole, and each girl would take a streamer and dance around it until it became wound in happy colors.

At home, we'd pluck flowers from our yard, tuck them into construction paper cones with stapled-on handles, and leave them on front-door knobs before ringing the bell and running off in giggles.

In the United States, association of May 1 with labor protests dates to the Haymarket Riots of 1886, when workers held a national strike for the cause of 8-hour days. But by the mid and late 20th century, most workers had no need for protests. Union wages were well established, and men returning from World War II set off on careers that would allow them the American Dream. The Baby Boom was a spurt of hope, and families, with two parents and children, the center of the culture.

But over just the last decade or so, May 1 in the US changed. Street demonstrations abound; this year's march in Seattle was billed as "the 14th Annual May Day March for Worker and Immigrant Rights, organized by El Comité." It's annual now; expected, and it's not about working conditions, more vacation, sick time or salary. Today, May Day is the day for anger about whatever's currently newsworthy, like immigration enforcement or the obvious fact that black lives matter.

Get ready for it: in Seattle, residents were warned to steer clear of Downtown Seattle; authorities didn't know what to expect. The newspaper instructed that bus routes may be moved to avoid confrontations. The Mayor set up a press conference. Places, everyone; time for combat. And at night it happened: Anarchists formed what KING 5 TV called an "anti-capitalist rally," bashing cars, throwing rocks and sticks at officers, and vandalizing and spray-painting property on Capital Hill. Police sustained injuries, as Seattle got its riot. And for what?

Certainly some causes are worth protesting. I can sympathize with the black community's frustration that young black males tangle disproportionately with law enforcement, and I can understand that at certain periods in our country's history, unfair labor practices required extreme action to correct.

Seattle police on May Day, 2015 Anarchy? What's the appeal, except narcissism? And what's this anti-capitalism? Have we forgotten the 2012 Arab Spring Riots (spring--again) seeking capitalistic opportunity and resisting oppressive governments? After Stalin and Castro and Mao, hasn't the world learned the value of freedom? 

May Day in America now gives license for anger.

The change of May Day emphasis from sweet, springtime doorstep bouquets to protests and confrontation is sad--and destructive. Stand-offs and conflicts pump protesters' adrenaline but don't solve problems.

Toya Graham smacking her errant son in Baltimore
Baltimore "smackdown mom" Toya Graham had it right when she went after her 16-year-old son when she saw him throwing rocks in a riot.  Want to get in trouble? March in the street with a bunch of angry people.Want to get in bigger trouble? Throw rocks at cops.

Moms need to keep their kids in line--and at the same time they need to guard their innocence. Parents have the power to teach values. Yes, yell when they do stupid things. But raise them with traditions that celebrate the world. Restore May Day to positive appreciation for hope and renewal, and teach means to channel anger toward useful constructive action.

Monday, April 13, 2015

On Being a Caretaker as the Patient gets Better and Better

Nurse offered bubbles when my husband finished treatment
Nobody likes dealing with cancer, especially me. My daughter-in-law, the one about to be "pinned" as a registered nurse, loves everything medical. She's comfortable in the environment of a hospital, with officials rushing around reading machines hooked up to pale patients. Not me. The hospital smell makes me queasy. The pale people make me worried, and feeling lost and untrained makes me anxious.

So being a "caretaker," the euphemism for a completely uneducated person charged with somebody else's life-and-death requirements, is about the last thing I desire.

Sometimes we have no choice.

With my husband diagnosed with throat cancer, we together entered a strange and out-of-focus world with its own rules. Gravity doesn't pull the same direction. Something I considered gross, say, anything thick and greenish, becomes measured and analyzed. In this upside-down milieu, activities heretofore unmentioned earn applause. As one nurse blithely remarked, "we celebrate poop."

Me, not so much. Nor vomit, nor dense, stringy mucus. Seeing blood normally makes me feel faint. Needles going into people make me wince. This is the recuperatant's universe.

(Remember, I'm the movie critic's wife who won't accompany her husband to any screenings liable to portray violence, suspense or slapstick. What very sick individuals go through could be classified as the former. And sometimes the latter.)

So be proud of me. In the last two months I've learned a whole new vocabulary. Unless you're a medical professional, I doubt you know the word "bolus." (It's a big syringe of liquid that gets squirted into a person's stomach via a tube through a, pardon me, hole.) People whose swallowing mechanisms have been zapped or otherwise disrupted need to get sustenance somehow. I have learned exactly how.

And I will spare you.

Horror Film Medication Names
This monster is not "Ondansetron."
Now, everybody thinks she knows about taking medicine, right? You pop it into your mouth and depending on what it is, chew, or drink and swallow. Oh yeah--some people can't swallow.

Gratefully, my husband's swallowing muscles still function, but given all the zapping that went on in his mouth and throat, it's a mess in there. Again, I'll spare you, but as it pertains to me, the mess causes the need for varying levels and types of medications, many of which take a lot of careful administration in creative ways.

I learned that many medications go by not just one strange, made-up combination of letters, but quite often, two. These wild-words are used interchangeably, nonchalantly, as if everybody knows that, say, Ondansetron is also Zofran.  I should have figured that, since both sound like horror-movie robots.

"Gamera" is not a medication name.
Unfortunately, all medications carry destroyer-of-the-world names. There's no Caretaker U course called Weird Words 101 teaching you that two completely unrelated-sounding creatures are the same, and that those particular protagonists fix, say, nausea caused by chemotherapy.  Instead, as people wield these terms in your direction, you exist with a special level of panic, sure you're going to give the lizard monster to the patient when really he should have gotten the enormous turtle monster.

I learned many things. How to repress responses when cleaning out receptacles. How to speak up when bullied by people using multi-syllabic medical jargon. I know that as confusing and overwhelming as this is for me, it is magnitudes worse for my dear husband who actually endures the devastating process that is necessary for his cure.

It Gets Better
Even as the gunk and sputum and slime and other impolite substances continue as part of our lives, he shows signs of improvement every day. Which allows us to trudge along.

While he was hospitalized, I began repeating a phrase that my sweet Daddy used to say often: "Every day in every way I am getting better and better." I replaced the "I" with "you" and told this to my husband every day, even on days when I didn't believe it.

The phrase originated with French psychologist Emile Coue (1857-1926) who developed self-hypnosis and the use of "affirmations." He saw that patients he encouraged did better than those he didn't, conducted some experiments to show this, and through his book Self-Mastery Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion (1922) popularized his catchy phrase. It later reverberated throughout the culture, including mention in a PG Wodehouse story ("Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure"), a Pink Panther movie ("The Pink Panther Strikes Again"), and a John Lennon song ("Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy]").

And now my husband hears it and is getting better and better. Hair has broken through his scalp, now forming a five o'clock shadow where there were few wispy survivors of his chemotherapy.  His voice is getting noticeably stronger. He spends increasing time at his computer writing, and published op-ed pieces in USA Today, and his column for Truth Revolt, as well as commentaries you can read on his website. He's started recording segments for his show where he gives his take on the day's current events. The mucus that emanates from his radiated salivary glands still prohibits his hosting his three-hour radio show, but he's coming back, every day, in every way.

We both look forward to the time, relatively soon, when all this will be forgotten (more so for him thanks to certain wild-worded medications).  And I can return to being my squeamish self where little is slimy and our lives' cast of characters is familiar.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Falling in Love with Anyone

The New York Times' "Modern Love" column of January 9, "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This," garnered more than 5.2 million online visits, 365,000 "Shares" on Facebook, and 745 comments. A reader even set up the fall-in-love procedure as a game on a website. People are desperate for love.

Writer Mandy Len Catron successfully tried "a Cupid-like technique to help two strangers fall in love," a series of 36 personal questions a pair asks each other, developed two decades ago by psychologist Arthur Aron. The process culminates in a four-minute eyeball-to eyeball stare-down. After a 45-minute interchange and gazing through the windows of the soul, the couple feels in sync.

Mandy Len Catron's take-away lesson: By building closeness through introspective communication, "it's possible--simple, even--to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive."

If it's "simple, even" to create trust and intimacy, wouldn't it be even simpler to rekindle the same feelings, once entrenched and now faded? To re-fall in love, and avoid divorce?

Two married people drifting apart emotionally could take only a single hour answering 36 questions to steer themselves back together. With such an easy formula for closeness, why wouldn't every estranged couple give it a try? Revealing feelings is a lot less traumatic than moving out; a lot less costly than court; a lot less acrimonious than deciding custody.

Here's why not: willingness. Or lack thereof.

Willingness is a choice, of course. And certainly people have justifiable reasons to refuse. Justifiable, but often sadly selfish.

Perhaps withdrawing is the culmination of years of small slights, hurting comments or unfair expectations. And certainly there are times when a spouse feels so betrayed she can't bear the offender. (Divorce is indeed necessary in some cases.) But even after resentment and anger replace a chunk of original affection, a couple can still decide to set the bad stuff aside in order to choose closeness.

But few people now learn to put others ahead of themselves. The concept of self-sacrifice has abysmally low ratings.

Still, most who enter marriage claim intentions of "forever," and want the relationship to work (as long as it satisfies). A functioning, pleasurable, life-enhancing relationship for both partners is the prize--but it requires willingness to put others ahead of yourself.

Stubbornness is selfishness--and keeps too many partners from deciding to give in to the other. The 36 questions shift the focus. How can you stay estranged when you're telling your partner personal insights like your secret hunch about how you'll die? About why you haven't accomplished what you've dreamed of doing? About your feelings regarding your mother?

In the exercise, moving from your deepest interior life into questions focusing on the other cements the connection. "If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know." The process climaxes with question 36: "Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen."

Why are these 36 questions so effective at producing love between strangers (and non-strangers, too)? Because embedded in the questioning is a course on communicating and bonding. The questions require looking inward about memories, emotions and desires (ie one's past, present and future).

They require forming these thoughts into cogent words, phrases and paragraphs--expressing one's interior--and checking to see that the receiver understood. This involves offering oneself to the other, becoming vulnerable; when both do this they form a relationship combining the two individuals.

The entire process rests on a bond and a goal--a commitment (bond) to work together to connect, "to fall in love with anyone" (goal).

That's marriage: A bond that supersedes a declaration, and an ongoing goal. Everyone knows how tough it is to undo the legal contract; neglect alone can dissolve the emotional bond. But few articulate that the goal, called by the 36 questions game "falling in love with anyone," must be pursued by daily choices placing the spouse, and the relationship, first.

The goal of marriage is continuing to fall in love, every day, every moment, with "anyone," the person you've got sitting in front of you, the person you may know better than all others, and still not yet know because he changes all the time. Understanding those changes brings closeness, the substance of love, and all you have to do is choose to keep asking the questions. And gazing into each others' eyes.

(Dedicated to the love of my life, as we celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary January 27, 2015.)  The 36 questions can be found here.