Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bush Bashes Democrats

(Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

According to the The Associated Press, Bush signed a stopgap measure Friday to keep the government up and running while he and Congress attempt to iron out their differences.

Dubya is objecting to the fact that the Democratic-controlled Congress wants to add $23 billion in spending for domestic programs to his already humungous budget ($933 billion). "The president said Democrats are planning the 'biggest tax increase in American history' to pay for the new spending."

In reality, the additions merely restore cuts proposed by Bush to important programs such as community development grants, health research and anti-crime initiatives. And $23 billion is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the $189 billion Bush included for 2008 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (and let's not forget what he might want to add in the future if he decides to invade Iran).

And Bush has the nerve to say the Democrats are "irresponsible."

New post at Medicana

I've been quiet this weekend as I've been working on a new major post on Medicana. This one is about my experience with oral cancer and includes a full description of the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and prevalence of this type of cancer, which seldom gets the notoriety that other cancers receive.

If you're curious about it or have any reason to be worried about having it, this is the post for you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Meditation on Sputnik

In reading this week’s Science Times section of the New York Times, I learned that October 4 marks 50 years since the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.

I was about four years old at the time, and remember being fascinated with the word, saying out loud with great satisfaction: “Sput – Nik!” And I have a very vague recollection of either having, or seeing, a small model of the enemy’s satellite, which was probably some kind of toy of the era.

But the launch of Sputnik had a much more profound effect on the United States than on my four-year-old self. From the NY Times article:

“Sputnik plunged Americans into a crisis of self-confidence. Had the country grown lax with prosperity? Was the education system inadequate, especially in training scientists and engineers? Were the institutions of liberal democracy any match in competition with an authoritarian communist society?

In The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (1985), Dr. [Walter A.] McDougall wrote that before Sputnik the cold war had been ‘a military and political struggle in which the United States need only lend aid and comfort to its allies in the front lines.’ Now, he continued, the cold war ‘became total, a competition for the loyalty and trust of all peoples fought out in all arenas of social achievement, in which science textbooks and racial harmony were as much tools of foreign policy as missiles and spies.’ ”

Sputnik was America’s wake-up call.

“Critics attacked the administration of President Eisenhower, who at first had dismissed Sputnik as an event of only 'scientific interest.' Soon the Defense Department stepped up missile development. The Democratic Congress established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

The “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was a key issue of the 1960 presidential campaign and may have helped lead to Kennedy’s election.

Once elected, Kennedy made his famous vow to achieve “the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Thus began the space race.

In addition to the progress made in space (the launch of the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, followed by the Mercury and Gemini programs), a new emphasis was placed on science and math in the schools, to train a new generation of scientists who could continue the progress in space.

As the space race continued, it had other influences. The scientific progress associated with the space program resulted in the invention of Velcro, Tang, and about 30,000 other inventions. TV spawned “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space,” which continued to fuel the imaginations of the next generation. And finally, in July of 1969, the Apollo 11 mission achieved Kennedy’s promise: Men landed on the moon. American men.

My parents and I were in Britain on vacation that July. We had just arrived at a small hotel in England and got to watch the moon landing on a black-and-white television in the parlor of the hotel surrounded by English travelers. They warmly congratulated us for the accomplishment of the astronauts, and I still remember one woman saying, “I’m so glad you got there before the Russians!”

Because that is what it was about. It was about the Cold War and trying to make up for the humiliation of the USSR having launched that Sputnik before we had done anything similar. It was about proving to the world that our science was superior, that they didn’t have anything on us.

Once this was accomplished, interest in the space race flagged and Apollo 17, in 1972, was the last manned mission to the Moon.

Since then it’s just been the space shuttles and the space station…no new exploration, no manned flights to Mars. When I was growing up I was sure that by 2007 we would have landed men on Mars, and probably started a colony or two!

Once the Soviet Union broke up and the Cold War was completely dead, interest waned even further. Without the contest between the two world powers, and without a clear mission such as sending a manned flight to another planet, there just doesn’t seem to be much point in it anymore. The space shuttle program just isn’t inspirational, and it relies on 30-year-old technology. And although the unmanned exploration of Mars by the Mars Rover is a practical way to explore Mars, it’s just not the same as “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Thinking about the Cold War almost makes me nostalgic for those days. Yes, I grew up under the shadow of the atomic bomb, with air raid drills in elementary school, hiding under our desks or lying face down on the floor of the school basement with our hands carefully placed over the back of our necks (as if that would have protected us in Nutley, New Jersey, if New York City were obliterated by The Bomb). And yes, that was not fun. I remember begging my parents to build a fallout shelter in our back yard as our neighbor had done.

But at least our rivalry with the Soviet Union had some good outcomes: Better science classes in the schools, a plethora of new technological advances. And at least we were up against a culture that wasn’t that different from us; when push came to shove during the Cuban Missile Crisis, both sides saw the potential for total destruction and pulled back from the brink of nuclear war. The idea of “Mutually Assured Destruction” kept either side from pushing the button. And despite the fear that nuclear war fostered in the population, we had the illusion of control. There were community fallout shelters, CONELRAD on the radio (now called the emergency alert system) and townwide air raid drills - and we got the idea that the government was still running the show and would somehow protect us.

The current “war” is very different from the Cold War. There have been no positive outcomes for either side; no scientific advances, no increase in educational quality in the schools. Fighting this enemy doesn’t involve science. It’s about duct tape on your windows and “reporting suspicious activity.” It’s about men with box cutters. And if a nuclear weapon comes into play, we won’t know it. We won’t be able to track its course through the skies and blow it up before it hits us. We won’t be able to look for the enemy planes and shoot them down. The Bomb is still a threat with this enemy. But it might be brought into our country in a container ship, or in a suitcase.

And this enemy is so different from us or from the former Soviet Union. We are at war with people whose culture we don’t understand and whose idea of honor and principles are very different from ours. Our opponents are not afraid to die for their cause. Destruction is not a deterrent for them.

The result is fear and a feeling of lack of control, since how can you fight people who aren’t afraid to die? How can you prevent destruction if you can’t see it coming?

And because learning and science aren’t key to fighting this new enemy, the emphasis on science and math in the schools has declined. The U.S. is no longer as competitive in scientific fields and is being overtaken and surpassed by other countries. Because science is no longer valued as it was in the 1960’s we are now able to boast of having a president and others highly placed in our government who actually don’t believe in evolution. It would have been hard to imagine this back in the 1960’s. We have actually been going backward instead of forward.

Besides the War on Terror, economic factors are an overriding concern – but only in the realm of that big gambling ring called the Stock Market. Real productivity is leaving this country. We are becoming a service-oriented economy; we don’t make things.

All of our money is being squandered on a war in Iraq rather than being invested in our schools, our children, or the once-cutting-edge space program. And this is a shame, because space travel is our future.

Although manned space travel is dangerous, ultimately we will need to turn to it again. Maybe not in our generation, and maybe it won’t be a country that does it but a private enterprise. But eventually our planet’s resources and open space will start to get used up and we will be facing a crisis of unimaginable proportions. Or some other event will occur to spur new interest in space. (Aliens, anyone?) Then and only then will the exploration resume.

Even beyond the practical reasons to expand to other planets, Mankind needs new worlds to explore or we will stagnate. Once there were new lands to discover on the other side of the planet. Now they’ve all been discovered. Mount Everest has been scaled many times by many people. Hitherto unknown islands have all been found. No wonder the American population doesn’t think about anything beyond Britney Spears. There is nothing to look forward to.

For one brief and shining moment in the 1960’s, space, “The Final Frontier,” seemed to herald mankind’s next journey of discovery. But the dream has faded with the fall of the Soviet Union and has been replaced with a self-centered focus on money, power and greed. Instead of “boldly going where no man has gone before,” our country is mired in a dangerous policy of spreading our religion of capitalism (under the code word “democracy”) to countries that have no interest in it. Something has to change, for the good of America, and the good of humankind. We need another Sputnik.

Monday, September 24, 2007

New Post on Medicana

Ever wonder whether you've been diagnosed incorrectly with an illness? Check out Medicana to learn how to make sure this doesn't happen to you!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Random Question

Why would the keys on the drive-up ATM machine at the local bank need to be lettered in Braille???

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thoughts on Larry Craig

I realize Larry Craig is so yesterday. But being on vacation for a week without internet access allows more time for thought. And one of the things DH and I thought about was Larry Craig. (Yes, I know, being on vacation, we should have been thinking about much more fun topics. But Larry Craig did come up.) We got into a discussion of whether anyone had asked a simple question: Was what Senator Craig ostensibly did in the men’s room actually illegal?

Why is it that it’s OK for a guy to approach a woman in a bar and say “Hey honey, you want to hook up?” But it’s not OK for two men to signal an interest in the same thing by tapping their feet in a men’s room?

I’m not a big fan of “sting” operations in the first place. There used to be an old commercial on television trying to discourage car thievery that said, “Lock your car. Take your keys. Don’t help a good boy go bad.” The idea behind it was that even good people can be tempted to a commit a crime under the right circumstances; and if you create those circumstances, someone might commit a crime they might not have otherwise. (Of course, it is still the responsibility of the person tempted to resist temptation...but that's a whole other discussion).

So there is something about stings that just rubs me the wrong way in general, since basically they create the circumstances that tempt the target of the sting. Of course, this probably would not have been the first time Larry Craig tried to hook up in the men’s room, so I’ll let that aspect of it go.

But there is an even bigger question in my mind in his case. Was what he was “stung” with actually illegal? And if so, why?

Why would it be illegal to transmit an interest in sex through a few hand and foot signals? I could see it if he were caught with his pants down in flagrante delicto in the men’s room. Sex in a public place where young boys might be coming in to use the facilities is clearly not legal, nor should it be.

But should the simple invitation to have sex be illegal? It’s not the same as prostitution, where the undercover officer waits until the unfortunate john actually offers money for the services of what he thought was a hooker before whipping out the handcuffs. But as far as I know, I don’t believe the hand and foot signals are designed to indicate a desire to pay for sex, just to have it. So what’s the crime?

To me, this case is a very gray area, and I am starting to feel Larry Craig is right to fight the conviction - not by saying he isn’t gay, didn’t know about the signals, or that he had a “wide stance.” Perhaps what he should be fighting is the violation of civil rights that occurs when it is against the law for two consenting adults to simply make signals that they are interested in a sexual liaison. Actually having that liaison in a public place? NO. But for all the cop knew, Mr. Craig might have then suggested they repair to a local hotel room for their rendez-vous, had his signals been returned in kind - rather than by the presentation of a police badge.

So where is the illegality? Am I missing something here?

I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this. To me it is just another example of discrimination against gays built into our laws, a continued double standard that allows the public to let David Vitter slide and crucify the Larry Craigs of the world.

Although I appreciate the irony of a staunch GOP defender of “family values” being caught trying to hook up with another guy in a men’s room, when I give the whole thing further thought, I start to feel uneasy. What about you?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Did Ann Coulter Really Say That?!?

While reading the Boston Globe funnies this morning, I saw the Sylvia comic quoting Ann Coulter as having said "It would be a much better country if women did not vote." Since Sylvia, like The Daily Show, is a fairly reliable source of information, I decided to Google the quotation and see what the context was.

Sure enough, I found it: In a Jonathan Freedlander column from 2003. Apparently she said this because without the women, the Republicans would have won all the elections:

"Who exactly has the vote who shouldn't have? 'Women,' she says, laughing. 'It's true. It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950--except Goldwater in '64--the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted.'"

Apparently it was said tongue-in-cheek. However, I also found another website in my searches that brought me to a list of all of her other quotations (found on the American Politics Journal site). These comments were not so tongue-in-cheek and I find it truly scary that this woman exists, let alone gets so much airtime and publicity.

Ann Coulter is one of those people I've tried to avoid like the plague (along with Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Bob Grant, to name a few) and now that I've read up on some of her viewpoints, it has just confirmed my feelings about her. However, I'm happy to have discovered the American Politics Journal so my search had a positive outcome!

I am next going to devote the rest of the weekend to catching up on all of the blogs that I haven't had a chance to read in the past week. It may take me a week to catch up!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gone But Not Forgotten

In the spring I wrote a post about what we like to do and where we like to go on Cape Cod. I’m always glad to return to the Cape and find that so much still remains the same as it was when I first started coming here 50 years ago. (50 years ago! Man, I feel old).

However, it is inevitable that with the passage of time, changes do take place. And sadly, not everything remains from my younger years. So in this post I’d like to talk about some of the places that have disappeared during my lifetime, such as:

The Parking Lot at the Coast Guard Beach: When I came here with my parents as a child, we usually went to the Bay beaches. The waters were calmer there, and the conditions were ideal for a young child. The low tide brought the flats and the tidal pools where the hermit crabs and little lady crabs came out to forage for food, and provided hours of entertainment for my 7 or 8-year-old self.

But at least once or twice during every trip we did go to the more formidable ocean side, either to Nauset Beach, with its distinctive red and white lighthouse, or to the Coast Guard Beach, with the old Coast Guard building overlooking the ocean.

The summer I was 17, right before I went off to college, we came up to the Cape with my two best friends from home, since I was then at the age where being with my parents exclusively for two weeks was just not considered fun.

My friends and I liked the ocean beaches better than the Bay beaches at this stage of our lives. In particular, we liked the Coast Guard Beach. There were hunky lifeguards keeping watch over the summer hordes, perched on tall white chairs overlooking the beach, so we always begged my parents to take us to that beach instead of the Bay. I remember my parents driving the three of us to the Coast Guard Beach, and us all piling out of the car in the parking lot which abutted the beach. The year was 1971.

Seven years later, the blizzard of the winter of 1978 washed away the entire Coast Guard Beach parking lot into the ocean. It was that same storm that washed away Henry Beston’s Outermost House, the subject of a well-known book.

Now in order to access the Coast Guard Beach, you either have to park up above by the old Coast Guard building and walk on a long boardwalk down to the beach, or, in the busy season, take a shuttle bus from a parking lot a mile down the road. A group of educational plaques near the Coast Guard building commemorates the Northeaster of 1978 with pictures of the old parking lot and the devastation afterward, along with views of the Outermost House, which once stood on the nearby marsh.

The Flagship Restaurant: The Flagship was founded in 1930, not long after my mother started coming to the Cape with her own family. When my parents and I came to the Cape she kept up the family tradition and we always paid at least one visit to The Flagship during every trip.

It was a big place on a pier overlooking the Bay in Provincetown, with pilings underneath holding up the building. The bar was made from an old fishing dory, and the walls and ceilings were festooned with fishing nets with shells in them, buoys, and other nautical accoutrements. The tables were covered with white tablecloths and the food a nice mix of typical seafood (lobsters with drawn butter, fresh fish) and some Portuguese and Spanish specialties. I remember my mother used to get adventurous and order paella, which was the first time I’d heard of this dish. We would sit there enjoying our dinner and gazing out at the sunset over the water.

After my husband and I started coming to the Cape, we always made a point of going to The Flagship. Altogether my family, starting with my mother, had been going to this restaurant for about 60 years.

Eventually The Flagship closed and reopened under another name – The Dancing Lobster. But the sign still had “at the Flagship” underneath. After a couple of years, that restaurant moved out and another took its place. And then another. The d├ęcor changed, the food changed, the Flagship name disappeared, but the restaurant continued on and the old dory bar remained.

Then about two years ago the restaurant apparently closed for good. Now there is an art gallery upstairs, but the restaurant remains closed, perhaps never to open again; apparently it is being converted to residential use. A Provincetown institution has finally ended.

The Nauset Light Diner: When DH and I first started coming to the Cape in 1984, we used to go out to breakfast a lot. And our favorite place to go was the Nauset Light Diner, on the corner of Route 6. It was in a little strip mall full of white clapboard and shingled buildings, including the post office and a little general store.

The diner was at the light at the intersection where the road led off to Nauset Beach. So we used to joke that the Nauset Light Diner was named after the traffic light, rather than the lighthouse. The place had great eggs, bacon and other typical breakfast dishes. We would get a seat by the window and relax and enjoy our breakfast.

Today, the Nauset Light Diner is long gone – replaced by a Ben & Jerry’s and a Dunkin’ Donuts. But they are still housed in the same white clapboard building and the atmosphere of the little commercial strip has not changed otherwise. So now we stop and get ice cream cones at Ben & Jerry’s and reminisce about the old Nauset Light Diner, while young families congregate there creating their own memories.

The Moors: This was a wonderful old restaurant way out on the tip of the Cape outside of Provincetown that DH and I discovered during one of the summers that The Flagship was undergoing one of its transformations.

We liked The Moors because it had a lot of the atmosphere of the old Flagship, with the buoys and the fishing nets hanging from the walls. It wasn’t actually on the bay like The Flagship, but was across the street from it. The Moors also had a fairly large complement of Portuguese dishes, as well as excellent seafood. Even when The Flagship reopened we continued to go to The Moors as well during our trips to the Cape.

The restaurant was always busy and sometimes we had to wait to get in. So we were surprised one year to find it closed tight. It has since been torn down and replaced by condominiums. An article in the Boston Globe in 2005 described the end of the Moors as follows:

"Built in 1939, the Moors, owned and run by the Costa family, became known for its nightly sing-alongs, jazz brunches, and live entertainment. It was by locals, for locals, and for this it was loved. But when Mylan Costa -- tired of decades in the restaurant business -- sold it in 1998, it did not take long for it to be demolished. The site is now a complex of eight condominiums called the Village at the Moors.

''The condo-ization of Provincetown is hurting it," said Costa, who lives in North Eastham. ''I think it is becoming another Nantucket. Nantucket's nice. Believe me. It's a nice place. But it's definitely changing the makeup of the town. It's not a funky village anymore. That's gone forever. It's a commercial product now.""

The Orleans Army-Navy Store: This is the most recent casualty of progress. When we came up in the spring we found it was closing. I don’t remember how long it had been there; I recall it always being there on the road on the way into Orleans.

It wasn’t a big place, but it was chock full of eclectic merchandise. On the first floor were the more conventional items – sweatshirts, bandanas, pants. Upstairs was the real treasure trove: old gas masks and uniforms from forgotten wars, canteens, ammunition cases, and more. It was a great place to poke around on a rainy day, as well as a source of useful equipment.

For instance, it was at the Army-Navy store that we bought a case that we currently use for our camera case; and it was there that we bought Diva’s “dog tags” – real dog tags, army-style, imprinted with her name, our address and phone number.

Probably the store couldn’t keep up with the prevalence of the casual clothes now available at every store, or perhaps kids nowadays don’t relish the explorations into the past that the upstairs collection afforded. For whatever reason, it is now closed, another place from my childhood that is gone but not forgotten.

I’m sure there are many other places that have come and gone since I started coming to the Cape as a child, but these are the ones that stick in my memory.

But, as the French say, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” – the more things change, the more they remain the same. I see little kids on the Bay beaches playing in the tidal pools collecting hermit crabs in pails just as I did, I see families piling into the Lobster Pool restaurant (See ‘Em Swim) just as we did. I see them going on the National Seashore nature walks and playing miniature golf, and doing all the other things I did as a child.

And I know that until this big sand bar called Cape Cod eventually dissolves into the sea, that the changes that occur will never really change the Cape. The ocean and the dunes and the wind and the sky are what matter, and they are still here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

On The Road Again

Well, it's once again time for our annual fall trip to Cape Cod. DH and I are on the road again, on our way up to the Cape, stopping tonight in Fairhaven, MA, at the friendly Holiday Inn Express that allows dogs. Diva knows right where to go, as we always ask for the same room, the first one nearest the door. She is looking forward to another week at Gibson's Cottages on the Pond, where she can swim and chase her ball to her heart's content. We are looking forward to a week without work. And reading lots of books. And sitting on the beach. And eating lobster.

Since the cottages we stay at don't have wireless access, my posts may be scarce this week. The library up the street does have computers, and there is wi fi at one of our favorite hangouts in Wellfleet, so I'll check in now and then.

In the meantime, enjoy Willie Nelson singing "On the Road Again."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Playing With My Fonts

Sounds a little risque', but I just changed the print on my blog.

I thought I'd tell you so you don't think you're losing your mind. Yes, I've changed my font. I made it bigger and changed it from Arial to Trebuchet. I was finding it hard to read, and I figured others might too. Let's face it, I'm over 50. I need bigger print.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on Propaganda

Today's "Frazz" comic strip was very appropriate in the Age of Dubya, as it used humor to demonstrate how propaganda works.

"A falsehood repeated often enough becomes the truth."

A falsehood such as...

- Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11
- Saddam has Weapons of Mass Destruction
- The Surge is working

and more...

DH and I started talking about it. About the fact that those who tell falsehoods repeatedly, eventually believe them themselves. And how if the falsehoods are continually repeated in the absence of contradictory information, that they are believed even more quickly and thoroughly.

It got me thinking about how important it is to have that contradictory information available, how crucial it is that voices of dissent are not silenced. In order for a person to know the real truth, both sides of the story must be available for critical analysis.

This is why freedom of the press was included in the Bill of Rights. If the press is under the control of the government then a citizen cannot know the truth about anything.

The continuous blurring of news, commentary and entertainment in the mainstream media is doing the pubic a disservice by obscuring the truth. People hear commentary and think it's truth. They watch stories about celebrities on the "news" and don't get to hear the truth - the real news. And Fox News reports only the news they want you to know, the way they see it.

So we must be ever vigilant - if we hear a news report, we should Google it and check it on multiple sources before passing it on; and make sure those sources are legitimate.

I have a friend who is a right-wing Christian and we get together and talk about political/religious issues from time to time, such as abortion, the environment, evolution and gay marriage. I like to do this so I can understand how the other side thinks. And I am struck by the propaganda to which she is exposed. She sometimes brings "proof" of her opinions - often from World Net Daily or some obscure newspaper in the South, or pamphlets her church gives out to help their members talk to non-believers about evolution and other touchy subjects.

My friend refers to the New York Times as "the New York Slime," and won't give any credence to anything I quote from that source; yet she believes in the sources she reads.

But in all fairness, she does have a point. I know the Times has a liberal bias. So I also read the Wall Street Journal, and am struck by the difference in the viewpoints expressed in their editorial pages. At least I am getting both sides this way, from respected sources. Then I can make up my own mind...which still usually agrees with the New York Times!

The thing that is clear is how important it is for those who disagree with the government's policies to continue to speak out against them. If these voices are silenced, there will be no one contradicting the falsehoods that are repeated over and over...until everyone believes them.

(By the way, the quote may have been "A lie repeated often enough..." not "falsehood." And some sources seem to credit Lenin with the quote, and others Joseph Goebbels. Of course, he could have been quoting Lenin.

Sometimes the truth is hard to come by, even on Google. But at least no one said it was Stalin!)

Update: In view of a couple of comments made to this post, I just want to clarify, that there are definitely more sides to every story than only two. The important thing is to expose oneself to as many information sources as possible in order to try to learn the truth, since so many sources have their own biases. And I also want to emphasize that, first of all, my friend is very sincere in her Christian belief, her church's propaganda notwithstanding; and that not all Christians are victims of propaganda from their churches. I do believe there are certain churches that have a strong right-wing political bias and they pass this on to their congregations. And there are churches that have a liberal bias as well, I realize.

The upshot of it is, we can't live in a bubble of just listening to others who share our opinions. We have to expose ourselves to all kinds of opinions and information in order to ferret out the elusive nugget of the truth.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

The date continues to haunt us. It's been six years. Yet when I hear the names being read on the radio, the recordings of the commentary from that day, I'm there again. It's as if no time has passed. I don't even need to see the replays on television; the views of the explosions and burning towers are imprinted permanently on my brain.

At least today wasn't a beautiful, crystal clear September day with a heartbreakingly beautiful blue sky. Clouds and rain are almost welcome today; instead of being depressing, as rainy days usually are, it's a relief. At least the day isn't a carbon copy of that day.

So...I picked a heck of a day for a blogoversary, didn't I? Yes, that's right - my first post was on September 11 of 2006. I didn't even know what a blogoversary was, or that they are celebrated in the Blogosphere.

I chose September 11 to post my very first blog entry because I had written a description of where I was on September 11 as a comment on our local town blog, Baristanet. so I decided to use that as my first post on my blog. (I had recently found out about blogging from my neighbor, and was curious to see what it was all about. So I randomly set up a blog, named it and posted my description of what happened on September 11, 2001).

The next day, I had to think of something else to say, and found it hard. But as time went on, I started to understand what worked and what didn't, and, to my excitement, I had my first comments. I installed Sitemeter and started looking to see how people got here. It's been fascinating to be connected in even a small way to people all over the world. It's been a long year already, and I've so enjoyed getting to know fellow bloggers and have been discovering so many excellent blogs.

Now it has been one year, and given the date, I will just commemorate it by reposting my first post, below:

Monday, September 11, 2006

It doesn't seem like five years ago.

I was at an early morning meeting in my company's other office in Tarrytown, New York listening to presentations by vendors. The first meeting had just ended and another vendor was setting up when the first group came back and said they didn't want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. We all got up and went into a central area where people were watching the television. My first thought was "what a terrible mistake the air traffic controller must have made." But when the second plane hit we knew something was terribly wrong.

We tried to continue with the second presentation (this being corporate America) but shortly into it someone came in and said "They're gone. Both towers are gone." We didn't understand how that could be but then we all went to watch the TV and saw that it was true. No further presentations took place and we all just watched as the coverage continued.My husband worked in the city at that time, not far from lower Manhattan, but I couldn't reach him by cell phone because by then the cell phone circuits were all overwhelmed. I checked my voicemail at work, and found to my relief that he had left me a message that he was OK.

By noon those of us from New Jersey decided to head back home. I was nervous going over the Tappan Zee bridge - looking above me for any planes coming out of the sky. I'll never forget how beautiful the weather was that day - to this day any time there is a crystal clear blue sky and a certain feel to the air, I think of 9/11. I'll never view a day like that again without a sense of foreboding. Today, appropriately, was much like that day.

My husband was one of the lucky ones - he got out of Manhattan by about 3 p.m. and was able to let me know that he'd be taking a train from Penn Station to South Orange. I went to pick him up and on the way back had my only view of the towers burning - from a bridge with a view of Manhattan. My husband, however, had seen the second plane hit, people falling from the towers, and saw the towers collapse. It was from a distance but seeing something live is very different from seeing it on television. He wasn't himself for a long time.

The days after that are a blur - all I remember is it being very very quiet as no planes flew over except for the occasional fighter jet; the sky continued to be that almost supernaturally clear blue. We read account after account of people's experiences in the newspapers, unable to stop reading about it.

It feels odd to be working on this day, and going about our usual business. But today is also the anniversary of a friend of mine; children's birthdays are being celebrated; and meetings are taking place that had to be scheduled because it was the only time people were available.

I suppose people felt like this on December 7th for a very long time but now we don't think about it that much anymore. I guess eventually that will happen for September 11. But not to anyone who lost someone or remembers it personally.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

He's Ba-a-a-ack!

Just in time for the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden has released another of his videotaped diatribes. There he is, big as life, rested and ready, none the worse for wear, despite all of Bush's original rhetoric of getting him "dead or alive."

Experts believe bin Laden's video may be a harbinger of more attacks on the U.S.

"CIA Director Michael Hayden on Friday also warned that Al-Qaeda was planning new, large-scale attacks on US targets.

'Our analysts assess with high confidence that Al-Qaeda's central leadership is planning high impact plots against the American homeland,'Hayden said."

According to the article linked above, Osama made some points that, unfortunately, I have to agree with:

"He says the Democrats who now control the US Congress have failed to stop the war, and even 'continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there.'"

The video was his first in three years, and in it he appears to have dyed his beard black, which may be a symbol of impending war.

Of course, the White House is downplaying the importance of the video. Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend said on Fox News Sunday that Osama is "virtually impotent," and that the video was just "propaganda."

This stance is refuted by the information in this article from the Seattle Times:

"Dodging the U.S. military in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, al-Qaida Central reconstituted itself across the Pakistani border, returning to the rugged tribal areas surrounding the organization's birthplace, the dusty frontier city of Peshawar. In the first few years, Pakistani and U.S. authorities captured many senior leaders; in the past 18 months, no major figure has been killed or caught in Pakistan.

Al-Qaida Central moved quickly to overcome extensive leadership losses by promoting loyalists who had served alongside bin Laden for years. It restarted fund-raising, recruiting and training. And it expanded its media arm."

If the purpose of invading Iraq was to destroy al-Qaeda, all I can say is it's doing a "heckuva job."

In the meantime, Down Under, our revered President is playing his usual part when he attempts diplomacy: acting like an idiot.

Bush with Australian P.M. Howard

Between mixing up Australia with Austria, OPEC and APEC, and trying to exit in the wrong direction, all while pranksters dressed as terrorists plagued the conference he was attending, W's performance in Australia could be a scene out of Saturday Night Live. Truth is truly stranger than fiction.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden looks on and smiles.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Diversion: Star Trek Meets Camelot

After catching up on so many other blogs tonight I have totally used up any energy I might have had left to write a post of my own. So I thought I'd post an amusing video I found at one of my favorite spots, JibJab. Enjoy!

(Note: Removed embedded video to help my blog load more quickly; you can view it by going to JibJab and searching on "Star Trek." Look for the one labeled "Star Trek Meets Monty Python.")

Scene at Recent Labor Day Barbecue

Cast: Mauigirl, DH, and several friends, eating lobsters and corn-on-the-cob on the deck.

Topic of conversation: Eating in restaurants in the Orient that serve live monkey brains.

(No, I have never been there nor eaten such a thing, and have no recollection of how we got on this topic).

Friend #1: I think they serve monkey brains in Korea.

Mauigirl: I would never eat monkey brains, I'd be afraid of getting kudzu.

Friend #2: Kudzu is a vine!

Mauigirl: KURU! I meant KURU!

It's been one of those weeks....


Monday, September 03, 2007

A Website That Tells You What the White House is REALLY Saying

As I've mentioned before, I sometimes log into the official White House website to get an exact quote or find out what Dubya is up to when we're not looking.

For instance, today it has his official radio address in which he discusses the "period of adjustment" that the mortgage industry is going through. In his address, W says that his priority is "to help American homeowners navigate these financial challenges, so that as many families as possible can stay in their homes. The Federal government will not bail out lenders -- because that would only make a recurrence of the problem more likely. And it is not the government's job to bail out speculators, or those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford. But I support action at the Federal level that will help more American families keep their homes."

Hmmm, the Federal government will not bail out lenders...what is it then, when you lower the prime rate? Isn't that lowering the rate at which the Federal Government lends money to banks? Doesn't that kind of help the lenders? Please, those of you with more understanding of these complicated financial things than I have, correct me if I'm wrong on this.

OK, now as to the next part, about it not being the government's job to bail out "those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford." Isn't that the problem here? The people who bought these houses can't afford them? Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of sympathy for the people who found banks that willingly lent them money for mortgages for which they wouldn't ordinarily qualify. But let's call a spade a spade here.

Naturally W's solution breaks. I'm sure that will do those low income people a lot of good. He also has a couple of other fixes, so we'll see...Given his track record, I expect most of it will benefit the rich and not the poor, but I'll welcome any further knowledge others can provide.

There was actually a very good article in the NY Times magazine on Sunday about how we came to be in this mess. As usual it all goes back to greed and gambling.

However, I digress.

What I was going to tell you about when I started this post was the OTHER White House website. The one I accidentally stumbled upon when I was looking for the site. I typed in "" by mistake and got this! At first as I was reading it I thought it was real. It almost sounded like something W would have said. Then it dawned on me that this was satire. I remembered having read about this alternate "White House" website awhile back but had never read it before.

Check it out, you may find it's closer to the truth than we'd like to think.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mother Teresa's Doubts: Loss of Faith or Clinical Depression?

A compilation of letters written by Mother Teresa is being published this month (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light), and a number of publications have featured articles about the book's contents. The longest one is in Time Magazine, which has the rights to the serialization of the book.

As an agnostic who has always struggled with the concept of faith (how can anyone be sure of this kind of thing?), I found it fascinating to learn that, for nearly the entire time she ministered to the poor in Calcutta, Mother Teresa did not feel the faith she professed.

According to the article, "The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, 'neither in her heart or in the eucharist.'"

According to her reports, the future Mother Teresa had a vision of Christ while on the road to Darjeeling for her annual retreat in 1946. In the vision she reported that Christ told her He wanted her to "abandon teaching and work instead in 'the slums' of the city, dealing directly with 'the poorest of the poor' — the sick, the dying, beggars and street children. 'Come, Come, carry Me into the holes of the poor,' he told her. 'Come be My light.'

Two years later, in 1948, she received permission from the Church to start this ministry. And at that point, shortly after finding a space for her mission's headquarters, she suddenly lost the beacon of faith and was plunged into a spiritual darkness.

Acording to her letters, she sometimes doubted the existence of God or Jesus, and felt she was in a place of darkness and despair. As the article states:

"In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the 'dryness,' 'darkness,' 'loneliness' and 'torture' she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. 'The smile,' she writes, is 'a mask' or 'a cloak that covers everything.'"

For five weeks in 1959 the despair and darkness lifted, only to come down again. It lasted to the end of her life.

Everyone, even her detractors, admits that Mother Teresa was dedicated to her cause. She continued on the path she started, working directly with the poor until the end of her life at 87. She continued to project to the world the image of a faithful follower of Jesus. She advised others to belief in Him and to follow His path. And yet all along, she felt bereft and alone, without the feeling of joy and comfort her original belief had given her.

The question is, where did the joy go? Why did it leave her? The Time Magazine article explores a number of theories, none of which are completely convincing.

Of course, as an agnostic, I can easily say, as do many other critics of religion, that she lost that feeling because she realized, upon seeing the misery around her, that we are truly alone here and there is no God, but that having based her life on ber belief, she couldn't admit it.

Another theory is that her darkness was her trial, that she had to undergo the same agony as Christ on the cross, when He felt abandoned by God. I'm not quite buying that either. One would think the least God could do, after sending her on such a mission, is be there when she needed support. If Mother Teresa couldn't depend on God's help, who among us can?

One possibility that no one has suggested (that I am aware of) is that Mother Teresa suffered from clinical depression. There was no Prozac in 1948 when she arrived in the streets of Calcutta to administer to the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. Surrounded every day by death, despair and disease, surely she couldn't help but be affected by it. This would be a worthy trigger for depression in one who may have been predisposed to the condition.

Her descriptions of the darkness and the depths of her despair sound very much like the descriptions of the darkness that victims of depression describe; the feeling of hopelessness, the lack of any light at the end of the tunnel.

We will never know why Mother Teresa suffered as she did. But that does not take away from her efforts. Most of us, having lost the faith that initially led us to a Herculean task such as hers, would have asked for a transfer back to a nice, cozy convent post-haste. But she stuck it out. Perhaps that is the true definition of faith - following the path even when you don't know where it leads.