Sunday, November 29, 2009

Media Hooked on Wrong Side of White House Crashers

Yes, the "lady in red" and her husband are an attractive couple who for some unknown reason think they should be "stars." However, so far the media has focused on the wrong issue here. The real issue is the failure of White House security to keep them from entering and shmoozing with actual guests and the president.

I shudder to think what would have happened if this strange couple had access to anthrax for instance, or sarin, or plastic explosives. Sure they went through the security gate but powder doesn't show up on those things. When I saw the picture of her shaking hands with President Obama, I nearly choked. She could have had anything in her hands.

Now that they've had their 15 minutes (and more) of fame, let's tighten security to keep the folks in the White House safe. There are invitations and guest lists for a reason and just because people look the part doesn't mean they should be there.

Unfortunately this is one of the problems with the media. They get sidetracked too easily by celebrity. When the media loses sight of the important issues, so does the average person.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm Thankful for So Many Things

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I've been thinking about the blessings in my life. It's been a very hard year for Dave and me but still we have so many things to be thankful for.

First, I'm thankful for my husband Dave. I didn't meet him until I was 34 and now we've been together for 34 years. When I met him, I had pretty much given up on finding the person meant especially for me. I'm from Illinois and he's from Maine, but fortunately I moved to Maine, signed up for classes at the local community college, and there he was. All these years later I still wake up every day thanking my lucky stars that we have each other.

I'm thankful for our home. We live in a rural area of PA in a house built in 1861 on 16 1/4 acres of beautiful land. We have a wonderful view of a mountain valley and the sunsets here are heart-stopping gorgeous. Dave's business is 30 yards from the house and I'm retired so we're together all the time which suits us very well.

I'm thankful for the wonderful memories we have of trips, people we've met or funny things we've seen people do, restoring a little house in NJ ourselves many years ago when we were known by our neighbor as Bozo Construction Co., family, and events we have attended. We miss our parents terribly but have such great memories since we were both blessed with the best parents you could hope to have.

I'm thankful for wildlife and the neighbors' dogs. I love animals and since we don't have pets, I love watching deer, foxes, birds, even woodchucks who dig holes in our yard. And I can spoil the neighbors' dogs when they come to swim in our pond. We have bears in the area, though I've never been lucky enough to see one, and reliable sightings of mountain lions nearby.

Another thing I'm thankful for will probably sound funny: college football and basketball. I've always believed it's illegal to grow up in Illinois as I did unless you love basketball. However, professional basketball isn't a team sport anymore - just me, me, me - so I only like to watch college teams. We have season tickets to Binghamton Univ. basketball and this year isn't so great for them but I look forward to every game.

I'm also thankful for the book bloggers I've discovered from all over the world, books, time to read, and old friends. I have a much better life than I sometimes remember.

So near the end of a difficult year

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Decision on Afghanistan

When I was a young child, my mom (and probably yours) always said I could be anything I wanted to be, even the president of the U.S. Well, thank heaven that didn't come true!

Unless you're a diehard hawk, wouldn't the decision about Afghanistan keep you up night after night and consume every waking minute? If you send more troops, or even if you don't, you've sent thousands of our young men and women into harm's way. What happens in that country in the future depends to a large extent on your decision.

I'm sure I couldn't handle that decision and many others the president must make. No matter what he decides, too, probably at least half of the American people and who knows how many in the world will be outraged. We should think about the load on his shoulders more often. Sure we have checks and balances, he isn't a dictator after all, but in the end he is the most powerful man in the world and what he does affects the entire world. What an unbelievable responsibility!

Regardless of who holds that office, I think we should all realize exactly what it is that turns a president's hair gray and ages him during his term of office, and thus be a bit more forgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Must See Movie: "Blind Side"

After all the hype and the predictions that Sandra Bullock would be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in "Blind Side," we saw the movie anyway (don't trust hype) and it wowed us. This is based on the true story of Michael Oher, who plays for the Baltimore Ravens, which makes the story even more poignant. I read today that Oher objects to the fact that the book and movie portray him as unintelligent. Actually he was uneducated, a very different thing, but this is really his story and one that should be heard.

Michael was born to a crack addict who wasn't even certain who his father was. He was taken away from her at the age of seven and lost touch with his brothers as he was shuffled from foster home to foster home. Finally a good-hearted man who had let Michael sleep on his couch talked to a coach at a Christian school who got him admitted, and thus out of the projects. At that point he was a 6'5" giant of a young black man.

His life turned around when a wealthy white family took him in, bought him clothes, hired a tutor to help him catch up academically and, most important, loved him. The scenes where he is learning how to play football are really funny. His new family includes a teenage girl and her young brother. The boy nearly steals the show. When they give him a room with a bed, he says matter-of-factly that he never had a bed before. Yet this man who has such good reason to be angry isn't. He doesn't dwell on the past; he's happy and grateful to his new family.

He graduated from Ole Miss and was drafted by the Ravens. His family is very proud of what he's accomplished, and he relates that when the wonderful white woman who took him in told him she loved him when he was 18 years old, that was the first time anyone had ever said that to him.

This movie is heartwarming, funny, and wise. If it doesn't put you in the proper frame of mind for the holidays, you should get yourself to a hospital STAT - you don't have a heart.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not Sarah Palin Again!

Just when we thought we didn't have to hear about every move Sarah Palin was making every single second of every day, here she is again promoting her new book which I certainly will not read. This woman has an ego the size of Alaska and boy is it being fed now. People are actually camping out overnight to be sure to get her autograph on her book.

The publishers are the real winners here; they're making a fortune. Publishing isn't the successful venture it used to be so I don't begrudge them the well-earned money. It's the constant press attention Palin's getting that drives me nuts.

Meanwhile her erstwhile son-in-law-to-be is making a complete jerk of himself trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame, and Palin is happily bashing him while making smarmy remarks about how he has an open invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. Pulease!

I think maybe it's time for me to take a vacation from the news until this feeding frenzy dies down. Maybe someone would like to pay for me to take a vacation to Aruba or someplace. I'd write an excellent travel article - I promise!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love

I don't know about the brotherly love part, but I know I love Philadelphia. My husband Dave and I go there several times a year for medical visits and ballgames. I used to be a Cubs fan but the Phillies have grown on me, and a Bears fan but the Eagles have grown on me despite their hiring of Michael Vick. We like the history, the river, the lights of the city after dark, the neighborhoods, everything except the confusing traffic signs.

We've just returned from a couple days there to attend a Parkinson's conference. I had printed out a Google map because we were staying near the stadium and going to the conference near the airport. Like most internet maps, this was one a doozy. We spent much of our time lost, but we got to see more of the city than usual because of it.

At the conference we were like two sponges absorbing all the information. Dave has had Parkinson's for quite a long time (diagnosed about four years ago but actually had it for many years before that). These meetings encourage us as we learn about new gadgets to make life easier and new advances in knowledge about the disease. Talking to others with PD helps as well. The topic this time was non-motor symptoms. We learned so much.

I'm a great believer in being as informed as possible about health issues and seeking the best care available. I have an advantage in that I was a medical transcriptionist so I understand medical terminology, but anyone can stay informed by contacting organizations and following news on websites such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

William Least Heat-Moon

A year or two ago I discovered William Least Heat-Moon's book, "River-Horse: Across America by Boat," which is just what it seems, an attempt to cross America by boat. I loved this adventure because of his descriptions and his storytelling ability. It's said that everyone has a story. This writer must be an excellent listener; people he meets from all walks of life tell him their own story and that of the place he finds them. I've been watching for his books at book sales ever since.

I'm reading him out of order but it simply doesn't matter. I just finished reading "PrairyErth," a book I thought would appeal to me A) because William Least Heat-Moon wrote it, and B) because I grew up in Illinois. Actually the book is about Chase County, Kansas. Just that one county. I can best describe it by telling you it is 624 pages long and not a dull page in the book.

William (as I'll call him to save time) divided the Chase County into 16 grids and wrote a section about each section. It took me a long time to read this long book because the melody of his writing makes me read it slowly in order to savor his prose. He spent time in the county over a period of several years, getting to know the people, the history, the topography. He sought out the answers to puzzling features, investigated mysteries, and hiked a good portion of the land which, as he reminds us, is not as flat as people think Kansas is.

He has a wonderful sense of humor. One delightful passage is from a night he spent walking around one of his grids trying to see it in a different way and thus sort of get a handle on it. He rested in the grass at one point, listening to an owl, watching shooting stars, and feeling a grasshopper land on his leg. As he walked on a car pulled up driven by a sheriff's deputy who wondered if he had trouble. Learning it was just that "writer fella" who was widely considered to be about a half bubble off plumb, he drove on. When William was driving back to his motel, he heard a sudden scrabbling noise and saw a mouse dash across the dash :-) and then sit on the back of the passenger seat. A mouse at eye level freaked him out and sent him on another adventure trying to get rid of it. It's really fun.

I was kind of frustrated being stuck on one book for so long, but no way would I deny myself the pleasure of reading the whole thing. His writing just blows me away. Now I must find a copy of his first book, "Blue Highways."

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Men Who Stare at Goats"

I think we just set a record for us, two weekends in a row we saw a movie. Not many movies appeal to us so we usually go for months without seeing one. It has to be worth driving 25 miles or so to the theater.

Yesterday we really needed a good laugh so, hoping not all the good bits were in the previews, we went to see "Men Who Stare at Goats." We both like George Clooney - the man is a genius - and decided how bad could it be with him in it. (Having said that, we did walk out on a couple of his movies.)

The verdict is in: it's a funny movie, just plain silliness that you can't help chuckling over, even when it goes over the top. Whichever Bridges it is in it (I can never keep them straight, except Lloyd) is wonderful as a hippy military officer. Yes, you read that right. Kevin Spacey is the bad guy in this one, and he is really out there as well. In fact, that's what makes the movie so funny - everyone in it is stark raving crazy and they're in the army involved in a completely insane program. The story is loosely based on something that really happened as the army tried to develop a "super soldier." Maybe I'm something bordering on a conspiracy theorist in my dotage, but I can just see the army doing this.

I must admit the best parts really are in the previews, but if you're in the mood for some sort of mindless nonsense, this is your movie. I mean really, George Clooney is in it!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sad Day: Fort Hood Shootings

This is a very sad day after yesterday's shootings at Fort Hood. Lots of questions remain of course and since the shooter is alive but on a respirator, who knows if those questions will ever be answered. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and comrades and to the wounded and their families.

There is so much violence in this world. As an historian I know there have been other violent periods of history and that our own era is relatively peaceful. The difference is that now we hear more about it, and more of us I believe are actually touched by violence. So many of us have personally been victims of violent crime, myself included, and yet we grow almost inured to it in the news. It takes a personal connection to violence or a big tragedy like this one or the shootings at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY of this year (only 25 miles from my home) to catch our attention.

I'm a peaceful person who abhors violence on any level, but with the wars around the world, continued eye-for-an-eye killings in the Middle East, and American kids beating and killing for "dissing" each other, I almost despair of the concept of peace.

Television, video games, movies, etc. are partly to blame, but that isn't all of it. Even I enjoy the CSI-like forensic science shows on TV and I'm addicted to mystery novels. No, more of the cause is an overwhelming atmosphere of anger that permeates every aspect of life, from road rage to registered sex offenders killing women and hiding the bodies on their property. I see it in teens practically knocking me aside walking down the street, in college football players purposely trying to gouge the eyes of a downed opponent, in drivers shouting and making obscene gestures at other drivers or pedestrians, in the street brawls after a city's sports team wins a championship, and as recently happened just north of Binghamton when someone dropped kittens one by one onto a highway into traffic where they were all killed.

I don't have any inkling of a solution to this terrible situation and that bothers me. How can we all just watch this happening, and yet what in the world can we do about it? The only thought that comes to me is that I think of how I was raised, how fortunate I was to have a good family and security, and I wonder what's become of good parenting. Is that the answer? I'm curious what my readers think.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Amelia" A Beautiful Movie

Last night there was a generation gap at the movie theater. "This Is It" was showing with its predictable age moviegoers, and at the other end of the spectrum we older folks attended one of the first showings of "Amelia," the story of Amelia Earhart.

I had gone along mostly because my husband wanted to see this movie, figuring the excessive hype about it meant it was probably awful. I had read some pretty bad reviews too. Turns out neither the hype nor the bad reviews fit my reaction. My husband, of course, loved the movie. I loved the spectacular views in the sky, flying into storms, soaring above thick clouds, and Amelia's thoughts about her love of flying.

On the other hand, I had read that Hilary Swank studied newsreels and photos of Amelia thoroughly to get her voice and mannerisms just right and I think that was a mistake. Earhart was a 19th century-born woman, after all, uncomfortable in those situations and as a result Swank's portrayal of her was wooden. If only she had allowed some of her own charisma on camera to shine through, this would have been a much better movie.

I was surprised to be disappointed at Richard Gere's portrayal of George Putnam, Earhart's husband. Reviewers had accused both stars of "mailing it in" and I could almost agree with that assessment. Gere is sort of a local hero since he is related to a prominent local family so we're all predisposed to like him in any part, but this definitely wasn't one of his better movies. Of course the screenwriting had a lot to do with it.

I hadn't been aware of Gore Vidal's (and his father's) role in Amelia Earhart's life so I learned something, and it was very interesting to see her reaction to criticisms of her flying abilities. I was also interested in Noonan's problems in her final flight.

Earhart's story is one of the intriguing mysteries of American history and I thought it perfect for a movie. Proof of that is the fact that it seems so current and yet she disappeared in 1937. She was way ahead of her time, a real pioneer.

Many of us have known of someone who claimed to be Earhart. When I worked in Dayton, NJ, one of my coworkers swore her friend from Jamesburg, NJ was actually Earhart. She had supposedly wanted out of the life of fame and so had disappeared on purpose to live anonymously in NJ the rest of her life. Since no one will ever know exactly what happened, we can only make educated guesses and that makes this story one that will always capture our attention.