Archive for August, 2008

Taking a few days off … but first thing’s first

I’m leaving tomorrow for a week to go out west for my cousin’s wedding, and while I will be bringing my laptop, I don’t know if I’ll have time to update the blog.

Right now, I’m just very anxious to hear Obama’s speech tonight. so far, i don’t think the convention could have gone much better as both Clintons and Biden (who I love) delivered what I thought were dynamic, impactful speeches that should put aside any talk of party disunity heading into November.

Side note:

Hillary fans out there still considering staying home on election day or voting for McCain ought to be ashamed. Obama won the hard-fought primary fair and square, and his politics are nearly identical to hers. I’m assuming of course that most of these people trying to stir up the pot, if they’re not Republicans in disguise, are feminists who feel Clinton got shafted because she was a woman. Even if that were true, which I don’t buy for a second, you would think that there is too much at stake, too much for feminists to lose under a McCain presidency, for these women to take a stand on principle. We saw how well that worked for the Green Party environmentalists who voted for Nader (who has probably hugged far fewer trees than Gore in his lifetime).

End of side note.

But back to the convention … It’s been great theater but i am still amazed at how soft the Democrats have been on the Bush presidency and by extension, McCain. To me, reminding people of Bush’s failures (and failures is a generous word – crimes could be more accurate) would be the best way for Democrats to appeal to independent voters and keep the focus off of Obama’s relative inexperience.

As far as Obama’s speech is concerned, I’m a little worried. Expectations couldn’t be much higher, but this pre-speech talk about Obama having a conversation with voters doesn’t sound particularly inviting, and I think he’s going to lose a lot of the atmosphere by having the speech inside a massive football stadium that seats 70,000-plus rather than in a packed convention hall filled with diehard partisans (I mean, have you ever seen a halftime show at a football game that didn’t look lethargic and lackluster??).

However, another part of me can’t imagine Obama letting people down. I’m an all-around Obama fan and even I have to admit that, to date, his oratorical skill is probably the main reason why he’s made it this far this fast in politics. Speeches are his bread and butter, and I don’t believe I’ve heard him deliver a bad one yet … and there’ll end up being no bigger one in his career than this one (barring of course a hopeful inauguration speech!).

(And then there is also my paranoid side that just hopes they are able to keep the stadium secure and safe. An open venue like that scares me.)

Whatever happens tonight, I am sure of one thing: The Republican convention is going to be an absolute snooze-fest – and ratings nightmare – compared to these last few days of high drama and compelling politics.

The world as it should be …

On the same night I wrote about the idealistic Sixties and how the eventual disillusionment that followed has continued to hold its grip on the American psyche,  Michelle Obama gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention about not accepting the ‘world as it is” but striving to create the ‘world as it should be.’

The speech, taken at face value, should have been dismissed as hokey (and was indeed done so by some old white men on Fox News). It was filled with platitudes and buzzwords, and woefully short on specific solutions.

It was the kind of shiny, happy talk that’s all too common at political conventions and campaigns. For a million different reasons, we should be skeptical of Michelle’s speech, and of the entire Obama mystique, the way the campaign tosses around words like hope and change as if they were Magical Concepts, whose utterance alone will be enough to make the world a better place.

How can we not, after the last eight years, doubt the Obamas’ sincerity or wonder if they’d be able to fulfill their promises once elected, even if their intentions are pure.

Yet it somehow feels right to believe. We allow ourselves to not be so cynical, despite the fact we know we should know better. Young adults around the country, in particular, have been inspired by Obama in a way that hasn’t happened for decades.

Perhaps we believe the Obamas because we’re amazed that it’s even possible that an African-American couple has gotten to this point, so close to the White House. For if that is now possible in this country, then what, really, isn’t possible?

Or perhaps we believe them because the alternative is too depressing, and we’re so tired of being cynical, of Clintons and Bushes, of blow jobs and snow jobs, of Watergate and Whitewater and Blackwater, that we’re ready to believe again that it doesn’t have to be that way.

A recent book by the pollster John Zogby “The Way We’ll Be’ suggests that America’s youth – the ‘First Globals’ he calls them – are exceedingly optimistic about the future, crave honest and courageous leadership and believe that they can save the Earth.

I’m not so sure why that would be, but if it’s true, then perhaps the spirit of the Sixties isn’t entirely dead after all. And perhaps the world as it is will soon get a little bit closer to the world as it should be.

‘Hair’ yesterday, gone today …

Saw the play ‘Hair’ in Central Park this past weekend.

Damn, it’s a shame I missed the Sixties.

The outfits were funky and colorful and sexy. The music was danceable and uplifting. The drugs were mostly harmless, more about expanding the mind than escaping reality. And the whole free love thing, well, that seemed pretty groovy too.

Oh yeah, I’m bitter. All I got was a small taste of the 90s grunge movement, which while propelled by the same youthful energy of the hippie movement, the same rebelliousness, the same dissatisfaction with the many ways people in power were fucking things up, was a much more cynical and angry and generally depressing time.

The long hair may have still been there, but the clothes were darker and uglier, the music louder and madder, the drugs harder and deadlier. And with AIDS running rampant, free love wasn’t even an option on the table.

Can you even imagine a Broadway musical about the grunge movement? Those two hours alone would make me want to pull a Kurt Cobain (god rest his talented soul) …

Grunge, in fact, wasn’t even really a political movement at all. People still complained about authority, but they no longer believed they could change things. Mostly, it was about yelling very loudly, getting messed up, and destroying stuff.

That kind of disillusionment was really the underlying theme of the musical and I fear the primary byproduct of the entire 60’s counterculture movement. That the be-ins and sit-ins, the marches and rallies, the pot and LSD, the tie-dye shirts and bell bottom pants, and yes, even the free love, couldn’t change the world. That they’d still get you even if you burned your draft card. That eventually most hippies with long hair become suits with thinning hair.

And that forty years later, we’d still be watching helplessly as people in power make the same mistakes all over again.

As Cobain might say, ‘Oh well, whatever, never mind …’

The immigrants can stay, Dobbs must go …

This will be a very short post, but I don’t understand how Lou Dobbs still has a job. Are his ratings really that good? He’s turned a major primetime show on a mainstream news channel into not much more than a mouthpiece for his own personal jihad against illegal immigrants.

The funniest thing about the whole issue is that in a few years, we will be DYING to welcome more immigrants to this country as the baby boom generation retires en masse and the number of working Americans dwindles to a level unsustainable for economic growth. No matter how productive we become, the demographic shift guarantees our output will fall. Our Social Security funds will be used up. Our debtors will pull their money. It will likely get ugly.

America’s appeal to potential immigrants – its melting pot citizenry, its human rights protections, its almost mythologically meritocratic, upwardly mobile society – may be the only thing that saves this country from entering a sustained period of economic decline.

Like most controversial issues, though, I actually have mixed feelings regarding illegal immigration. I understand why it’s an emotional issue for tax-paying Americans and immigrants who achieved U.S. citizenship by following the law. I do believe we need a more comprehensive plan to protect our borders while at the same time liberalizing the system to allow more legal immigration.

But I don’t have any mixed feelings about Lou Dobbs. He’s an idiot, a boring, sanctimonious blowhard, not to mention an abusive interviewer who barely listens to his guests. And if for no other reason than the love of watchable TV, he’s gotta go.

Change in slow motion …

Man* is an unbelievably resilient creature.

He can go from riches to rags and be OK, as long as he didn’t lose his fortunes overnight. He can go from being happily married to bitterly divorced and manage, as long as his love wasn’t betrayed in an instant.

I believe life can throw anything at us, and we will find a way to deal… as long as we have time to adapt.

Take the aging process … Is there any greater cruelty man must endure?? We can fight it, of course, but any victories we earn are merely temporary. There are no surprise endings, no upset specials, in the battle versus mortality.

Eventually, our hand-eye coordination will deteriorate, our physical beauty will fade, our most vital senses will fail. If we live long enough, our minds, too, will likely betray us, jeopardizing even the rare positives associated with aging – the nuggets of hard-earned wisdom, the accumulation of sweet memories – turning them into nothing more than fragile question marks.

And yet, as a rule, we handle all this deterioration with remarkable aplomb. The reason, of course, is that getting old literally takes a lifetime, so we have time to get used to all the changes, to watch them gradually pile up like so many tiny wrinkles. We can adjust. We can adapt.

In many cases, we can even deny aging’s worst effects until we are more prepared to deal with their reality. I mean, I was certainly upset when I realized about eight years ago in a Foxwoods casino bathroom that I was losing my hair, but I’m sure the agony would have been much worse that night if I could have somehow looked into a mirror from the future and glimpsed my current hairline. It would have been too much to deal with.

I still to this day will see an older person walking slowly down the street, struggling with each step, cane in hand perhaps, and be completely unable to imagine myself ever being like that. But one day, if I am fortunate to live that long, I will look into a mirror, and that is what I will see.

And by that time, it will probably be OK.

*I am not referring to the specific gender when I say Man. It’s just more poetic that way …

Do the right thing … and suffer the consequences

I can be such a sappy sucker.

About a month ago, I noticed a pigeon egg lying in the planter on the windowsill outside my bedroom, and against my better judgment, I left it there.

I wanted to get rid of it because pigeons can be loud and rather disgusting, and I didn’t much relish the idea of having them breed right next to my bed. But I also knew I’d feel bad for the parent pigeons, who after all were just looking for a space to do what they were put on this Earth to do. (plus, pigeons mate for life, which is kind of romantic!)

It wasn’t my first experience dealing with unwanted pigeons. Two years ago, I had a family of the birds living on my balcony, behind a mirror my ex-girlfriend was supposed to have long ago fixed or gotten rid of, and they totally dirtied up the place with their crap and nesting material.

As soon as their baby was old enough to fly out on his own, I told my ex to get rid of the mirror immediately so we could start cleaning the balcony; she didn’t and the next day the pigeons had laid two more eggs. I told her enough was enough, and made her dispose of the eggs and clear the nest, something she as a crazy animal lover was very reluctant to do. After she had gotten rid of the eggs, the mother came back to the balcony several times, cooing repeatedly, pacing, and probably wondering what the hell had happened. It was not easy to watch …

So this time I decided to let the pigeon egg be. I thought I was doing the noble thing and at first, it didn’t look like such a bad decision. The birds were actually pretty quiet – the only noise came after the baby was born and one of the parents would return to feed it (which they do by regurgitating their food into the baby’s mouth). And I actually got a fair amount of enjoyment watching the baby hatch and grow up (baby pigeons are so much cuter when they don’t have mature feathers!!).

Last week, the baby pigeon became old enough to fly out on his own – I felt a bit like a proud parent watching him maneuver uncertainly across the street – and eventually it flew off and never came back. The parents, too, never reappeared.

I thought Pigeons At My Apartment, the sequel, was going to have a happy ending. Alas, it was not meant to be.

This past Sunday night, upon returning from our trip to the Poconos, my girlfriend noticed a bunch of very small, almost microscopic bugs swarming on top of the fan by where the pigeons had been. I had no idea what the bugs were and just sprayed the area with Raid. I thought I had killed all the little creatures and solved the problem …

And then I started to itch …

Apparently, those little bugs were bird mites, and they were in search of a place to feed once their initial host – the baby pigeon – had disappeared. It seems I became that source – I’ve noticed a number of tiny red marks on my legs and chest – and it totally creeps me out to think a couple dozen of them may be crawling on me as I type this.

An exterminator is coming on Thursday to treat the bedroom, but these mites can be tough buggers to get rid of. The literature is somewhat conflicted but according to most of the extensive Googling I’ve done, bird mites don’t tend to flourish on human blood, and they don’t seem to do any real health damage. Hopefully, in a few days, the apartment and my body will be mite-free again.

The moral of this story: Sappy suckers sometimes suffer severely.

Crying over a stranger …

It’s amazing the ways a life can touch another.

Leroy Sievers was a respected and accomplished journalist, covering wars and conflicts all over the globe for CBS News and Nightline, winning a bunch of Emmys and a couple of Peabodys in the process, and yet I think it’s fair to say that none of his work likely had as much of an impact as did his very public battle with cancer.

I found his My Cancer Blog on NPR about the time I started this blog, doing research for a book idea I was considering. His site was a refreshing, funny, candid, brave, detailed look at the day-to-day reality of living with cancer and it kept me coming back regularly.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize Sievers on the street, and less than two months ago had never even heard of his name, yet I totally broke down when I logged on today and read that Sievers finally lost his 2 1/2 year fight.

It’s eerie now to go back and read some of his last posts, watching his messages became shorter and shorter, filled with cryptic references like ‘one last secret wave’ and ‘long and sleepless nights’, and then reading about his decision to bring in a hospital bed and, finally, a hospice team.

His last post was about ‘a boy and his dog,’ a heartbreaking reference to the stuffed animal keeping him comfort as his condition worsened.

It reminded me of watching my grandmother during her final days, sleeping fitfully and dreaming about who knows what – pleasant and pain-free days hopefully – as she snuggled a small throw pillow tightly to her chest, just as an infant holds a blanket. I guess if we live long enough, we leave this world not much differently than as we enter it.

I wasn’t the only one moved by Sievers’ blog. It clearly resonated with his thousands of loyal readers, all of whom seemingly have felt cancer’s sting in one way or another and many of whom revealed their own emotional stories in the comments sections.

These people were all strangers, and yet they came to the site each day, to send prayers to Leroy, to commiserate with him over his struggles and to discuss their own battles, to celebrate the victories, small and big ones alike, and to mourn the losses, hardly any of them small ones.

Mostly, they came to the site to provide a much-needed source of support and advice for each other. In other words, Leroy’s blog became this massive community, and it is quite easy to tell from comments left after the news hit that his readers took on his fight as their own, and that none of them will soon forget him or the lessons his life – and death – provided.

And that is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

August 2008
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