July 30, 2005

The party's over...

Kiss the Constitution good-bye, keep your mouth shut, and don't let the door holding the your civil rights hit you on your way out. I thought I was through with politics for the month, but the New York Times, which I have frequently criticized, may, I fear, have reported the following paragraphs with precision:

From the July 30 edition: "The Senate voted unanimously on Friday to make permanent virtually all the main provisions of the law known as the USA Patriot Act, after Republican leaders agreed to include additional civil rights safeguards and to forestall any expansion of the government's counterterrorism powers.

"The House passed a bill of its own last week that would also extend the law's surveillance and law enforcement powers, which the Bush administration considers critical to combating terrorism. While the House and Senate bills are not identical, the differences are modest enough that Congressional officials said they were confident that they could work out a compromise."

While New York City cops have been given license to search bags (without a warrant, thankyouverymuch), the Metropolitan Transit Association is planning to cut back on conductors on trains. Safe riding, where? If your train doesn't derail or stop between stations due to a "police action." your boat's about to sink anyway.

Grab a drink, whether you're old enough or too thoroughly smashed to hold your glass. Smoke a joint for me. Last one off the Titanic, don't try to call me.

Whatever happened to the U.S.S. Constitution? Or don't I want to know? Should I ask the TSA? They can't know any less about water travel than they do about air.

I am reminded, sadly, of what a family friend who fled Germany in the late 1930s, said to me a good 25 years ago, when I asked her what she did for fun. "Fun?" she said. "I had all my fun before Hitler."

After swearing our allegiance to black, we New Yorkers may be forced to wear white. Even after Labor Day.

July 22, 2005

Start walking...

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

From The New York Times. July 22:

"Much is likely to depend on the way the New York [bag searching those who take public transit] program is carried out. Police officials have said that riders who do not wish to have their bags searched will be free to leave the city's [subway] trains [or buses] without further questioning. They have also said that anyone found to be carrying illegal drugs or weapons will be subject to arrest, [italics mine] a provision that lawyers have found troubling."

Troubling? I get migraines. I get panic attacks. I carry drugs. They are legal, but not labeled. Am I going to have to explain small quantities of prescribed controlled substances to those whose education did not include an advanced degree in pharmaceuticals? My knowledge of chemistry stops at the prescription counter.

Are my rights to privacy as a rider of New York City public transit going the way of my right to board an airplane, where the TSA preempted "probable cause" and corkscrews and sewing kits are confiscated as "weapons"? Is this the taxi drivers' full-employment act?

No wonder by the time I was a schoolchild we had "social studies," not "civics." Thirty years ago, did my American History class cover the U.S. Constitution? Or was I not taught what I would lose as an adult?

We've all seen our share of Law and Order or C.S.I. I thought TV crime shows properly depicted "probably cause" (week in and week out, the good guys needed a judge to sign a warrant), but apparently that part was as fictitious as the rest of the show.

July 19, 2005

Curiouser and curiouser

Apparently this Alice ate more than one cake, or so her internist has implied. She missed a page in Owners' Manual: What Happens After You Turn 40 (a work in progress by Alice, Uptown).

In large, bold type, the page says, turn 40, quit smoking, overlook metabolism grinding to a slow crawl, increase body weight by close to one-third. Whoops. Alice now outweighs her 95-pounds-and-holding, late 60ish mother (age not available upon request) by a solid 30 pounds.

Pass me a cigarette, please? In the past, the only thing to be said about Alice's diet was, vitamins cover a multitude of nutritional sins. Now she must join the off-White Rabbit in sharing his vegetarian repasts. Carrots are fine, but broccoli? In this lifetime? Without hollandaise sauce?

What on earth is a calorie or a carb and how can these affect Alice? Will she shrink to normal size again? Will she have the patience? Discipline? Learn to exercise? So many questions, so few answers. Never before has she felt the need for immediate gratification so acutely.

* * * * * *

Among other oddities: the Lexington Ave. downtown bus was diverted to Second Ave. yesterday due to "police action," and all cell phones in the vicinity were jammed for the duration, whatever that was. According to one friend, this has happened almost daily on the subway since the London bombings.

Another says the city's fire department, police, and emergency medical services have been conducting practice drills. Rehearsing for the Big One -- without notifying the public that any such thing might be the case. We don't need to know when ; it would just be nice if someone in government saw fit to let us know we are in dress rehearsal mode.

What I don't get is, my little town has been on the same level of heightened alert (can't remember the color scheme) since the color-coding has been in place. Now the rest of the country is on our level of alert. Shouldn't we be up a notch?

Why is it that we remain the same color as before, but now we have this huge rehearsal going on that one would theoretically expect at a different level of security? In other words, if this is S.O.P. for orange or yellow or amber or whatever hue, why has it taken so long for the city to act "as if," without raising our security flag a notch?

Am I the only one to believe that if something's going to happen, it will happen, regardless of how much substance there may be to our "security"? (See my thoughts on the TSA: airport security, substance or pacifying illusion?) Call me a fatalist, but here, past performance does seem to be an indication of future results.

In my life I have missed one coup attempt in Haiti by one week, and the next coup attempt merely one-half hour after my plane took off. I am fairly sure that if there is a next time, they won't start the revolution without me.

I missed a category 8 (ranked from 1 to 10) typhoon in Hong Kong by that same half-hour.

Didn't get so lucky with the category-4 (out of 5) hurricane that doubled back and smacked St. Martin. It hit in the middle of the night, when 14 people were sharing two double rooms in the ostensibly safer part of the hotel. That would be the area where the air conditioners blew into the rooms and the sliding-glass doors shattered, glass flying as it can only in 140-mile-an-hour winds.

I feel fortunate to have natural distasters on this, our "small island off the coast of America" as Nell's British husband describes it, restricted to summer tropical heat on concrete and winter Nor'easter storms and blizzards.

Earthquakes and tornados need not apply. We have enough suspicious packages to more than cover our share of disasters of all stripes. But if you'd like to send some Belgian bittersweet chocolate, properly iced, I wouldn't turn the package into the cops, even if it were ticking.

* * * * * *

One more thing: how can the Rolling Stones' tour be sponsored by a mortgage company? What happened to gathering no moss? I suppose on the retirement-funding tour, irony is non-starter.

July 14, 2005

Happy Bastille Day

Do not eat cake. Do lose your throne and your head.

Do sing La Marseillaise.

At dinner, avoid conversations about politics and civil rights. They will, ironically, go over your dinner companion's head.

July 11, 2005

What your tax dollars could be doing against you

From the New York Times editorial page, July 11, 2005

"The Patriot Act already gives government too much power to spy on ordinary Americans, but things could get far worse. Congress is considering adding a broad new investigative power, known as the administrative subpoena, that would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to gain access to anyone's financial, medical, employment and even library records without approval from a judge and even without the target knowing about it. Members of Congress should block this disturbing provision from becoming law.

"The Senate is at work on a bill to reauthorize parts of the Patriot Act that are scheduled to expire later this year. In addition to extending those provisions, the Senate Intelligence Committee is proposing to add an array of new "investigative tools." The administrative subpoena is not the only one of the new provisions of the current bill that would endanger civil liberties, but it is the worst.

"When the F.B.I. wants access to private records about an individual, it ordinarily needs to get the approval of a judge or a grand jury. The proposed new administrative subpoena power would allow the F.B.I. to call people in and force them to produce records on its own authority, without approval from the judicial branch. This kind of secret, compelled evidence not tied to any court is incompatible with basic American principles of justice....

"The bill would allow the F.B.I. to order that the subpoenas be kept secret. That means record holders, like banks or employers, would not be able to inform the person whose private information was being handed over. It would also make it difficult for Congress, and the public, to know whether the F.B.I. was abusing its enormous new powers...."

For once, I am speechless. Question is, where will the first amendment be when I recover my voice?

July 05, 2005

I forget, how to dream...

Yesterday my oldest friend's (Claire, from prep school, at age 15) 12-year-old son, here from New Zealand on vacation, inquired whether I had a husband, or children, not necessarily in that order. He also asked -- prefaced by asking whether it was acceptable to ask -- my age: a month younger than your mother, I told him.

Why I opted out of marriage-and-children is a thesis-length opus, but I suspect Carly Simon's 1971 song, That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be, made an indelible impression on me. Her lyrics contain the short answer to the marriage-and-children question.

Even at 11, I sensed that all was not well, probably never would be, in our house. Carly Simon articulated it for me in a way that resonates to this day:

"My father sits at night with no lights on
His cigarette glows in the dark
The living room is still
I walk by, no remark
I tiptoe past the master bedroom where
My mother reads her magazines
I hear her call "Sweet dreams"
But I forget how to dream

"But you say it's time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me
Well, that's the way I've always heard it should be
You want to marry me, we'll marry

"My friends from college they're all married now
They have their houses and their lawns
They have their silent noons
Tearful nights, angry dawns
Their children hate them for the things they're not
They hate themselves for what they are
And yet they drink, they laugh
Close the wound, hide the scar

"But you say it's time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me
Well, that's the way I've always heard it should be
You want to marry me, we'll marry

"You say that we can keep our love alive
Babe, all I know is what I see
The couples cling and claw
And drown in love's debris
You say we'll soar like two birds through the clouds
But soon you'll cage me on your shelf
I'll never learn to be just me first by myself

Well O.K, it's time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me
Well, that's the way I've always heard it should be
You want to marry me, we'll marry

I empathized intensely with the loneliness between the lines. That was a snapshot of my family, and it wasn't one I had any desire to emulate. Neither of my parents ever uttered the expression "when you get married and have kids of your own," and I expect their own knowledge of how they lived explains why.

Claire is an only child who lives 7,000 miles away from her parents, who remain alive (verging on 80) and married to each other. For different reasons, Claire didn't like her family snapshot either. She would be astounded at how much like her mother she is becoming, or so it seemed from our brief visit.

What she created was mommy/daddy and two sets of twins, more children than anyone else I know, and farther away from the parental apple. She has, presumably, a happy marriage, and enough children so that they don't have the space, it appears for the loneliness. (The elder twins are 12, so the jury's out on that one.)

As a child in summer camp, I referred to my mother or my father as separate people. My bunkmates thought my parents were divorced. I don't think I ever had a sense of them as one solid parental unit, a matched Mommy-and-Daddy set.

What remains unspoken and what I've blocked from memory -- is why did we live this way, why could we not act on E.M. Forster's theme, "Only connect."

Is this why I still feel that no matter who I share my bed with, when I sleep, I sleep alone?

July 04, 2005

Independence Day greetings (Ha!)

Between last Friday's announcement that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is stepping down from the bench, and the previous day's news that Time Inc. is prepared to concede First Amendment rights, I'm not sure what I exactly there is to celebrate. I suspect I have more to fear and certain I have bigger questions about social priorities. Does anyone know who is that man behind the curtain?

(A few weeks ago, brother Bush of Florida attempted to overturn a court ruling allowing Terri Schiavo the right to die. I should have remembered bad things come in threes.)

I grew up in what I didn't realize were "liberal" times. They were simply the times in which I lived. While I wasn't paying attention, the times, they were a changing, and not exactly in the direction Dylan envisioned when he wrote the song.

Conservatism with a capital C has come to reign. On my little island, it's sometimes hard to recognize, because for all the randomness that is New York, most of us here cling to some antiquated notion of individuality. We forget there even is a Kansas, Dorothy and Toto notwithstanding.

We just lost the swing vote on abortion rights in the Supreme Court. However often I question how well the media do their job, what the media report is about to be curtailed. Less is not more here. Better for us to use our critical faculties to sort through media overload than not to have the choice at all.

Oh, yes, and we're still losing the war in Iraq, and there's some interesting fallout from 10 Downing Street. Somehow that has fallen into the category of yesterday's-newspaper-is-tomorrow's-fish-wrapping. In fact, the ink hasn't had time to dry on the newsprint; we're just too tired to read it.

I feel like I should have an abortion next week whether I need one or not. I'm writing as fast as I can. And I'm redrafting my health care proxy to try more explicitly to keep governmental hands off my body when I can no longer make my wishes otherwise known.

Please, don't tell me this is as good as it gets.

July 02, 2005

House rules? Where? Why?

Michele asked on her blog: imagine for a moment that you were asked to write an etiquette guide of Do's and Don'ts for house guests. Name three items that you would include on the DON'T side of the list.

Thus far, she has gotten 42 replies, mine being the most recent. I wrote: "Don't have sex on my bed without me. (how is it that this has happened to no one else?)"

Apparently not: the most frequent comment was: "Don't smoke." Unless there's a pregnant woman or a person with an impaired respiratory system nearby, I can think of many more DON'Ts more severe than smoking.

Try, don't commit any act of violence (Stay clear of sharp implements). Don't wake me up unless it's time for dinner or theater or the house is on fire, not necessarily in that order. And my no. 1 reason, as previously stated, don't have sex on my bed without me.

House guests, dinner company, who you chose to socialize with in your house is very telling. Sometimes the list of people who decline is as revealing as the list of people who accept. My mother turned down an invitation from Tricia Nixon, who shared her alma mater, to the White House in the early 1970s.

Mom hadn't trusted Tricky Dick since the Kennedy-Nixon televised debates preceding the 1960 presidential election, and she was damned if she were going to accept his daughter's hospitality. I consider it her finest political moment.

The only reason I would ask someone not to smoke is that I would want to light up with him/her, and I am ostensibly no longer a smoker. (Twist my arm a tiny, tiny bit, and I will beg a cigarette from you in an instant.)

Much of the populace (including SUV drivers) seems to have gotten holier-than-thou on the subject of smoking in the last 15 years. The surgeon general's original bold-type warning dates back to 1964, so I have a hard time taking accepting that notion that you just received that memo. If you're driving one of the suburban-attack-vehicles, stick it in your muffler or other orifice.

Fast food can clog your arteries, if you want another non-newsflash. Oh, and driving while intoxicated? Major cause of car accidents, and felony convictions. Who'da thunk it? (And how many fill-in-the-blanks does it take to change the proverbial light bulb? Don't ask. I don't think I could bear to know how low the stupidity index can fall.)

July 01, 2005

Alice answers a survey

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