Archive for November 2008

Thanksgiving flight

November 26, 2008

This evening I’m flying to Atlanta to celebrate Thanksgiving with my daughter and her husband, and my son and his girlfriend.

I enjoy flying; I see it as an integral part of the trip. Whenever I fly I try to get a window seat. Then I watch the earth pass below like a cinema buff watching movie trailers. I’m infatuated with tiny towns (crossroads with a dozen houses visible from six miles up on a clear day), big cities (light-fests looming larger and larger on the night horizon), and the shapes and patterns of the naked land. 

A memorable flight in terms of the view is a 2006 Thanksgiving trip from New York to Seattle. We departed JFK International at 4:00 PM for that 2800-mile flight. By the time we hit North Dakota, we were six miles up logging 600 mph. Almost everyone had their lights off and was asleep in their seats since night was approaching. I was on the north side of the plane, so it was across the dark cabin and out the opposite window that I beheld a memorable spectacle.

The massive Missouri River was flowing along next to us – well thirty miles to the south and six miles below. It glowed a mezmerizing mauve in the setting sun. Since we were heading into the sun at 600 mph, this significantly slowed the sunset. While we raced the sun, prolonging its setting, the Missouri – a mile wide at some points – glowed gradually darker shades of purple for more than an hour until finally, somewhere over Montana, we lost our race with the sun, and I my fight with sleep.

Frozen turkey bowling

November 24, 2008

Overweight Americans, in a parking lot filled with SUVs, bowling with frozen turkeys:

Wal-Mart employees, in a warehouse filled with mountains of merchandise, bowling with frozen turkeys:

It’s a good thing there’s no one starving in Africa, or simply short on cash for the Thanksgiving holiday in Detroit. Otherwise these actions might be viewed as wasteful or out of touch, and the making of these videos might seem naive, or even offensive.

Personally, I think if Osama Bin Laden were to broadcast a new anti-American video, it couldn’t summon up an image of us any more negative than these videos, made by actual Americans.

The caption for the videos might read: “We Americans go to work and this is how we spend our time there. We have natural resources with which to grow food and this is how we use them. We have mass communication technology, like YouTube, available to every man, woman and child. This is how we use it.”

President Obama

November 21, 2008

Notice I didn’t say “President-elect” Obama. This man won the election by such a literal and psychological margin that he has created a vacuum in Washington, and a virtual pandemic of hope, which the media has picked up on.

Two months still before his innauguration, there is more in the news about Obama – what he is doing behind the scenes to prepare for his assumption of the Presidency – than any other President-elect I can recall. Usually new President-elects fall into an abyss, news-wise. Often the media has to almost create stories about the incoming President, the soon-to-be new star of the show, who is waiting powerless and quietly off stage to be handed his script.

Not this President-elect. He’s writing the script himself. In fact, there seems to be more in the news about Obama than the current star of the show, the sitting President George W. Bush.

Maybe the next four years really are going to show America a different kind of Presidency. Maybe this really is going to be a change in the way government is run. I hope so. If not, I fear it’s almost too late.

Returning soldiers

November 19, 2008

I went to the airport to pick up my daugher, flying in from Atlanta for a visit here in Rochester. She text-messaged me that her flight was delayed so I parked and went inside to wait for her. I stood in a glass-walled waiting room, from which I could see people coming off the planes. There were about twenty of us waiting for flight 4763. One couple in their fifties had a big sign: “Welcome home from Iraq our son R…”

The plane finally arrived and eight soldiers in camo were among those who disembarked and headed toward us in our glass cage. Most looked eighteen or nineteen. The woman holding the sign started crying, while her son was still a hundred paces away, and lost a contact lens. A young woman threw herself on her boyfriend as he stood there grinning. A sister hugged her brother intensely and a young mother with two small children greeted her twenty-something husband with a look that seemed to say, “I’m not letting you leave again.”

My daughter said the flight kept getting bumped later and later, and their departure gate in Atlanta was changed twice. She let two soldiers use her cell phone to call their families. They told her they had thirteen days leave and then were headed back to Iraq for eight more months.

I helped the woman with the sign look for her contact lens and I said to her son, “Thank you for serving.” My gestures, however, seemed pathetically inadequate.

Nothing happened; no one did anything

November 17, 2008

Recently, here in Rochester, two men got in an argument over a woman. One guy shot and killed the other. The media reported it thusly:

“Police report a man was found lying on a sidewalk just after 9 o’clock with multiple gunshot wounds. The man was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to neighbors, shots were heard shortly before nine and a man was seen running from the scene. Minutes later, police apprehended a man nearby with a weapon. Investigators say the shooting may have been the result of a domestic dispute. They determined a weapon was discharged at close range. Police are trying to determine if there are other supsects.”

Hmmm, it seems no one really did anything here. No one actually shot anyone, rather a “weapon was disharged.” In other words, the gun did the shooting. The perpetrator didn’t run from the scene. No, he was “seen running” by unnamed others. The victim was not even allowed to die; no first-person verbs used here. He was “found lying” and “pronounced dead” by other unnamed parties. And, lest the media still be guilty of somehow implicating the “suspect,” well, they’ve excused themselves (and the shooter) by noting there may be other suspects.

Okay, at lunch today, no one will serve me food; my food “will be served.” I won’t pay for it; “money will be produced from my pocket.” If not, “a bad mood may descend upon me,” and “there may be Hell to pay.” Then Hell and the discharged weapon can serve time together, leaving me and the shooter to go free and unaccountable.

Women and stores

November 15, 2008

“This came from Ann Taylor,” the waitress says, removing a pair of jeans from a bag behind the counter and holding them up for the other waitress to see. I gleen from more bits of conversation that this Ann Taylor is not running around without her jeans. Ann Taylor is apparently not an actual person, but a store.

“Eighty bucks?” the second waitress asks increduously.

Probably a higher-end store.

“I’ve got to go there, myself, one of these days,” the second concedes.

Woman are funny about stores. The identity or concept of ‘Ann Taylor’ is nowhere in my manual of operating terminology. It’s like an obscure female body part that only women and precocious girls know about. Stores – other than hardware – are an extension of the female body. And shopping is a higher form of phsyical, emotional and intellectual pleasure than sex or being born again. You don’t need a partner, you can repeat it as often as you like, and it makes you feel good. This is what I’ve been told, anyway; I wouldn’t even know where to find Ann Taylor.

As I review those on my side of the counter – all men (HVAC contractor, plumber, attorney, flooring/carpet installer, telephone answering service operator, and me) – I don’t feel alone. I sense this shopping ‘high’ is not accessible to most of us men.

Arthur Shawcross sat here

November 14, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008, Arthur Shawcross’ 250-year prison term came to a halt when he died of heart failure. He’d been serving time since 1990 for brutally murdering eleven women here in Rochester, NY. This week some local people who had been involved in the investigation – reporters and cops – recalled publicly his brutality and lack of remorse. One radio commentator, Bob Lonsberry, pointed out that Shawcross should have been long dead, even before he killed the first woman; he had already raped and murdered two children In Watertown, NY, fifteen years prior to coming to Rochester. Our justice system convicted him on only one of the murders and let him out on parole after fifteen years.

In the 1980s Shawcross patronized the same diner I do today – Gitsis, an innocuous little place on Rochester’s Monroe Avenue, just three blocks from his apartment on Alexander Street.

“I remember when they showed him on the news when he was arrested,” says ‘D,’ a long-time waitress at Gitsis. “He was wearing the same jacket he wore when he came in here, and he looked just like he looked when he came here…gave me the creeps…

“Yep, he came in here a couple times a week. Sat right there,” she nods. “Ordered coffee; just coffee. Didn’t talk; just kinda stared straight ahead.”

“How did he drink it,” I ask.

“I dunno; I don’t remember…gave me the creeps.”

Automakers want their mommy!

November 12, 2008

Chrysler, Ford and GM are all crying “Mommy!” The executives want a bailout and the union employees want their jobs with full pay and benefits. After generations of winning, that is, reaping huge profits producing gas guzzlers, The Big Three now want their Mommy – the government, to let them win even when there is no profit to be made.

This is a monsterfication of the now omnipresent phenomenon of every child being entitled to play sports regardless of his or her skill level, and at the end of the season every sports team getting a trophy of some kind.

What happened to “You dropped the ball; you lose?” Or, “Your customer base is disappearing; you are going to go out of business?”

The concept of consumerism seems to have evolved into “guaranteed win.”

Obama’s victory; Obama’s challenge

November 10, 2008

Political analysts have been talking about Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election. They’ve talked about such things as the role of the Religious Right, and the shift of the Black and Hispanic votes from the 2000 and 2004 elections. But I think the analysts may be missing a key point. The voting behavior and the outcome of this election seem different than recent elections.

I was pro-McCain, but even I have to admit, Obama walked away with this election. He didn’t get “voted in” by any bloc; he personally WON the election by a decisive margin; Popular and Electoral Vote.

If Obama can eliminate previously predictable demographic behavior from the election process, can he remove it from the actual populace once he takes office? Our nation seems to have evolved from what was once an actual Democracy, to a country governed by special-interest legislation. Can Obama remove these denominators? This issue seems as important, if not more so, than any other facing our country.

I don’t want to know what Catholic voters think about abortion or same-sex marriage. I want to know what PEOPLE think. Every time I hear about what some special interest group (e.g., Women Voters) wants – people who I’d previously thought of as my neighbors or co-workers, I feel more alienated. We, as citizens of the US are possibly as alientated from each other as we are from the French or Pakistanese. I hope Mr. Landslide Victor can mend this.

Local media kow-tows to wrong people

November 7, 2008

Imagine you are in the business of producing news stories. You package and present this news to readers, listeners or viewers. Because your news stories attract readers and listeners, you can sell advertising and your paper/station makes money.

You have sources from which to gather information for your stories. If you want to know what the police are up to, you want to be able to go to the source – the police. It makes good business sense that you are going to coddle, not threaten and jeopardize your sources.

This system has a downside. Some media are reluctant to report bad things about their sources. It’s much like the relationship between a politician and a lobbyist. A friend of the NRA is not going to support anti-gun legislation. Similarly, a hometown newspaper is not going detail shortcomings of the police force. How they went to a citizen’s home to take a simple criminal report about stolen lawn ornaments and wound up shooting his dog because it wouldn’t stop barking. Or, how stupid the cops were for arresting some musicians for playing their instruments in the street in celebration of a presidential victory. They aren’t going to say the mayor was an idiot for buying a ferryboat for $50 million; a boat to nowhere. The mayor will no longer speak to them.

I’ve worked in broadcast and print media. I’ve seen incompetency on the part of “news sources” tactfully ignored, daily. “We don’t want to say that about him; we’ll never get any information from him again if we do.”

It makes me want to start my own newspaper, one that tells it like it is.