Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I don't know how anyone can be surprised by the content of recently released cables between U.S. diplomats and the State Department. Yes, the contents are embarrassing but not unexpected. Trust me, I'm not trying to make excuses for Wikileak's behavior. They have done serious damage to international relations in a way that deserves, at least, a slap across their collective, smirking faces. Diplomacy is not just about friendly handshakes and smiles over glasses of wine. It is hard work best performed by experienced, intelligent professionals. Admittedly, political appointees often leave much to be desired, but that's another story. Personalities play a huge role in how countries relate to each other. We all know there are some "interesting" world leaders who make a mockery of traditional diplomacy and international relations. If their quirks aren't recognized and dealt with appropriately, relationships can be stalled or shattered. Misunderstandings can become dangerous in an instant -- North Korea is a case in point. Relations with any other country must be tailored to the customs, historical context and many other factors unique to that nation and people. U.S. diplomats must immerse themselves in these local idiosyncrasies just as foreign diplomats assigned to the U.S. must do. There is always common ground somewhere in the mix and finding it and using it to advantage takes talent and honesty. As skilled and experienced as they may be, our diplomats are not just dropped into other countries to schmooze at gallery openings. They need to read the political and economic climate and the mood of the people so that they can advise the Secretary of State and Congress on useful alliances and/or needs for support and aid. My take on this is a huge simplification -- I'm just an observer, not a diplomat. Nevertheless, common sense would indicate the need for honest evaluations of world leaders on all sides. As Secretary Clinton confirmed, there are equally uncomplimentary comments made about our own leadership and floating around in cyberspace. Our mistake was not securing our communications from those who want to harm us. That's the true shame in all of this.
Friday, November 26, 2010
At the time, I was not sure why I picked up this book at the store. It was another impulse buy while trying to get in and out of Target as quickly as possible. [Being female, I'm supposed to love shopping. I do not!] This novel by Audrey Niffenegger proved to be utterly entrancing and moving in ways I did not anticipate! The main character, Henry DeTamble, is a rare human: someone who moves in and out of time and place. He is never sure when he will disappear to show up in a later or earlier time, but the one constant is Clare whom he first meets when she is 6 and he is 20 something. As seems logical, time travelers cannot take anything with them, including clothing, so wherever Henry turns up he's stark naked and without I.D. or money. For some reason, he frequently shows up in a meadow owned by Clare's wealthy family in Michigan. As young children are wont to do, Clare accepts Henry's explanation of why he keeps popping up naked and different ages. She helps by appropriating some of her father's old clothes and keeping them in a box only she and Henry know about. Don't worry; there's no hanky-panky. Eventually Clare grows up and marries Henry knowing he will come and go for random periods of time. She is willing to accept this because they have built an extraordinary connection over the years. I don't want to give away too much of this fascinating tale. I will just say that I was moved to tears by the end and I'll definitely look for more of this author's work. Audrey Niffenegger's story-spinning made it very difficult to put down her book until I finished it!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The frequently gray, chilly days of Autumn are no match for the brilliant colors worn by the trees. Even on a cloudy day, looking at their sunny, warm colors one can almost forget about the clouds in the sky. On windy days, the leaves sparkle as the sunlight flits among them.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Today fighter jets were scrambled to protect the nation's capital and part of the White House was evacuated. Seems a small plane entered the restricted airspace that covers hundreds of miles surrounding D.C. I can picture the face on the pilot of that little plane as he/she was suddenly surrounded by armed fighter jets. Hyperventilating and sweating might have made it very hard to control his plane as he was ordered to land at a small airport in Virginia. He is, right now, being interviewed. This happens more often than most of us notice, especially around holidays. People tend to forget or not be aware of the strict guidelines for flying anywhere near the District. Commercial planes, such as the passenger jet pictured above, have transponders to automatically identify themselves. Since National Aiport is minutes away from the White House, that's a good thing. So, to the poor schnook who got caught, welcome to Washington! Hope the rest of your visit is less eventful.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Young adults and teens have long been denigrated by their elders. I remember how out of touch I thought adults were when I was in college during the late 60s. Boy did we take a lashing for "free love" and experimentation with drugs. Some of us would try just about anything for an altered state of mind. Alcohol was usually the favored and most easily available. Nothing has changed during the past 40+ years. Kids still want to experiment and drink to get drunk. However -- there's an evil, new twist that worries me. Drinks sold in jazzy looking cans with high octane alcohol plus caffeine are becoming a dangerous habit, particularly among college students. If you're too awake to realize you're actually drunk, odds are you're going to drink more without realizing you've had too much already. Kids are being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and some are dying. Now I totally get that the main goal of any business is to make a profit. However, when a manufacturer purposely tries to fool the buying public into overdoing something they know is not in their best interest [like smoking or chewing tobacco] they deserve a slam. I was addicted to tobacco for years and was fortunate enough to give up cigarettes about 25 years ago. I drank to excess in college because it was the thing to do. Truly dreadful hangovers weren't even enough to get me to stop. Moderation only set in when I gained some maturity and realized how stupid [and ugly] I was drunk or high. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is starting to crack down on the manufacturers of these caffeinated, alcoholic drinks. Thank goodness! This product seems to have been developed to attract teens and young adults. Having been both during the wild 1960s and 70s, I get the appeal these drinks would have. Still, it's shameful that our-not-yet-mature-enough-to-know-better-youth are being screwed so heartlessly for profit!
Thursday, November 11, 2010
My niece, Carolyn, arrived from Anchorage, Alaska Tuesday for a visit that will last only until Sunday. The day after she arrived, about 8 more inches of snow topped off the snow pack already on the roads back home. It was over 60 degress here when she arrived with lovely, bright sunshine. Today I drove down to southern Maryland where she spent time with her grandmother to bring her back to D.C. She'll spend the next few days visiting with former classmates from William and Mary. She's revelling in the warmth and sunshine and seeing her old friends. They're all gathering tomorrow to cook a group Thanksgiving dinner.
For lunch, I took her to a favorite, out-of-the-way spot: Columbia Island. There's a tiny cafe there and we enjoyed eating outside, under the colorful folliage and warm sunshine. This weather has been a real treat considering that we had a blizzard on this date not too many years ago. And last but not least: happy birthday to my one and only. I'm so glad you are in my life.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
This past Friday afternoon, Spouse had knee surgery. Last winter, he spent way too many hours shoveling and blowing snow. He is also someone who likes to do everything fast, so he didn't notice that he was doing serious damage to his right knee. While revellers were enjoying the massive and memorable Snowmeggedon snowball fight in Dupont Circle, he was shoveling snow from around the office building he works in on the circle. [Building engineers never get a break!] Since February, he's been coping with his painful knee, hoping it would just go away. It didn't. Last month, his orthopedist told us he had a torn meniscus and would need a "little surgery." [For lack of medical smarts, the meniscus is padding between the bones of the upper and lower leg, behind the knee cap.] If you ask me, no surgery is "little" especially when anesthesia is involved. To add to my concerns, Spouse has sleep apnea which causes him to stop breathing when he sleeps on his back. I'm so tuned in to it that I wake and nudge him til he starts breathing again. I hung out in pre-op with him and watched as a nurse gallantly tried to shave around his very furry knee. We were all chuckling by the time she finally finished. [Since then, I've had to reassure Spouse that the hair will indeed grow back.] Nicely breaking up the monotony of waiting for things to get started, two incredibly gorgeous young men entered Spouse's curtained area to explain anesthesia. One was his anesthesiologist and the other was a med student who would be observing. Both could have made fortunes in Bollywood but chose medicine instead. We both lost track of how many different people came by to ask Spouse to spell his name, what his birthdate was and which knee was going under the knife. When his surgeon stopped by to check in, he initialed the appropriate knee. [There was absolutely no chance the wrong limb would be cut!] The two Bollywood boys then returned to start his I.V. and not long after that, he was wheeled off. [I mean no disrespect here -- they were very professional but couldn't help being gorgeous and utterly charming!] Feeling pretty confident that the 20-25 minute arthroscopic procedure was in good hands, I headed back to the waiting area. After an hour and a half had passed with no word, I checked with the volunteers at the desk. They called someone and said they'd let me know when they heard anything. I returned to my Elin Hilderbrand novel, Barefoot, [another excellent read] and devoted about half my brain to it. Within minutes, a woman dressed in scrubs walked to where I was sitting and told me, "The doctor is ready to talk with you now" and lead me to a tiny room with two chairs and a table with a stack of brochures about the chaplain service. Her tone and demeanor seemed very somber. My heart sank and the blood drained from my head as my imagination started kicking-in. When the surgeon arrived, before he could get a word out or sit down, I asked if everything was OK. He immediately assured me that everything had gone well and I choked up. He's a very laid-back kinda guy, but I could tell he was worried about me so I told him what had happened. I took a minute or two to gather myself then headed to the closest lady's room. I appreciated that he took it upon himself to have a friendly chat with the volunteers and staff in the waiting area on my behalf. About an hour later, I was lead to the recovery room and waited with Spouse to be discharged. He looked drained, but wonderful to me.
______________________Epilogue: Spouse is totally inept on crutches but he's quick to heal. I'm really tired of running back and forth between his recliner and the refrigerator, but so relieved he's home and intact. Between the two of us, we've had four surgeries this year, so we've decided there will be none in 2011!
That's what I'd say to all those newly elected members of Congress when they discover the realities of life as a member of the U.S. Congress. Having made boisterous, determined promises to clean-up the "mess" in Washington, they will soon find themselves very little fish in a very big pond. All their promises and threats will amount to diddlysquat. The time-honored, hardened hierarchy in Congress will put them in their places as the "freshmen" they are. It's too bad that they all seem to have separate agendas or no discernable agenda at all for solving the country's problems. Consensus is going to be even more difficult to reach with the grand-standing that each new member will feel compelled to do for the folks back home. During the past two years, it's been nearly impossible to accomplish much considering the stubborn divide between Republicans and Democrats. Throw in the Tea Party darlings and they'll be like even more wrenches thrown into the gears of government. I sincerely hope I'm mistaken and that the legislative wheels won't come to another screeching halt. Fingers crossed.