Monday, February 14, 2011

Still Crazy About Each Other

My sister Patty painted this from our first anniversary photo portrait, taken in 1984. Her version is much prettier than the actual photo. Thanks, again Patty! Mother Nature did a nice job on the roses, too. Happy St. Valentine's Day! Remember: it's not the stuff you get today but the love you get and give every day that makes the world go 'round.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cairo -- 1981

Reading about and watching the upheaval in Egypt has triggered memories of places I went and people I met in Egypt thirty years ago this July. It was so easy to fall in love with the country and its people and it breaks my heart seeing how they are suffering now. The Egyptians I met were gracious, intelligent, warm people proud of their history and heritage and eager to share it with visitors. The passionate and peaceful protests are entirely in character. We happened to arrive during Ramadan, a month-long fast for Muslims. I was impressed with the Egyptians' discipline. It was terribly hot, yet they would not touch food, water or even chewing gum until after sunset. Their daily sacrifice was quickly relieved when sunset was announced each evening from minarets around the city. My sister, Janet and I enjoyed sitting on our hotel balcony watching Cairo nightlife rev-up in Tahrir Square each evening. Nearly every building surrounding the square was topped with huge, colorful neon signs. The city became magical at night. A crowded bus terminal was also on the square, not far from the Egyptian Museum. Morning and evening rush hours meant people jamming into and onto buses. I still marvel at how they were able to hang on while riding on the roof or hanging from windows. Roads leading onto the square were jam-packed with cars, buses and taxis. Crossing streets was challenging because signals and signs seemed to be considered just decorations. Every time we ventured out on foot, we had to boldly step right into the traffic to get across a street. We had close calls, but never were hit, so the "system" seems to work. Coptic Christians are a small, distinct minority in Egypt. Visiting their Cairo neighborhood was like entering another world. The churches, houses and other buildings are quite old, with low doorways and narrow passages between them. Cars won't fit there, so pedestrians are free to stroll and enjoy each others company. Images of St. George appear everywhere. Families with little children strolled the neighborhood nibbling on little round loaves of bread, cucumbers or melon slices. Several times, we were offered a share of someone's snack by means of smiles and torn bits handed to us. The rest of the city was solemnly fasting and the Copts were sharing what they had with strangers on a hot, summer day. We visited several impressive, old Coptic churches. The most memorable was a tiny one with an equally small, walled courtyard. A children's choir was practising on an upper level of the church. Both of us had sung in church choirs, so it was a special moment. Egypt and Cairo have changed immensely in thirty years. I wouldn't say it has all been bad, but for the Egyptian people it is past time for Mubarak to step down. I hope the change of leadership will be intelligent, merciful and expeditious. Representative government takes belief in and dedication to the principles of democracy. It requires every business, political and religious faction to put the welfare of the people and country ahead of their particular faction's interests. I hope that Egypt can carry it off. I think they can. [Please forgive the poor quality of my pictures. They were taken with a tiny, cheap camera 30 years ago and have faded considerably.]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's Time to Grow Up, Danny

True confession one: I am not a huge football fan, much less a rabid Redskins follower. The name of the team is an embarrassment, and the team's owner is just plain out of his league. There are many reasons to dislike Dan Snyder. His removal of mature trees to improve the river view from his monstrous Maryland estate was the beginning for me. It was not only illegal (he's a lawyer, by the way) but did long term damage to the ecology of the region. His actions seemed to say "I don't care about erosion or where eagles, woodpeckers, squirrels, raccoons and other critters live. I want a water view and I'll have it, dammit!" As I've already admitted, I really couldn't care less if the Skins win or lose. What I do care about is financial incentives given to team owners to keep them and their teams where they are. I also care that the ridiculous salaries paid to players are paid by the fans. You can be sure that owners don't lose any of their wealth to pay these guys -- they simply raise prices for everything from seats to parking to concessions and licensing deals. If the Skin's go to the super bowl, more bucks for everyone. If they don't, no sweat off the owner's back; he still gets his bucks. True confession two: I am a huge fan of Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post. His smart-ass commentaries appeal to my smart-ass mind and I have yet to disagree with him. Reading his op-ed in today's paper had me laughing outloud and, if he'd been here, I'd have given him several high-fives. Judge for yourself by reading Gene Weingarten - Memo to Dan Snyder: Thank you for your stewardship of the Redskins.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hey guys -- it can't be that hard.

I have a solution for the conundrum the federal government and big, regional employers face every time we have difficult weather. No one has figured out how to control Mother Nature, but human nature is something we can deal with. Where people choose to live is a personal choice. Spouse and I choose to live in the District so that we can walk most places, including to work. Others choose to live in Loudoun or Montgomery or Prince William or Calvert or wherever even though they work in the District. No one should be penalized for their personal choices. [To me, having to commute on 95 or 50 or any other clogged highway is punishment enough.] Be that as it may, there should be a reward system for close-in workers who stay on the job during foul weather because they live within walking or biking distance. How about compensatory leave for workers who continue to work as their suburban co-workers hightail it out of town during bad weather. To determine who is released when, take a map of the D.C. region and, starting at the Capitol, draw concentric circles at five mile intervals away from the Capitol heading out into the far Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Then draw four quadrants: north, east, south and west. It will resemble a darts target. When the weather service indicates a storm is heading in, say, from the northeast, allow employees who live in the farthest north and east sectors from the Capitol to leave earliest. An hour later, release those living closer in and so on until actual D.C. residents are the last to be released. Of course release patterns would depend on the track of a storm and how quickly it is moving. Any such arrangement would require cooperation of schools, businesses, and governmental offices, public and private transportation services. Public works departments would clear evacuation routes ASAP then focus on secondary roads and neighborhoods. It seems logical that regional emergency management agencies should coordinate weather related evacuations of this sort similarly to how they would conduct any other sort of mass evacuation. The one goal would be to get everyone home safely, expeditiously and with as little trauma as possible. That's my idea. It sounds rudimentary even to me. However, I confess that I no longer take pleasure in watching commuters jammed up on local streets while I'm safe and warm at home. It's just not right.