Friday

IS AMERICA READY?

Democrats don’t smell blood the way Republicans do. They don’t keep their eyes on the prize and concentrate on wrestling the White House away from an opposition that thumbs its nose at their beliefs.

Republicans-- by their own admission—have a motley crew running for president, none of whom feels just right. Recently, arch-conservative Mike Huckabee has surfaced as the standard bearer. Romney may spend more and Giuliani may preach more than the former Arkansas governor/evangelist, but Huckabee keeps gaining.

Democrats, meanwhile, spend more time attacking each other than challenging their political foes.

Most voters are sick of the current regime. It would follow, therefore, that this race is the Democrats to lose, and lose it they may as they did four years ago. Are they learning-disabled?

Democrats Clinton and Obama bring a historic opportunity to the nation. The question is whether or not the party of the left-- which pretends to stand for tolerance and equal opportunity-- can get behind one of two qualified people who could become the first female or the first black president.

So why is “electability” getting more play than it deserves? How “electable” any presidential nominee may be is subject to as many variables as there are voters. Perhaps “electability” is code for whether an N-word or an insert-favorite-derogatory-term-for-woman is a greater risk?

Democrats seem too willing to encourage skepticism about whether the country is ready for a woman or a black president. What does “ready” mean, exactly?

It means getting beyond the bigotry Democrats should have abandoned in the 60’s civil rights movement but which, apparently, lurks just below their skin.

“Ready” means that the traditional white, male Democratic power base must finally put its money where its mouth has been for decades because a white woman and a black man have risen to the top of the heap and deserve their party’s support. “Ready” means embracing unity in the same way that Republicans—especially at the extreme edges of that party—understand the need for that term. They stand behind their nominee—sometimes gritting their teeth-- because the other party’s platform is just too unacceptable.

Whether the Republicans choose Huckabee, Romney or Giuliani- the likely contenders to top that party’s ticket—their candidate will not embrace the values, beliefs, and constitutional interpretations basic to the true Democratic tradition. In that sense, they should all be outside the realm of consideration for GOP opponents.

Those who say they stand for “inclusion” have an easy choice in 2008--“inclusion” on one side and “exclusion” on the other. While skin color and gender ought to be only footnotes in this presidential election, with Obama or Clinton likely to top the Democratic ticket, one of two representatives of America’s most victimized classes will test Democrats’ true commitment to equal opportunity.

The choice facing voters next November may bring out the best in America, or it may expose the worst of our fears, ignorance and secret hatreds. The real question should be whether or not the country is “ready” for such a tragic exposé?
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Rudy: Opportunist Numero Uno

“Campanilismo” is defined as blind attachment to one’s birthplace, traditions and ethic. In that spirit, members of groups like the Sons of Italy and the National Italian-American Foundation (the fifth largest “ethnic” organization in the country) will follow Rudy Giuliani to his last political breath. Others, not blinded by campanilismo see Rudy for what he really is: a duplicitous opportunist who threatens their ethnic pride.

The former NY mayor likes to say, for example, that he had four uncles who were New York policemen. The December 3 edition of Newsweek writes of another uncle, Leo D’Avanzo, described as a “…loan shark and bookie with mob connections who operated out of a bar named after” cop/uncle Vincent D’Avanzo. Vincent “acted as a front man for the bar.”

Giuliani’s dad, Harold, was a bartender there. Newsweek says he kept a baseball bat and a gun under the bar in case things got rowdy, and “[used] the bat and his fists to collect debts” for his brother-in-law. Harold “served more than a year in Sing [sic] prison for mugging the milkman.”

This family tree-- even for ethnic loyalists-- falls short of direct bloodlines to Leonardo da Vinci.

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for Vice-President, received little ethnic defense when it was said her father might have run numbers. Giuliani has been given impressive latitude as a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, even while questions continue to be raised-- by Poitico.com and the NY Times, to name just two sources—about city spending irregularities regarding the mayor’s travel to visit his then mistress/now wife Judith Nathan.

The mayor’s circle is strangely silent: Giuliani’s long memory, vindictive nature, and abhorrence for “disloyalty” are well known. Unlike Harold, Rudy doesn’t need a baseball bat to settle scores.

Even detractors of Giuliani and his party are intrigued by how desperate Republicans seems to be that they could entertain the notion of Rudy Giuliani as a pro-family, pro-life, moral majority conservative. He supported abortion rights when it was convenient: now he embraces overturning Roe. He roomed with a gay couple while divorcing Donna Hanover: now he courts the far right with anti-gay-rights rhetoric.

Rudy chose a press conference to tell Hanover, the mother of his now-estranged children, that he wanted a divorce. By comparison, Newt Gingrich’s face-to-face, “it’s over,” to his wife, then in a hospital battling cancer, makes him seem like Prince Valiant. Stereotypical Italian sensitivity and blind respect for wife and children (whatever else may be happening “on the side”) seem to have eluded Giuliani.

Still, some Italian-Americans will support Giuliani because his roots, like theirs, are in Italy’s boot. (These folks may also call Oprah’s support of Obama “clannish.”)

For some of us, however, it’s not about the vowel at the end of his name: it’s about his insincerity, secrecy, vengefulness and opportunism at the end of the day. Americans will have had enough of such things by the time they get to vote for the next president-- and eight years is a bellyful.
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Wednesday

TRAPPED IN THE HOMELAND

After 9/11, many of us went to New York to respond to then-Mayor Giuliani's plea to help the city by spending money there. We visited Ground Zero, museums and restaurants, determined not to let "terrorism" lock us in our homes.

National leaders were also entreating the public to support the stricken airline industry by traveling. If we stayed home, terrified, the enemy won. Afflicted by wanderlust, I took this seriously and continued to travel as much as my schedule and purse allowed.

I am always open to a "last-minute deal" that appears in my e-mail box. Recently British Airways offered great flights to London from Boston plus two free hotel nights.

I logged on to the Web site already dreaming of a London escape. Sure enough, I could book air from Boston to London, round trip, for $225. The kick in the teeth, however, was that taxes and Homeland Security fees, plus airport charges, added a full $347.99 to that ticket. The bottom line is that the total cost became $572.99, more than 150 percent more than the basic airline charge of $225!

Passengers start with this $347.99 charge, since the airport taxes and so-called "security" fees are flat and not based on a percentage of airfare. Add to these realities the plummeting dollar, now worth less than 60 percent of a euro and only half a British pound, and the global unpopularity of America and Americans and the "terror" that keeps us trapped in the homeland has less to do with jihadists than it does with our own misguided bureaucracy and policies.

Domestic air tickets on so-called low-cost carriers also add significant taxes and fees. With gas prices skyrocketing, airfare will only rise, and driving to our destination — when that is geographically possible — will also be unaffordable.
As for the use to which all this money is being put, most U.S. airports are more crowded, less comfortable, dirtier, less efficient and no more secure than they were on 9/10. Weekly we hear about someone smuggling a weapon on board, wandering onto the tarmac or actually working for the airport or its security team, the FBI or CIA while huddling with terrorists. Taxes and fees worth 150 percent more than the ticket itself won't fix that.

Like the song says, "We gotta get outta this place." Problem is, we can't afford to do so.
______END______

Saturday

Cast your Cake Upon The Waters

With regular triple digit tumbles of the Dow and foreclosures threatening to outnumber new mortgage loans, it follows Americans might embrace Prosperity Theology. This is the belief—usually associated with evangelical groups-- that financial prosperity, and personal and commercial success and good health, are evidence of God's favor.

This premise suggests that preachers worth listening to should be rolling in dough. On that score, a half-dozen well-known (and well-heeled) ministries recently received a letter from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) minority leader of the Senate Finance Committee. By December 6, recipients are to answer the committee’s questions about executive compensation, use of private cars and jets, and ministry expenses.

Some might argue that high-rolling senators scrutinizing the spending of men and women of god smacks of the proverbial pot calling the metaphorical kettle black; but those doing “god’s work” are usually held to a higher standard. That standard probably precludes a $23,000 toilet like the one purchased for the headquarters of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo. Three of the ministers being asked for answers by Grassley’s committee are regents at Oral Roberts University, itself the subject of a spending probe. ORU “first lady” Lindsay Roberts is said to have $800 monthly cell phone bills. Charges include alleged “inappropriate” text messages to “underage young men.” My personal favorite extravagance of Lindsay’s is $39,000 in charges at Chico’s, which sells third world fashions at Fifth Avenue profits.

When biblical scribes spoke of casting one’s “bread upon the waters” to have it returned “a hundred fold,” it seems unlikely they had marble commodes from Carrara and brocaded slacks from Bangladesh in mind. Popular televangelists as well as the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, however, appear to have rejected the vow of poverty.

Pioneer televangelist Pat Robertson lives well and has power. He was in the news recently too, not for his lifestyle but for his endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. How much Robertson spends has become secondary to his controversial pronouncements. Besides embracing the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, thrice-married and openly philandering Giuliani, Roberts has called for the “taking out” of Venezuela’s Chavez, the rejection of feminism which he claims, “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” and the condemnation of Presbyterians as the “spirit of the Antichrist.”

While Robertson’s camp may quietly wink and plead the dementia defense, Giuliani is seriously running for president. Both men are full of contradictions and both fly in private jets.

At a minimum of $100,000 per public speaking engagement plus millions in consulting fees since he left Gracie mansion, Giuliani—a former Catholic seminarian—seems more suited to the Prosperity Theology camp than among the rope-girdled, sandaled Franciscans embracing poverty as basic to their faith.

I look forward to the “Prosperity Theologians’” responses to the senate investigators. Whatever the outcome of the government probe, however, it seems hard to believe the moneychangers were thrown out of the temple for nothing.

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Friday

DEMOCRATS' VAGINA ENVY: GET OVER IT!

The pathetic assault by Democrat presidential hopefuls on frontrunner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in a recent MSNBC debate probably will (and should) come back to bite them where they sit. To her credit, the former First Lady, current senator from New York, brilliant attorney and good mother stood her ground with distinction. It will apparently take more than 8 political flunkies (counting co-hosts Russert and Williams) to bring down such a woman of substance.

It’s time to clarify: HILLARY CLINTON IS NO WORSE—AND, ACTUALLY, MUCH BETTER—THAN MOST MEN WHO HAVE EVER RUN FOR PRESIDENT! She brings far-superior credentials, talents, intelligence and integrity that W brought to the job. While accusing her of deflecting questions, the fellas onstage dodged a few of their own. Obama—after berating Clinton on immigration policy—didn’t answer himself when asked pointedly if he supports changes in current policy. Edwards, eyes aflutter, launched whiny attacks on his female competitor. He tried to temper his bullying with, “nobody’s perfect…not even me.”

Thank’s for that insight, Jack.

Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Bill Richardson attempted to distance themselves from the frontal attack on Hillary. Candidate Kucinich, true to form, threw a pebble at the front-runner, then retreated to muse about his UFO sightings. Not enough credibility there to merit additional analysis.

Most annoying was the speech by Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd who attacked Hillary’s electability numbers. He said a majority of those polled say they would never vote for Clinton for president. He did NOT clarify that of those polled, some are Republicans who aren’t ever voting for ANY Democrat, and others are large numbers of those unlikely to vote at all – for anybody—given this nation’s terrible track record on voting.

(Doesn’t Chris Dodd think that a person as smart as Hillary figured this out already? Doesn’t he realize that—come primary days and election day—Clinton’s camp will be driving, busing, and even carrying eligible and supportive voters to the polls and making sure shut-ins absentee vote for Hillary? Where was this guy when they said Bill Clinton would never get elected—twice?)

Most frustrating, however, is the refusal of these men to admit that if half the nation is skeptical of Hillary, even larger numbers never heard of the rest of these guys, and/or have rejected their candidacies-- while embracing hers- by double-digit margins!

Women vote in large numbers. My guess is this very public bullying-- by fellow Democrats-- of a qualified, capable, and unflappable candidate will send more women—and a lot of men—into the Clinton camp. Decent people in America, whatever their politics, still hate to see men beating up on a woman.

Democrats need to be united in their support of the nominee, even if it’s Hillary Clinton. They’ve suffered from disunity in the past and they ought to be asking themselves what good it did them-- or their party?
_______End_________

GRACIAS, PERU'

Leaving the village of Ollantaytambo, our bus driver was negotiating a narrow street that allowed him about two feet of wiggle room. Still, he suddenly stopped and slowly backed up to give passage to a small boy and his parents trying to get their overloaded rickety cart to market to sell their wares. Their need to survive rightfully outweighed our bus’s need to get to the next tourist stop. Still, I tried to imagine (unsuccessfully) a New York bus driver giving poor pedestrians a similar edge.

In Lima, Peru’s capital, streets have no litter-- amazing for a major city with overwhelming fiscal woes. When I asked a cab driver how this cleanliness was accomplished he said, simply, people had been, “educated not to dirty the streets!” I wondered what it would take to get Americans to accept similar responsibility as I recalled our own local roads and highways where discarded plastic bags, fast-food containers, beer cans and other “infinite shelf life” garbage are an assumed part of America’s landscape.

Our guide spoke passionately of his Inca roots, his eyes wet with tears when he told stories of Spanish domination and enslavement. In the hill towns, where children seldom have a chance for education since there are no schools, I met youngsters who taught themselves enough English to converse with tourists and sell trinkets, lest they fail to contribute to the family’s meager budget. The children were clean, polite and hopeful: they stole our hearts.

Peruvians demonstrate their love for their country—with all its pimples and wrinkles— in substantive ways. Their humanity to each other and to visitors is moving and rare. Reluctant as Americans might be to acknowledge it, there is much we can learn from the so-called “second” and “third” worlds, and, if there can be any such thing as a national personality, the people of Peru have much to teach us about grace. From the breathtaking and imposing Andes Mountains, to the serene, sunny valleys below, Peru’s people show us what real patriotism is.

They truly strive to represent their country and they understand that visitors contribute a great deal to its survival, and theirs. Unlike many Europeans, they do not put on a false face for dollars: in Peru the USA is still truly revered, and even the falling dollar remains their measure for success.

They approach each visitor with genuine caring, helpfulness and gratitude for even the smallest recognition in return. As they go about their daily lives, they respect their humble but well-maintained surroundings, their fellow men and women, their proud heritage while always aiming for a brighter future, unhampered by either the glories or the failures of their history.

Too often American “patriotism” is measured by flags on lapels and on every pick-up coast to coast. Until and unless we can honestly experience the Peruvian heartfelt “love of country” and truly believe in a better tomorrow, we are only going through motions.

Gracias, Peru, for such a valuable—and beautiful-- lesson.
_________________END________________

Columnist Mary Ann Sorrentino can be contacted at http://maryannsorrentino.com

Sunday

Pharmaceuticals: UPsides/DOWNsides

The Avodart you see advertised on TV claims to help men suffering from frequent urination by shrinking their enlarged prostates. It also threatens the women in their lives with giving birth to babies having severely deformed sex organs. The women don’t have to actually take the pill: they simply have to handle it to be in danger.

Propecia will grow hair on men’s balding heads but carries similar birth defects risks for women who may handle these pills. Propecia can also destroy male libido or, worse, leave the sprit willing and the flesh weak through drug-related impotence.

On that score, erectile dysfunction-- which presidential wannabe Senator Bob Dole parlayed into a household word—is treated with Viagra or Cialis. These drugs not only threaten to kill men with cardiovascular issues, they also promise some takers with priapism-- painful and dangerous erections lasting six hours or more.

Thousands of “miracle” drugs on which we depend have created a lexicon of contraindications and dangerous side effects we ought to take more seriously. Those intimidating (and boring looking) inserts stapled to each prescription package go unread in too many cases, but they could save lives. Pharmacists stand ready to answer questions but too many patients ignore or are unaware of drug warnings.

Physicians, on the other hand, are overly willing to dispense drugs without taking the time to discuss risks and side effects with patients. Telephoning in a prescription or jotting one down on a prescription pad are easier options, and both take less time than dialogue or patient education. As a consequence we have an overmedicated society and one that may be unknowingly in danger.

On another front, Barbara K. Hecht, PhD and Frederick Hecht, MD, Medical Editors for MedicineNet.com are concerned about drug marketing trends. They wrote about Zelnorm, an irritable bowel syndrome remedy for women:

"We have been bothered by some of the current Zelnorm advertising, For example, ads on television present a group of very attractive women, all smiling and showing off their trim, tanned, well-toned midsections. One gets the immediate impression that Zelnorm has something to do with being young, pretty and in great shape. It would not be very glamorous to state on prime-time TV that Zelnorm is actually intended to 'increase the movement of stools (fecal matter) through the bowels' but that is, in fact, what this drug is intended to do."

In other words, “It’s a laxative, and you’ll still be fat after you take it.”

It’s time we evaluated whether having a full head of hair or being able to engage in sex marathons in our golden years are worth the risks. The downsides of Avodart and Propecia for women and their progeny seem at least as serious as second hand smoke, yet they remain unknown. Where medications are concerned, the question should be, “What’s the tradeoff?”

Producer Novartis took Zelnorm off the market in March 2007. Seems it not only moved “fecal matter” but also caused heart attacks and strokes. Makes you wonder how many other prescriptions America could live (better) without?
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Thursday

LET WOMEN SPEAK THE TRUTH!

22 year-old Marine Jared Hubbard was killed in Iraq in 2004. His brother Nathan, an Army officer, died there this week when the Black Hawk he was in crashed ending the lives of Hubbard and 13 more soldiers. He was 21.

A third brother, Jason, 33, went to Iraq in 2005. His mother told the Fresno Bee at that time that the elder brother wanted to protect Nathan from Jared’s fate. Now the Hubbard’s third son is on his way home to Clovis, California to bury his second sibling.

Clovis Police spokeswoman Janet Stoll-Lee said the family is taking this “very, very hard.” The parents, Jeff Hubbard, a retired 30-year police force veteran, and his wife, Peggy have been in seclusion.

Yet, as a mother, it is Peg I would most like to hear from. America needs to know-- if only she would tell us-- what she is feeling in the depths of her broken heart.

Losing a child changes a parent forever. It is impossible to fathom what losing two children in the space of three years would do; but sacrificing one’s children for a useless, wasteful, ridiculous war that even generals now admit cannot be won must inflict incalculable damage.

The Hubbard sons’ deaths make us realize that we haven’t heard from enough mothers on the war in Iraq. I’d like more women to come forward—mothers, wives and lovers of the men who have been sacrificed for nothing in the so-called “war on terror” where imaginary “weapons of mass destruction” killed our best and brightest, sent to Iraq by a Commander-in-Chief too cowardly to go a war himself when it was his turn.

I want to hear the rage of women who have lost the men they love for no good reason. I want their wails and sobs to fill America’s streets, its airwaves, every chapel, cathedral, temple and mosque. I’d like campuses, state houses, town halls and chambers of Congress to be overrun with their outrage and despair.

I long for their sobs and their anger to drown out the cowardly silence of political whores who have allowed this war to go on and on uselessly, trading the blood of our sons and lovers for personal gain and wider re-election chances.

I want Peg Hubbard to tell us how it feels to send a third son back to war after lowering two others into the ground. I’d like to hear what thoughts fill her sleepless nights and hopeless days. I want her and women like her to break their silence and unfurl their devastation tightly-wrapped in tri-folded flags removed from caskets and presented to them at gravesides.

It’s hard to love a country that doesn’t love you back. It’s folly to respect a government that has no respect for your children

If men don’t have the courage to say so, maybe the women who gave birth to the men will speak out, so the Hubbard brothers’ deaths will, finally, have meaning.
________End________

Saturday

( DON'T ) SAY IT WITH FLOWERS

Leroy Greer’s lawyer, Kennitra Foote, says that her client’s attempt to “say it with flowers” is going to cost him $300,000. Greer asked 1.800.Flowers to send some posies to his girlfriend, with a note that said, "Just wanted to say that I love you and you mean the world to me!" Now his outraged wife is asking that $300,000 be added to her divorce settlement which was already in the works when she found out about the honey on the side.

The florist sent his bill to his former home. The wife got it. (Why is she opening his mail?) She called them and asked that the details of the bill be sent to her. (Why did they?) The rest is all rage and greed.

Greer is suing 1.800.Flowers for $1 million for breach of contract and deceptive trade practices (thereby alerting a few million more people around the globe who may have missed the news he was screwing around.) The escalation of jackpots in this tale is staggering and absurd, at every level.

The Greers were already in the throes of a divorce, so I assume they had agreed the marriage was over. So what’s going on?
Does Mrs. Greer feel if a busted marriage is worth $x, adding in the fact her husband may have a lover makes it worth $x plus $300,000?

If she had found out he was sending the flowers to a gay lover, would the price go to $x plus $500,000?

What if Greer had had an unnatural fondness for goats? My guess is the sky would have been the limit!

Earth to Mrs. Greer: It’s over. For whatever reasons known best (or unknown best) to you and your husband, the marriage expired and you were both on your way to moving on.
So move, already!

How much Greer finally pays in the divorce settlement won’t be decided by Mrs. Greer, or even by Ms. Foote ( who still gets her legal fees for the divorce work PLUS her piece of the $1 million from 1.800.Flowers should Greer prevail, AND more legal fees for that representation.) A judge—hopefully a voice of reason in this chorus of irrationals-- will decide who gets what in the end.

1.800.Flowers told Greer’s wife he sent flowers to someone. His note said he loved that person, but this is hardly the same kind of flagrante delicto as finding one’s husband bedding down a topless young thing on the matrimonial bed one Sunday after he said he was singing in the church choir.

People say our society is too litigious. Worse, it is immature, stupid and excessive.
The Greer case points out the absurdity of trying to put a price on a broken marriage. Stuff happens, and grownups need to cope.
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Sunday

A DEMOCRAT ON DEMOCRATS

Who needs terrorists? Americans are doing a good enough job of wrecking this country all by themselves by keeping self-serving patsies in office instead of removing them for activities often unconstitutional and sometimes illegal.

I’ve been a registered Democrat most of my life (though in the last decade I’ve refused to name my party when registering to vote because I’ve had enough of my privacy invaded.) Like a lot of liberals, I’m fed up with the inertia and pragmatism of most Democrats who would rather stand by and let the country go to hell than risk voters’ ire and possibly lose in their election bids.

Recently we found out that thousands of our own weapons for Iraq are unaccounted for and have probably fallen into the hands of our enemies. This on the heels of a final reports that the military did, in fact, lie about NFL hero Pat Tillman’s death (now known to have been caused by friendly fire) for fear of incurring national anger and embarrassment.

I don’t know what they were afraid of. The country seems incapable of good old-fashioned outrage, the kind that publicly exposes incompetence and deception, refuses to tolerate graft and corruption and throws the bums out. What this country needs is a good shot of people taking to the streets by the millions screaming, “Enough!” Nothing gets government’s attention like a livid citizenry smelling of revolution (the kind that gets idiots thrown out of office.)

Democratic pols have been playing to the far right because their own left and the center have become lap dogs. Democrats continue to help empower the fanatical fascists and America’s becoming Iran!

I’m angry that Democrats voted for a prescription drug bill that forbids government from negotiating reasonable prices with the already-too-powerful pharmaceutical lobby.

I’m sick of Democrats saying they support personal liberties while repeatedly extending Bush’s power to spy on private citizens.

I’m provoked that Democrats voted for a higher farm subsidy than W wanted, (prompting at least one Republican congressman to be amazed that the Dems are a better friend to rich farmers than the president.)

Mostly, I’m outraged that Democrats sit by, day after day, paralyzed by their addiction to power, allowing an obviously incompetent and dangerous administration to lie, cheat and steal without fear of contradiction.

The Democratic party lost the last two elections in which the odds were overwhelmingly in its favor because it hasn’t the testicular fortitude to spirit more than 20% of voters to get off their butts and go to the polls.

Have we given up on America?

We can fly all the flags we want, attach ribbons to the backs of our cars by the dozens, but it all means nothing because we are handing the country over to the enemy by our own inertia. Democrats should lead the charge for change by cleaning up their own act, and NOW!
_________________END_____________

Monday

Umbria Is Dragged Into Our 21st Century Nightmare

I attended the University for Foreigners many years ago, when Perugia, Italy was a bucolic Umbrian city with a motley student population from around the world. The visitors did not impose on Perugia’s Etruscan dignity. Instead, that city’s serenity flowed into our veins and the international visitors soon adopted the gentility of the locals.

I have returned to Perugia often over the years. In the fall of 2005 I found the streets jammed with students from Asia, Africa and Europe and the cosmopolitan feel of the new Perugia was full of jazz festivals, Louis Vuitton knockoffs for sale on the streets, cellular phones galore and even fast food.

Yet, sitting on the terrace of the old Brufani Palace Hotel with the tranquil Umbrian patchwork below, one could still imagine that the cares of the outside world stopped at the shores of nearby Lake Trasimeno.

In Perugia’s medieval piazza where a signature griffon keeps watch, one could still hope never to be swallowed up in today’s antagonisms. Here, it seemed, Sikhs and Sunnis, Asians and Europeans, blacks and whites, even Jews and Palestinians still studied, lived and played in harmony.

All of that changed recently when Italian authorities arrested three Moroccans, part of the 10,000 strong Muslim community within the city’s 150,000 residents. An imam and two followers, organizers of an Al Qaeda training school in a mosque outside Perugia’s city walls, were taken into custody. Also seized were maps of Rome’s Da Vinci airport and the city of Bologna, poisons and training films on how to fly a Boeing 747. Later, 20 more students from the mosque were also arrested, according to the BBC.

These reports devastate me as an alumna of the same university some of these terrorists doubtless attended to learn the Italian language. My Italian roots also recoil at the horrific thought of a suicide bomber striking some of Italy’s ancient and irreplaceable historic sites. Imagine a 9/11 equivalent leveling the Colosseum or the painstakingly reconstructed city of Pompeii. Picture the horror of Florence on fire or The Roman Forum and ancient Ostia decimated by bombings.

Friends in Umbria say their lives are changed permanently now. Though they follow international news events daily on CNN, the BBC and other global news stations, until the recent arrests they felt they would be safe in their hilltop homes surrounding Perugia’s center. They believed the myth of international harmony and neighborly respect the Universita’ Per Stranieri (the foreigner’s language school) had always projected.

Now even Umbria braces herself. From the once peaceful Assisi of everyone’s St. Francis to the lyrical Spoleto where ancient warriors spilled hot oil from hilltop palace walls to stop attacking enemies, to Gualdo where farmers still look forward to their annual, and ancient, wheat thrashing feasts there is silence.

The next sound we hear from Umbria, I’m afraid, may well be the hopeless moan of 21st century resignation.
______________END__________

Saturday

What Language Is This?

Î.Â. ßçûêîâ óËÕÔÅÒ × ÎÁÌÉÞÉÉ as well as Ëå÷åíèå çóáîâ and íÏÖÎÏ ÎÁ ÚÁËÁÚ

I have no idea if, in sharing these phrases from a Spam email I received, with you the readers, I am asking my editors to print something obscene, threatening to the national security, or detrimental to my own reputation.

But I have decided to bite this bullet and write about how insane (and inane) it is that I (and all of you with email) continue to get several Spam messages a day written in the proverbial “Greek to me.” I don’t even know what language most of these messages are in.

I realize that bloggers, hacks and web perverts trying to seduce us to websites selling all manner of garbage to view and/or buy are emailing to a global audience. But doesn’t it occur to these idiots that people who can’t read their message are not going to play their game?

If it is a matter of using a language that is recognizable to the largest possible audience I would expect to see more messages in languages that use the Roman alphabet, or Japanese, Chinese and other script used by huge numbers of literate peoples. Instead, we get this mystery alphabet—maybe Greek, maybe Coptic—who knows?

More insulting are the mass mailings from those con men and women who write to us in broken English. Barnum was right when he said there was a sucker born every minute, but how many suckers are going to invest money to help an alleged widow of a diplomat or supposed African businessman who can’t communicate with them for openers?

If I were really the winner of all the lotteries and free prizes I am told I won every day (in emails unopened and reported by me as Spam) I would be the luckiest person ever. With that kind of good fortune I would spend less time checking my emails (or writing columns) and more time at the nearest racetrack or casino. I would also own about 22 BlackBerries, 35 Razr phones and even e few new iPhones.

I would never have to cook again were I willing to believe that every meal at Applebee’s, Red Lobster and other chain eateries I wouldn’t subject my dog to were really available gratis to me and my family. If these e-hucksters really expect most of us to turn over our most personal information so we can have our bank accounts pirated and our credit ratings ruined, don’t they realize they are going to have to offer more than a free cup of chowder or a bowl of chili?

So let’s challenge those who think we are all dumb enough to fall for their snake oil emails.
Write to us in a language we can understand, with an offer we can’t refuse. Better yet, take us off ALL your lists.

Or, as they say in Bosnia, Siberia, or wherever many of you come from, “ Î.Â. ßçûêîâ óËÕÔÅÒ × ÎÁÌÉÞÉÉ .” and also,” Ëå÷åíèå çóáîâ …” and, “ íÏÖÎÏ ÎÁ ÚÁËÁÚ !”
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Friday

POLITICS: Even in Tragedy, One Hand Washes the Other

As the stunning misery of the bridge collapse in Minnesota unfolded endlessly across my TV screen this week, I was taken with the unflagging ability of politicians to be political even when the world is -- literally-- crashing around their ears.


Each official who took the microphone (to grab another moment of national exposure)remembered to thank the appropriate big-wigs in the audience. Department heads thanked their underlings, lawmakers thanked police and fire personnel and, of course, everyone thanked voters (now referred to as the "great and brave people of this city....blah,blah,blah...")


Why do I feel that as soon as the last body is recovered and the dead are buried these spokespeople will return to their desks to get to work on the next "back room deal?" As I think about that, I can almost hear the shuffle of campaign contributors from the construction trades rushing to line up at the politicians' doors, looking for the next pork-barrel contracts to rebuild the bridge.


Am I too cynical, or have I just lived long enough to know better?

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Saturday

Cleavage vs. "Can Do"

It seems absurd that a newspaper like the Washington Post would bother to print an article discussing the fact that Hillary Clinton has cleavage! Of course she has cleavage - she's a middle-aged woman! Why is this worthy of comment? I don't read any articles about what side the male candidates "dress" on, or how well they may be endowed.

But recently, when Senator Clinton spoke on the Senate floor, wearing a pink jacket and slacks with a white V-neck blouse underneath, Post fashion editor Robin Givhan saw cleavage on C-Span, according to her column. Givhan went on to describe her discomfort with this (though the photograph attached to the Washington Post's online article doesn't show a hell of a lot of cleavage that I can see.) Apparently this woman-- a yuppee African-American journalist who ought to know something about bias-- has never been in the try-on room at the nearest Loehmann's. If she had, she would long ago have gotten used to the sight of women in various stages of undress.

It's a good thing Hillary isn't a young breast-feeding mother. If Givhan had happened to walk into a Ladies Lounge in Nordstrom’s and seen her suckling a child, God only knows what kind of a column that would have generated.

I am just sick and tired of the absurd standards being set for Hillary Rodham Clinton as a Senator and a presidential candidate. She's a bright, capable and determined woman, and yes, Robin, she even has breasts. Get over it. Her breasts aren't running for president, SHE is!

Givhan goes as far as to say that a woman who shows cleavage anywhere where neither cocktails nor hors d'oeuvres are being served is being "provocative." Next time Givhan is in a house of worship and a strapless-gowned bride walks down the aisle to the altar, I hope someone throws the bride a stiff drink and a hunk of Swiss cheese. If not, Robin is bound to declare the wedding to be X-rated.

Givhan may be one of the first people to go on at length about Hillary as a sex symbol-- not something the wife-of-Bill is usually accused of being. America's voters, however, will be voting for the candidate whose brain and whose heart they believe will be best for America. Hopefully their external anatomical appendages will not be a factor in the way voters' ballots are cast.

Now if Ms. Givhan can just get out more, maybe she can actually come up with something sensible to write about.
_______________________________END______________________

Thursday

Giulani, Morality, Hypocrisy and Rome

The day after a New Hampshire lightening bolt dramatically punctuated R.I. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s condemnation of Rudy Giuliani’s position on abortion, Giuliani came to Rhode Island for a campaign handout. Tobin’s remarks had, by then, received national media attention.

Dodging queries about the bishop, Giuliani embraced his supporters who flocked, checkbooks ready, to subsidize his presidential bid.

Will Tobin tighten the net and try to force campaign volunteers to divorce themselves from Rudy? Will he argue that supporters cannot remain Catholics if they work for Giuliani’s election? Will he banish them from the communion rail for ignoring his dicta on abortion?

The overwhelmingly anti-choice Host Committee for the Giuliani fete seemed oblivious to the bishop’s warnings. Perhaps strident pro-lifer and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Steve Laffey should have practiced obedience, capitulated to his bishop and encouraged other Catholic Giuliani cheerleaders to follow.

Tobin ought to worry about what’s morally wrong in his own office. Since his consecration as bishop, lawyers representing clients alleging sexual abuse by priests have been ignored when they come forward under the so-called Pastoral Program initiated in 2005 by former Bishop Robert E. Mulvey. About 50 cases were processed under Mulvey’s Pastoral Program providing counseling for the victims and cash settlements costing around $2 million. (The original Rhode Island settlements of at least another 38 victims from one legal group alone cost the diocese $14.25 million, and other attorneys had even more settlements after that. Calls to the diocese for an update on the program went unanswered.)

Why does a bishop so fixated on what is morally and dogmatically acceptable when it comes to a woman’s pregnancy options ignore what is moral and dogmatically acceptable on the question of sexual abuse of children by priests?

The Catholic Church and the Diocese of Providence have always been arbitrary in defining who is moral and Catholic and who is not. Heavy donors to Catholic Charities are divorced and remarried with ease while their blue-collar equivalents are banished from the pews. Mafia kingpin Raymond Patriarca was given full burial privileges in a Catholic RI cemetery while a beloved Catholic priest who chose suicide was stripped in his obituary of the title, “Reverend.” Loving relatives were denied the chance to be witnesses at their loved ones weddings, baptisms or confirmations because of one priest’s judgment that they were not worthy. Later that same priest was defrocked for sexual abuse of young people.

Giuliani is a former seminarian, twice divorced and remarried, a public philanderer and proven political slut (Giuliani nominated-- then withdrew -- friend and unscrupulous libertine Bernie Kerik for the nation’s top security job, despite Giuliani’s firsthand knowledge of and alleged commitment to preventing another “9/11.”) Why anyone even considers him a Catholic at this point may be the eighth glorious mystery.

The Catholic Church, which often adopts the Christian symbol of the fish, may, in fact, be deteriorating morally. But even Mr. Patriarca could have told Tobin that the fish still rots from the top down.
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Wednesday

Baa Baa Converted Sheep

Dr. Charles Roselli at Oregon State University caused quite a stir recently when his studies of gay sheep were reported in the NY Times as having broad, “...implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species including humans.” In short, Roselli says he can spot a gay sheep in the herd and is wondering if, down the road, the sheep might be taught to become heterosexual.

Maybe Roselli ought to get in touch with Rev. Ted Haggard to see if they can collaborate. Haggard, you may recall, was expelled from the 14,000-member New Life Church he founded after he confessed to trysts with a gay hooker, perhaps with illegal drug involvement as well.

A few months ago, however, Haggard met with former church elders who gleefully announced they are convinced Haggard is “completely heterosexual” after only three weeks of counseling. .

I’m no geneticist, so I shall have to take the fifth on whether or not Mary’s little lamb with the pink bow and bell around his neck is just sweet or truly swish. I have no idea whether that sweet lamb will grow up to be a full-blown queen and, if/when that were to happen, whether Roselli and company might be able to scientifically change the sheep’s orientation. I do know that evangelicals have, for decades, told about “praying over” gay men and women and turning them around, so to speak.

Like most of you, I have plenty of gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances, but I have yet to meet a “former” or “ex” queer person. I have, however, met some allegedly “straight” people who, years later, turned out to be queerer than they thought. Like Haggard, however, these people may have been fighting the gay thing all along, being reluctant to admit to it for fear of being labeled a sinner, pervert, or worse in their circle. Being “out” is still no picnic in many parts of our society.

If Haggard were truly to have been “cured” in three weeks, this would be a scientific phenomenon with international implications. So far, I haven’t heard that Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine or any of the other prestigious scientific journals are reporting on this miracle. In fairness, I’m not sure Haggard’s “cure” is even getting any ink in secular magazines like Men’s Health, TIME or National Geographic.

Haggard’s religious elders stood behind his “complete” recovery from gayness and his “fully” heterosexual orientation du jour. My question for them is the same one I’ve asked of those who claim they have seen gay then later turned straight by the power of prayer.

Would they-- or you-- be happy to send your beloved child or grandchild down the aisle with such a person?
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Friday

Send Me No Flowers

One of the most thoughtful gifts I received from my mother was freedom from guilt about avoiding her and my father’s gravesite. I seldom visit the cemetery. I am just following her instructions not to.

“Don’t bring flowers to the grave…” she would admonish. “…Buy shoes for a child who needs shoes!”

So I do, convinced that my mother and father are much better honored and remembered by a good deed done in their memory than by flowers brought to a stone to die or be thrown away long after the good deal continues to comfort.

Not everyone agrees with this. I have friends enslaved by their need to visit the graves of their dead regularly. Some people spend hundreds of dollars on holidays, birthdays and death anniversaries buying space in the local papers to insert old photographs of their dead above a Hallmark-wannabe verse of loss and melancholy. Worse, they write their own messages to the dead.

“We will always remember you and miss you. Cape Cod will never be the same.
Love, Jack, Jill and your loving dog Sparky.” When the dog dies, his photograph will get added to the memorial ad: same newspaper he got house trained on-- life coming full circle.

My mother was a practical but compassionate woman. She knew the difference between what people really needed and an empty gesture. She would rather buy a coat for a homeless person in winter than offer him a box of taffy his toothless mouth couldn’t handle anyway. Long before it was fashionable to do so, she would bring sandwiches to street bums knowing that a gift of cash might just go for the booze they best avoided.

My 50-year-old Dad died when I was nine. I remember going to the cemetery with my devastated mother, a widow at 49 with a child to raise alone. She wept uncontrollably. I felt helpless and useless. I also remember feeling worthless. Nothing I could be, do or say could fill the void my father’s death had created for her.

I told her this. She was stunned by the possibility that her grief would permanently wound, even damage, her child. Her practicality kicked in, and from that point forward we were buying shoes, bringing clothing, carting meals, driving people to the doctor’s, making a difference.

At her wake, there were few flowers, but there was an endless procession of mourners, some we did not recognize.

“You don’t know me…” they would offer with their hand outstretched in greeting, “…but your mother brought us a meal when my husband was out of work.” Or, “once your Mom bought my kid a snowsuit so he could slide with the other kids…” Or, “Your mother bought my mother a train ticket to New York so my Mom could visit her dying sister there.”

What tributes-- not floral, and not a newsprint advertisement of grief, but so sweet and so lasting.
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Bats and Balls

An article in the British magazine The Economist tells us about a scientific study done at Syracuse University in New York by Professor Scott Pitnick. Interestingly, researcher Pitnick was studying bats and the biological relationship between their testicles and their brains. ( Some readers are now asking, “Why?”)

Since many women have maintained for generations that men actually think with their, uhhh, testicles, the article had my attention. The premise of the research team is that a bat’s testicles would be larger in species where the females of that group were more promiscuous, and smaller when the females tended to limit their couplings.

The article went on to mention casually, as if we all knew a lot about such things, that:
“Greater promiscuity does, indeed, lead to bigger testes presumably because a male needs to make more sperm to have a fighting chance of fathering offspring, if those sperm are competing with a lot of other males.” This is fascinating since women are so often accused of ripping off those particular body parts, or “busting” them, as they say. Now we find out there is a legitimate scientific study that shows that we actually give men those things they love! More interesting, the naughtier we are, the bigger theirs get! It is only if we are prudish that they “shrink” to embarrassing miniatures.

Again from the article:
“Gorillas which discourage dalliances between other males and the females of their harems, have small testes. Chimpanzees, among whom females mate widely, have large ones.”

Then the addenda our curiosity has been waiting for:
“Human testes lie between these two extremes.”

This conjures a spectrum with King Kong on one end, J. Fred Muggs on the other, and your husband or boyfriend(s) -or both- somewhere in the middle.

The smallest bat testes were found among those whose females were monogamous.

Finally, the kicker:
“Brain size, by contrast…varied in the opposite direction.”

This means the bigger the testes, the smaller the brains. (Many women reading this column are now resting their case.)

This study is not likely to be nominated for a Nobel Prize, but it does give us something to ponder. The conclusion of the article said much more that anything I might add in summarizing the results of all this research referred to in the title as, “Bats and Balls”.

As the article ended, simply:
“…it is better to be virile and dim, than impotent and smart.”

But then again, a lot of us already knew that. Sleep tight King Kong: we now know you are much smarter than you look in those frontal nudity shots.
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Thursday

European Remedies...Why Not?

I was in Rome recently, vacationing and reveling in the wonderful lifestyle Italy offers. I was also battling the remnants of a persistent cough (shared by many of my fellow New Englanders) born of a spring cold exacerbated by a higher-than-usual pollen count during some unseasonably hot days and excessive mold spores following heavy spring rains.

Discouraged at the amount of energy my cough was consuming, I visited a pharmacy in Rome and sought the pharmacist’s advice. He asked me what I had already taken and noted the medications I was normally prescribed, then suggested an over-the-counter item which I optimistically took that afternoon and for the next few days. Within three days my cough was subsiding: in a few more days it was gone. I even managed to fly home in the plane’s dry air without hacking. I called my local pharmacist on my return and brought in the package of the Italian cough remedy. It seems it is a simple formula that could easily be replicated here in the U.S.A. and even be sold without prescription,

But it isn’t, and the tragedy is it probably never will be. This is not my first such experience with effective European pharmaceutical products that really work and don’t cost a mortgage payment to buy. My frequent visits there and my fortunate language skills make me less hesitant than others might be to give Europe’s remedies a try. I have never been disappointed.

My experiences do make me wonder, however, why Congress doesn’t deal with the overbearing pharmaceutical lobby that holds Americans hostage to outrageous drug prices by allowing more European competitors into our market? If a drug hasn’t killed or harmed all the Swiss, French or Italians over the last decade it’s probably safe enough for Americans as well. Our own FDA certainly does not have a flawless safety record when it comes to approving U.S. drugs for American consumption.

Why not bring in what’s tried and true in Berlin, Madrid, or London? Despite the American myth that we live in “the greatest country on earth,” our bodies function in the same ways as the bodies of our European neighbors. If a pill doesn’t do damage to the European Union’s gastrointestinal tract or respiratory system, it won’t hurt the stomach or lungs of a guy in Dayton, Ohio either. Besides, the federal government has depended on bringing in foreign flu vaccines, bird flu preventatives, and even West Nile remedies when the U.S. could not or would not develop enough on its own. I suppose they cannot have it both ways, eschewing foreign drugs when it interferes with U.S. drug company profits (and therefore campaign contributions) and, on the other hand, buying such drugs to avoid U.S. government embarrassment and public health crises.

My guess is that reasonable Americans agree it is time to get serious about lowering prescription and non-prescription drug costs in the United States. Opening our pharmacies to legitimate European drugs with excellent safety records might be a good beginning.

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Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Italy Series of articles runs Aug./Sept/Oct 2015

Hope for the Future: Uruguay 2007

Hope for the Future: Uruguay 2007
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About Me

Hillsboro Beach, FL/ Cranston, RI, United States

"JOACHIM" - Oct. '92-March '08

"JOACHIM"  - Oct. '92-March '08
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Castel Del Monte

Castel Del Monte