Saturday

THE HIGH COST OF DRINKING

                       
Cigarette tax hikes nationwide have many smokers kicking the habit. The current economic mess may also have gamblers going to casinos less often. Yet, one costly vice always seems to get a pass: the use (and abuse) of alcohol—expensive, dangerous and sometimes deadly.

This is not a call for temperance: sharing a drink with friends can be relaxing and fun and medical findings say an occasional glass of wine may even be beneficial. But selling alcohol in clubs and restaurants is where the profits lie since the tossing of a shot into a glass costs much less than whipping up great tornadoes Rossini or a spectacular tiramisu .

Drinking at home isn’t cheap, but it is far less expensive than drinking out. Yet there is little said about the club-hopping crowd blowing rent or grocery money at bars and dining rooms where a few beers can run $10 - $20 and the cost of two martinis equals a restaurant entrée.

This doesn’t occur to some diners when at, let’s say, a mid-level urban eatery, Couple A drinks mineral water or diet Coke with dinner and Couple B has cocktails and two glasses of wine with the meal. Those alcoholic beverages add the equivalent of two additional meals onto the bill. So Couple A ends up paying for three full meals in its half of the tab. (Would anyone order a second entrée and expect the other couple to pay for it?)

New England clubs and restaurants see no decline in drink orders with prices (beer, $4.50 - $5.50, wine, $6 - $10, or cocktails, $10 - $13) still seeming reasonable to patrons. Suburban bar prices are at least a dollar cheaper on beer, wine and cocktails than in most city bars. Still, budgets can be strained by a couple of Grey Goose martinis at $10 or more each, or a few shots of Patron tequila, at $8 or higher per shot.

Mark Gasbarro, fourth generation owner of Gasbarro Wines in Providence sees more patrons seeking cheaper ($9 - $10) bottles of wine. They understand that a bottle of good wine often costs less than one glass served by a bartender. A 33 oz. bottle of Grey Goose Vodka at $35 retail, meanwhile, makes 17 martinis-- enough to keep most drinkers happy for a week.

Two glasses of wine totaling $18 (plus a tip) equal at least 8 gallons of gas, a meal in many fine restaurants, at least two packs of cigarettes, three tickets to most movies, the co-pay for a doctor visit, one day’s worth of groceries, an hour at the quarter slots at Foxwoods Casino or a few races at the track with average luck, and a whole lot more.

Multiply that $18-worth of socializing times the number of nights most regular patrons drink out, and we’re talking serious dents in rent, prescriptions, insurance, telephone, child support, tuition, and many other serious monthly bills. (Then there are also the related “drinking costs” for parking, parking tickets, “picking up the tab,” auto damage, injuries and worse from drinking and driving.)

The deep recession reminds us that the phrase, “Drink Responsibly” has an economic edge as well, and one worth managing prudently, perhaps at home.
                                                                ______________

Monday

A DRY WEEK IN KENYA

"We have looked at all issues which can bring people to talk and we have seen that sex is the answer," says Rukia Subow, chair of the Women’s Development Organization, Kenya's oldest women's group. And with that, 11 feminist organizations in Kenya banded together to withhold sex from their men for one week in an effort to stop the political squabbling threatening that nation’s fragile coalition government. The women are paying prostitutes to temporarily go celibate, and the wives of Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have also been asked to participate.
                                                                      
Men in Kenya are polygamous by law, and AIDS rates are high, so there may be increased sexual activity with multiple partners. If this is true, organized sexual inactivity could influence male politicians. More likely, not all women will comply and men will have their way by intimidation if necessary. Also, seven days isn’t enough time.

Such a plan would be even less likely to work here at home.

Internet statistics about frequency of sexual activity among Americans--particularly married people-- indicate that abstaining from sex for a week would be fairly normal. This isn’t a nation of sexually hyper-active folks, especially in the over-forty ranks from which political leaders usually come.

Michelle Obama doesn’t seem like the type of woman who needs to join in such a strike. She could probably just talk Barack into submission.

Lacking a prime minister, we’d have to look to Hillary Clinton our Secretary of State as the other possibility. Hillary probably adopted the withholding-sex-from-Bill strategy long ago (not that he’s since “gone without.”)

Leaders like (use any first name here) Kennedy and Chris Dodd have always demonstrated that they could have as many women as they wanted, wherever, whenever. Across the aisle, Republicans like John McCain give the impression that their interest in sex is but a memory. In the case of conservatives such as Orrin Hatch, one wonders if they ever have had a sexual temperature beyond 98.6.

Then there is the Barney Frank contingent (exact numbers still hiding in the great congressional closet) to whom threats of sex-withholding by people of the opposite gender mean nothing.

The Trojan idea of women strapping on chastity belts toward political ends will probably fail to resurrect democracy in Kenya. It does, however, remind us that empires and political careers have historically been kicked to the curb in exchange for a moment or two of lust. (Eliott Spitzer, Gary Hart and others can, have and will write books on the subject. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s wife also went public again this week on her husband’s zipper problem.)

Power remains a great aphrodisiac and one likely to allow the endless supply of available men and women determined to sample just one more dose, whenever they can, to find each other.
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Saturday

NOTRE DAME DE "MIXED MESSAGE"

Richard V. Allen, Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor, recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times strongly defending Reagan’s honorary degree from Notre Dame University on the basis of the former president’s alleged “pro-life” politics. Allen, a Notre Dame alumnus, just as strongly argued against a similar honor planned for President Obama in May.

Apparently Mr. Allen was so busy working for Reagan that he never noticed the president’s actual history on abortion rights. As one “pro-life” writer points out on www.issues2000.org
“Reagan was not as obsessive about anti-abortion legislation as he often seemed. Early in his California governorship he had signed a permissive abortion bill that has resulted in more than a million abortions. Afterward, he inaccurately blamed this outcome on doctors, saying that they had deliberately misinterpreted the law. When Reagan ran for president, he won backing from pro-life forces by advocating a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited all abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother. Reagan’s stand was partly a product of political calculation, as was his tactic after he was elected of addressing the annual pro-life rally held in Washington by telephone so that he would not be seen with the leaders of the movement on the evening news…”
(Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 812 Jul 2, 1991)

Notre Dame has given honorary degrees in the past to publicly pro-choice people like Obama including U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, President John F. Kennedy, and actress Cicily Tyson, a Planned Parenthood advocate, to name just a few. (Notre Dame also gave an honorary degree to Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the president, a Catholic and an alleged bootlegger, public philanderer and long-time paramour of actress Gloria Swanson.)

In 2005, another Catholic college, Loyola University, gave former seminarian Rudy Giuliani an honorary degree, seemingly unconcerned that the former Republican mayor and presidential candidate was pro-choice, had a series of marriages, divorces and public infidelities, abandoned his wife and children, and supported homosexuals, all in defiance of Catholic teachings.

President Obama is at least as worthy in the “Catholic context” as many others on Notre Dame’s past lists of commencement speakers and honorees: so-called “good Catholics” who don’t think so need to stop changing the rules whenever it’s convenient.

Obama, not a Catholic, worked as an attorney helping the underprivileged, shunning higher paying jobs to do this good “Catholic” work.

His record as a politician, as far as we know, is unblemished by the usual shady behaviors and tendency to overlook (if not participate in) graft and corruption.

Obama’s respect and love for his elders, wife and daughters, as well as for those less fortunate than himself, shows that he understands and embraces the greatest commandment to “Love thy Neighbor.” Regarding “basic family values” he excels where Reagan (divorced, remarried, estranged from his children, and no friend to the poor) failed miserably.

If the Catholic Church-- losing membership, wanting in new priests, and steeped in scandals which are bankrupting dioceses left and right-- can’t get its values in order, at least its defenders should try to get their facts straight.
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Thursday

ITALY EARTHQUAKE UNITES US

The letterhead of an itinerary planning firm I used to own, asked, “Have you ever known anyone who went to Italy and never wanted to return?”

Probably not.

Italy enchants. It fascinates with its reverence for ancient ruins and it tantalizes with its innate elegance, visible on the streets of Milan, Florence and Rome as well as on its volcanic islands and in its remote villages.

If disclaimers are necessary, I am proud of my 100% Italian roots. My father was an immigrant from a small town outside Pompeii, and his parents as well as those of my mother were born on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. I make no apologies: I love Italy.

In that affection, I am joined by millions around the globe. Italy has been Europe’s top tourism destination and it remains a country which citizens of the world adore.

Now, as it struggles to rise once again from yet one more assault by nature in the earthquake-ravaged Abruzzi, sympathetic admirers from around the globe rush to send whatever relief they can. Here at home, the millions of Americans with roots in the boot, interrupt their Easter plans to raise monies, gather supplies, contact friends and family who may have been displaced and establish bridges of hope between the leveled towns of Italy’s Southwest and the struggling cities of the USA, those latter leveled economically by the current and deep recession.

Even Italians outside the stricken region are raging and mourning the unnecessary death toll because government funds provided years ago—after similar quakes—were apparently skimmed by politicians instead of being used to build the earthquake-proof buildings that might have saved so many lives. Americans share that disillusionment as they look around at the plundered financial landscape around them as well.

We can only do what brothers and sisters do in tough times like these. So we share what bread and water we have between us and send what pennies we can spare along with clothing, blankets and medical supplies. Those of us who pray should do so.

All of us, meanwhile, should think positive thoughts and work for justice, for in Italy’s current moment of tragedy we join her in the allegory of the greed of the powerful bringing down ruin on the serenity of the struggling.

In that sense, we are all family.
___________________END___________________
Aid to earthquake victims in Italy can be given by calling 1-800-REDCROSS

Sunday

IS GOD GOING GLOBAL??

A national Study-- the American Religious Identification Survey-- reported this month that 1 million fewer New Englanders claim to be Roman Catholic today than did in 1990. Nationally, 29 states showed a decline in the number of Catholics, while gains in supporters of Rome turned up in Texas (up 9%.,) California (up 8 %,), and Florida (up 4 %.)

Overall, these results agree with another study by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The trend seems to be a shift of Catholic population in the U.S. from the Northeast to the Southwest. Florida qualifies with its tremendous influx of traditionally Catholic immigrants from Cuba, South and Central America and the Caribbean. Texas and California, as border states, share a similar demographic experience with large numbers of Catholic Mexicans arriving daily.

Mainstream Protestant sects also showed national losses. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and United Church of Christ members declined from 18.7 to 12.9 %. Among non-Christian groups, Jews and Muslims slipped from a combined total of 3% of American believers in those religions to only 2%.

Where is god going?

While we may not be becoming a godless nation, we may be altering the way we understand god and the way we worship. “Blind faith,” which for centuries held Catholic believers together, no longer cuts the mustard with American congregations weary of taking orders from a hierarchy unable or unwilling to acknowledge its own scandals, sins and mistakes.

Diocese after Catholic diocese has either approached or fallen into bankruptcy brought on by settlements for sexual abuse scandals involving priests. Additionally, Rome’s continued rigidity regarding female ordination and its refusal to heed the 21st century concerns of its faithful regarding celibacy, birth control, abortion and sexual orientation have only widened the breach of lay distrust and dismay.

What is seldom discussed, on the other hand, is the appeal that Catholic dogma has for evangelical extremists and just-plain-rednecks who love to wallow in inflexibility. For some, what actually attracts is the lack of “gray” areas and the rejection of free will, a basic tenet of Catholic theology despite Rome’s disregard for it.

In New England, cities like Worcester, Manchester, or Woonsocket—once Catholic strongholds— seem unlikely to rise again to strengthen the numbers of what they once called the “one true church.” Boarded up factories, foreclosed homes and a Catholic ministry ill-equipped and disinclined to nurture a decimated flock do not bode well for “blind faith” or “glorious mysteries.”

The real as well as spiritual “loaves and fishes” exhausted bodies and souls seek and require seem nowhere to be found there.

But even as places like Texas and Florida-- where men are men, women are disposable and authority figures like cops, judges and bishops never have to say they’re sorry-- have become the new hotspots for organized religions, it is important to remember that god (as opposed to “churches”) can exist anywhere.

Perhaps the new shift in faith-based demographics tell us less about America going godless than they tell us about god going global.
_______________END_________________

Saturday

A Sucker Born Every MInute!

22-year-old Natalie Dylan (not her real name) is auctioning off her virginity allegedly to pay for graduate school for herself and her sister. If her web photograph is authentic, she is a beautiful California woman, complete with tan and bikini figure, so it is no wonder some sex-starved rich guy has offered to deflower her for what is said to be a $3.7 million profit to the coed. At that rate, she and her sister can both become brain surgeons!

Many around the world view this story with amazement and wonder how such advertised prostitution—illegal in most of the U.S.—can go unchallenged by authorities. The answer lies in Natalie’s use of the loophole provided by Nevada’s sanction of prostitution as a lawful activity.

For her part, the student called Natalie says we live in a capitalist society and she sees no reason not to capitalize on what the bordello where her deflowering is scheduled to occur (the Moonlite Bunny Ranch) calls a “priceless and rare commodity.”

At $3.5 million, the definition “priceless” may apply. In today’s America, despite Bush’s failed push for abstinence, most marriages occur between the sexually initiated, not virgins, so a beautiful 22-year-old virgin woman may, indeed, be rare as well.

The ones most likely to feel cheated, however, are those legions of mothers and grandmothers from past generations wherein the idea of a single woman losing her virginity and being paid for it was unthinkable! In their day, a single woman who had intercourse was someone to scorn, treat with shame, punish, not reward. These women did not guard their virginity because they didn’t have the same horny feelings as the women who followed them in the “free love” tradition, but because a women who married and who did not have her virginity to offer on the wedding night risked ruining her marriage and her life.

Now these same women wake up to a world where what they saved so guardedly and gave away so selflessly is actually worth millions of dollars in some quarters. Hell, if they had known that, they might have tried to hawk their maidenheads too!

Natalie Dylan brings new meaning to the old adage from Britain's Thomas Tusser that, “ A fool and his money are soon parted.” Mostly, however, Dylan’s story underscores the accurate observation—often attributed to P.T. Barnum-- that there is a sucker born every minute.
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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