Thursday, October 29, 2009

$2.19 a Gallon

That's what I paid for a gallon of milk at Kroger last week.

And that is very wrong. That's probably the same (maybe less) than what we as Americans were paying in the 1980s.

Have you been paying attention? Do you have any idea what has been going on with the price of milk over the course of the last year or so? The market has crashed and now family farmers across the country are getting burned.

It's a big fat complicated issue and I hope to return to it and fill in the blanks for you, especially since I spent a fair amount of time in August talking to struggling farmers.

Here's a bit more (very basic) information on the matter and what is being done to help farmers.

And yes, they do need a stimulus; we need them to receive some kind of financial help. Maintaining the American agricultural industry should be a priority for all Americans. After all, do you want to be drinking milk from China? Because I can say with absolute certainty that I do not.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Getting All Worked Up ... Over Yard Signs

This article was originally written in the spring of 2008, just as the presidential primaries were heating up. This article, in print in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer, prompted me to post it. (For some reason, the article seems to be available online only at

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. I think most people would categorize it as an argument.

*Jane* lives down the street from me, on the same cul-de-sac, in a 65-house subdivision within the 275 loop.

Jane shared with me that she and another neighbor had recently had a conversation in which they agreed that they hoped this year the no-political-signs rule would be enforced, because all those signs make the neighborhood look “cluttered and trashy.”


Needless to say, this is a subject on which Jane and I do not share a common opinion.

Yes, I knew there were so-called “protective” covenants when I moved here. And I expressed my concerns to my husband. I believe I said “I hope no one tries to tell me what color I can or cannot paint my front door, ‘cause baby, that ain’t gonna fly.”

What I didn’t know was that I was moving into Stepford.

Proponents of Homeowners Associations (HOAs) say they exist to protect and even increase the property values of all residents. On an intellectual level I sort of get that. But in practice many of the rules seem rather petty. Some seem overly intrusive or invasive. And some seem like they should be illegal.

I should have been able to foresee the unhappiness I, a dyed-in-the-wool, independent-minded, life-long New Yorker, would face living somewhere where the few people who attend the annual HOA meeting work really hard to get a by-law passed that would require all homeowners to purchase identical $400 mailboxes.

I did a little research to see what other people have to say about their associations. Some people love them. Little wonder, others hate them.

Some association covenants forbid satellite TV dishes. Some forbid birdfeeders.

One family I read about was contacted by their HOA and told that their dog’s crate (kept in their house) was not an “approved” crate. If they didn’t get an approved crate, they would be fined $50 each time someone from the HOA saw the crate? So how did the HOA learn of the nonconformance? The family’s neighbors explained that HOA members routinely walk the neighborhood looking into people’s windows.

My friend Marj’s HOA requires that she bring the morning paper (yes, she goes old school, reading her news in print form) in no later than 8 a.m. or face a fine. Always the contrarian, she fought back, albeit in a rather passive-aggressive manner: Marj collected a week’s worth of papers and hung them from the tree in her front yard, fine-be-damned.

And then there are the ever popular anti-clothesline rules, seemingly some of the most common rules out there in association-land.

Last year in my neighborhood, the children of one family planted a few (maybe five?)
stalks of corn in the front yard. I must have walked my dog past that yard 100 times that summer. I thought the corn was cool. So did Tracy, my friend who lived directly across the street from the supposed eyesore. Come time for the annual meeting however and the corn was all the buzz.

One woman, so incensed by such a tacky sight, cited the following rule: “No fence or wall of any kind, specifically including the use of hedge or other growing plants as a fence, shall be erected.”

A fence? Really? Maybe if something else was getting erected at home, she wouldn’t be such a petty bitch.

To this day I find it incredible that someone could get so worked up over … corn.

In another part of the country and during that region’s drought, one village restricted lawn watering. Violators could face a $250 fine issued by the local police department. But residents who abided by the law were issued fines of $100 by their HOA because the lawns were turning an unsightly yellow color. And therefore, I guess, lowering property taxes …

Another “green” issue arose in Scarsdale, NY when a neighborhood group attempted to block the installation of solar panels on a home. The group argued the panels “would clearly be an eyesore in our lovely neighborhood.” The owners won the right to install the panels after they went to court to fight the foolishness.

One home in Virginia had really nice landscaping, so nice it won a citywide home beautification award. A nice plaque touting the accomplishment was given to the winner to display in the yard for 30 days. The homeowners association found a rule that no signs were permitted in the yards except real estate signs. The homeowner was forced to remove the plaque.

Which brings me back to my political-sign discourse. This is what my covenants state: “No sign of any kind shall be displayed to the public view on any lot except one professional sign … advertising the property for sale or rent.”

I yelled at Jane, or so she recalls, arguing that such a rule is unequivocally
illegal. I don’t care about the rules, because the First Amendment, the No. 1 rule in the United States, obviously supersedes our neighborhood rules, I ranted. There have been several lawsuits throughout the country concerning this very issue, one right in Mariemont as a matter of fact, and my right to express myself politically through an 18 inch-by-12 inch sign will win out.

I felt very smug knowing my first amendment law so well.

But then I researched online – I wanted to have all my ducks in a row should I need to wage battle to ensure the freedom to post signs in my yard. And I found out, through that the First Amendment “generally protects people only from government interference with speech.”

Apparently, I really did forfeit my rights when I signed on the dotted line.

After thinking long and hard, I cannot fathom that Americans would begrudge their fellow countrymen the right to post a political yard sign. I don’t think it will be enforced in my neighborhood. I’m hoping it won’t be enforced.

And if it is enforced, sure, I’ll push back – it’s in my blood; I can’t help myself.

But first I appeal to everyone out there: Do you really want to be the king of people, the kind of society that would willingly and wantonly prohibit the exercise of free speech, that tenet that out democracy is based upon?

Whatever your reasoning, please think before you answer. You never know when you might need to take a stand.

*Jane is a pseudonym meant to protect me from my friend’s wrath should she stumble upon this article.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Creation Museum: Whole Lot of Hooey Going On or Beacon of Support in Uncertain Times?

The Creation Museum, located in Petersburg, Ky., attracts a lot of attention. Some people think it’s all a lot of hooey while others look to it as a beacon of support in uncertain times. I fall firmly into the first group. But still I couldn’t help but wonder, what goes on there, what exactly is the message, and is there anything for me there? So I decided to explore. And while I might not have had any life changing revelations, I might have learned a thing or two …

I really didn’t think I’d ever go to the Creation Museum. In fact, I’d spent the last few years avoiding it, the way I avoid crazy people in public places. But at the same time I was curious. Didn’t I need to know what was going on there? Didn’t I need to know what crazy lies and twisted half truths were being promoted in an effort to discredit the obvious and reasonable truths set forth by science? And with that mentality in hand (it’s the same reasoning I use to justify why I listen to people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the radio – I like to keep up to date on the idiotic things they say), I set off to visit the roughly two-year-old Evangelical theme park.

What I knew about the center before I got there was fairly limited. I didn’t want any significant research to taint my first impressions. What I did know was that there would be dinosaurs. A lot of dinosaurs. My longtime friend Mike, an atheist of the first degree, had often pontificated on the ridiculousness of museum creator Ken Ham’s insistence that man and dinosaur not only existed together but that man had domesticated and used dinosaurs as beasts of burden. (Ham, an Australian, is also the founder and president of the fundamentalist Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis.) Mike had – more more than once – proclaimed that the strong emphasis on dinosaurs by Ham and company was merely a ruse to engage children in the cult of creationism. Mike was never quite sure if this qualified as a stroke of brilliance or an act of malfeasance.

I also knew that the Creation Museum purported to attract visitors from not only throughout the nation but also throughout the world. How Ham decided on rural Kentucky as the perfect destination for this life affirming center is a mystery to me. Yes, despite living in the Tri-state area for nearly six years, I’ll admit it: I still hold in my mind a somewhat unflattering image of Kentuckians as hillbilly rubes. So, maybe based on that impression, I should be able to understand why Ham chose Kentucky. But logically, Kentucky seems so far from anywhere. Ham explained to an Australian reporter in 2007 that "Australia's not really the place to build such a facility if you're going to reach the world. Really,” he said, “America is." Ham says that two-thirds of the American population live within 600 miles of Petersburg, and I say, really? Are you sure you’re not making that up? And still 600 miles is a pretty long drive – the better part of 10 hours in the car, most likely with tired, cranky children.

Plus, once you get here, what else are you going to do? To my knowledge, there aren’t a great many family-friendly attractions in the area. There are some ramshackle farms and maybe an Amish market or two if you’re willing to look. But I’m guessing visitors to the Creation Museum might not be the types to rush over and spend a day at Kings Island. And anyone moderately well acquainted with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden knows there’s a pretty solid educational focus on evolution there.

So I guess what I’m saying is that patrons of the Creation Museum have to really want to go there, and I guess what I’m asking is does anyone else, anyone who is a non-believer in what Ham calls “creation science,” have a reason to go?

Bright and early on a Saturday morning, I hopped in the car and made the relatively effortless ride to Petersburg. I was greeted at the entrance to the museum center by a large metal dinosaur mounted to the front gate. Once I parked and headed into the museum – which was rather understated and unpretentious from the outside – I met two more dinosaurs, one of the wire holiday topiary variety (sorry, forgot that here the word “Christmas” is not the taboo it might be elsewhere), resplendent in green twinkly lights, and the other, a gentle giant – a brontosaurus, maybe constructed of concrete, maybe of fiberglass.

I mosey on in and plop down my $22.95 admission, and I quickly think something must be up. The largely volunteer staff must be able to identify the stink of a sinner on me. I mean, the man to my left at the ticket booth is welcomed with a hearty and heartfelt “God bless and have a blessed day,” while my sales clerk merely looks at me with disdain. She literally looks down her nose at me and barely speaks to me. Hmm, I wonder, surely I can’t have offended anyone already. I’m dressed rather conservatively, in jeans and a blouse, and I’m not sporting any tattoos or pentagrams. I choose to chalk it up to the fact that she must be having a bad day.

Oh, and those staffers? Each must supply a written statement of his or her testimony – a statement of what he or she believes regarding creation – and all must sign documents confirming they have read and can sipport the very long Answers in Genesis statement of faith before they can be hired. How's that for pre-employment vetting?

With tickets in hand, guests funnel into the museum by way of a green screen, which I deftly avoid. Had I been in the proper spirit, I could have taken home with me a souvenir photo of myself in the Garden of Eden, frolicking with the dinosaurs. I’m wondering if the Mennonite family in front of me, women in dowdy long dresses and wearing traditional white bonnets, men and boys in more contemporary clothing, are likely to purchase their photos. I also wonder if the pink flip-flops one Mennonite teen wears beneath her floral calico dress are sanctioned.

At last, I enter the museum itself. But am I’m immediately disappointed to learn there are no guides here; touring the Creation Museum is a self-guided experience, which is contrary to my expectations. I was expecting a heavy sell, full of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

Sure, my expectations in that regard turned out to be antithetical to reality. Not antithetical to my expectations, however, was the first exhibit, a scene I am sure I both scoffed and smirked at. For what to my wandering eyes should appear but a model of a small child, clad in animal skins, lying on the edge of a lake and playing with a squirrel under the shadow of not one, but two friendly dinosaurs that seem to watch protectively over him. Um, yeah, not buying it.

Now that the kids are hooked (“Mommy, mommy! Look. At. The. Dinosaurs!”), the next exhibit aims to set up the so-called scientific basis for creationism. The Grand Canyon, the exhibit emphatically promotes, was created in just four hours. Nope, not over the tens of thousands of years mainstream scientists suggest. And the fossils of dinosaurs? About 4,300 years old. They have to be, because the Earth, the moon, the stars, the universe – nothing is older than 4,300 years, and it was all created in just six 24-hour days. The book of Genesis says man and all living creatures of the earth were created by God on the sixth day. So it’s critical the museum takes a strong stance in promoting that man and dinosaurs coexisted.

“We all have the same facts. We just interpret them differently,” says Ham. It's the cruxt of creationism and it’s a point reinforced repeatedly through the museum. Believers believe in a very literal interpretation of the bible. I may have been raised with some foundation of religion in my family life, but I adapted more easily and willingly to a belief system based on science. And I say the belief that the Earth is only 4,300 years old is hooey. Neither do believers in creationism accept that the dozens of species of finches that exist are the result of evolution, nor the hundreds of breeds of dogs. No, God created them all, each and every one. He likes variety. And bacteria and DNA? Too complicated for science to effectively explain. A higher power must have had a hand in it. Also hooey, I say. Fortunately for me, I’m not the only one saying that.

“Faith is one thing,” Mark Terry, a high school science teacher from Seattle and one of 72 paleontologists who visited the museum as a group in May, told the Associated Press. “But when it comes to their science statements, they’re completely off the wall.” Another of the attendees, Derek Briggs, a Yale University paleontologist said “It’s like a theme park, but the problem is it masquerades as truth.”

Generally speaking, the vast majority of scientists accept that Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, and that dinosaurs were extinct more than 65 million years before humans as they are known to be in relative “modern times” came to exist.

More than 800 of those scientists, all presiding from universities in the states closest to the museum, have signed a statement debunking the so-called facts sprinkled on signage under the legs of dinosaurs and next to dioramas of Noah’s Ark. “We … are concerned about scientifically inaccurate materials at the Answers in Genesis museum,” the document reads. “Students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level. These students will need remedial instruction in the nature of science, as well as in the specific areas of science misrepresented by Answers in Genesis.”

I could go on with additional citations, but instead let’s just concede that within the scientific community there is significant opposition to the teachings of the museum.

As I move into successive rooms and exhibits, the tone begins to change: It becomes noticeably darker. There’s an emphasis on the degeneration of, well, civilization, I guess, as a result of man’s corruption of the word of God. And of course that all begins with the decision by Adam and Eve to forgo God’s word and eat from the tree. Before original sin, there was no aging (I guess without original sin there would be no Olay products?), no carnivores, no disease, no death, no natural catastrophe, no weeds, no burdensome work, no suffering … It does sound nice, idyllic, utopian.

But to show us all just how far man has fallen, the exhibits turn into room after room of wall-sized black and white photos that depict pain, death and suffering. Video shorts show a teenage girl crying on the phone to a Planned Parenthood employee about the results of a recent pregnancy test, a teenage boy partaking in Internet pornography and other youths mocking their church. Signs populate any available wall space in these areas, proclaiming “over 1.1 million marriages end in divorce in the U.S. each year,” “a person’s average first exposure to pornography is at age 11,” and “the average parent spends less than 30 minutes a day with their children.”

And? And I’ll take my faux science with a side of moral proselytizing, please.

I began to wonder, who are all these people here? Can they really all believe what this museum is presenting is the factual, historical truth? I look around. For the most part the people don’t look like freaks or googly-eyed morons. There are, as I mentioned, a good number of Mennonites out and about, sporting their Saturday finest. Several large groups, each sporting matching T-shirts – Mayfield Community Church, Boomerang Bible Camp – “Because the word of God comes back to you.” – move raptly from one exhibit to the next. A lot of people look like, well, me, or maybe my aunt or my neighbor. Everyone looks pretty normal. But yet there is something slightly abnormal about this scene, and it takes me a minute to put my finger on it. Then I figure it out: This is the quietest place on earth.

There’s no ruckus – despite all the children—no calamity, no loud noises or sudden movements. It’s like everyone here is using his or her inside voice – there’s barely a whisper. And when I really get in close and observe, I see people in what looks like deep prayer, silent reverie. One woman stands before a display that recounts all the ways God’s word has triumphed over corruption. Her right arm is folded into her chest; her left hand covers her mouth. She looks as if she is holding back tears, tears for the beauty and truth and reassurance she finds here. Three teens stand before a wall upon which headlines of the day have been pasted: “Just another school shooting,” “The battle over stem cells,” “What is marriage?” They contemplate. One boy turns around. When he sees me he says, “It’s kind of neat, isn’t it?” Two children play in a fountain, while their mothers solemnly read about the “judgment of the whole world.”

As I finish my tour, as I pass through the requisite gift shop and the cleanest, best smelling public restroom I’ve ever encountered, I come to a conclusion. It becomes obvious, in fact: This museum was built with the express purpose of giving creationists ammunition with which to defend their faith (however preposterous some of that ammunition may seem to mainstream America).
And there really is no one else here like me. These people truly are believers. And while all the fancy animatronics and professional quality videos and films were unlikely to sway me, that’s all right, because that is not the intention of the Creation Museum. Turns out it’s neither for nor about me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The 8th Anniversary -- Share Something Relevant

I feel I’ve kept this account of September 11, 2001 and my ensuing experiences and feelings fairly unemotional. I’m still afraid to really let go for fear of what doing so could do for my psyche. Tuesday night my husband, Jay, went to bed angry, depressed and grieving after he watched a television documentary about Sept. 11. I felt for him, but I’m, let’s say, very protective of my mental health. I proceeded to block it out by watching meaningless reality (ha!) television. But then, this morning when I realized I’d need to do at least a little bit of research in order to write this, I found tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Then, tears falling as navigated page after page of timelines on the Internet. I had to step away from the computer. I wiped tears away with the back of my hand. I sniffled, in hopes of holding back the sorrow that still lingers and will live just below the surface of my psyche forever. It didn’t work.


One of the things that sticks out most in my mind about that day is the sky. I remember thinking I had never seen a sky so blue, so beautiful, so perfect. In fact, it should have been a beautiful day all around. It was one of those crisp but exceptional September days with which New York is occasionally blessed. I think now that somehow it seems terribly wrong that something so horrific, so tragic should happen on a day like this.

The day started off like any other. I was at work early, preparing for the day when shortly before 9 a.m. Jay, somewhat uncharacteristically, called. “Have you heard what's happened?” he said. I asked him to hold on as a colleague was waiting to be let in.

As the front door clattered and clanked its way open, Greg said, “I just heard on the radio; there’s been a plane crash.”

I rushed back to the phone. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, Jay told me. (8:45 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11, departing Boston, bound for Los Angeles)

I had a hard time processing the news – I didn’t understand. I assumed it had been a small plane and that its crash had been an accident. But how could a plane be so off course, I wondered out loud. No, he said, the plane was a jet.

He watched and provided play by play over the phone as the unimaginable happened. “Oh my god,” Jay said. “Another plane just crashed into it,” he said, watching it unfold live on television, narrated by a bewildered Matt Lauer. (9:02 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175, departing Boston, bound for Los Angeles)

The wheels and gears in my brain turned and I began to understand that this was not an accident.

Greg and I ran to a nearby electronics store. We assumed that with a wall full of televisions we’d surely be able to gain a better handle on what was happening. Closed circuit programming, however, meant we left with a poor quality transistor radio in hand.

We tuned into AM radio in time to hear the news that a third plane had crashed, this one into the Pentagon. (9:40 a.m., American Airlines, Flight 77, departing Washington DC, bound for Los Angeles)

Less than 15 minutes later, Tower 2 collapsed (9:59 a.m.).

And chaos ensued. I will never be able to imagine the fear and terror felt by the people who were trapped, those who ran, clawed, tripped, staggered and prayed for their lives as they tried to escape, down narrow, dark, ashy, crowded stairways. (And I know I will never be able to live up to the heroics of those who helped others to escape, those who ran into a dying building to save lives, those who gave up their lives willingly so as to prevent even greater bloodshed.)

In Tower 1 people resorted to leaping to their deaths from the windows of New York’s tallest building, presuming the alternative to be worse fate.

A few short minutes later there was one final plane crash – a plane crashed into a field somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. (10:07 a.m., United Airlines flight 93, departing Newark, bound for San Francisco)

Of course I didn’t know it was the final crash. I feared the attack would be ongoing attack. I didn’t know if it would end.

At 10:10 a.m. part of the Pentagon collapsed, and Tower 1 collapsed at 10:28 a.m.

The Tri-State area – Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Westchester and then some – shut down completely; stores and businesses closed their doors; parents were directed to retrieve their children from school; buses, trains and bridges shut down. Airports had already been evacuated.

And it all happened beneath a beautiful blue sky.

My world was shaken.

From my vantage point 25 miles north of Manhattan the sky remained blue, into the afternoon and then into the evening, making a picture perfect background for the fighter jets that would patrol far above.

When I arrived home around noon, having abandoned the work day, my sister Sonia met me in the backyard. Wordlessly, we hugged each other, tears coming too easily, grateful for our personal safety and the comfort of being able to be with family but still scared and unsure of what was yet to come.

Jay wasn’t home, and I panicked for a moment trying to figure out where he could have gone. When finally he turned up, he said he had given blood. The newscasters, though, said blood probably wouldn’t be in great demand and that potential donors should wait for a formal request. (Estimated units of blood donated to the New York Blood Center: 36,000. Total units of donated blood actually used: 258)

A short time later, when the fighter jets flew overhead with their high-decibel rumble, I was unsure whether I felt any safer, any more secure.

We gathered with friends and neighbors, taking to the streets and looking for reassurance that everything would be OK.

Eventually day turned into night and the taunting blue sky faded to black.

Sonia stayed the night, not wanting to spend it alone in her apartment. The images on the television – we were transfixed – portrayed an event of apocalyptic proportions. Late into the night we watched as New Yorkers escaping the city by foot, over any bridge or road possible, filled the flickering screen. We watched as cameras recorded pictures of dark, dusty streets, streets eerily quiet except for a faint but persistent and overlapping beeping sound.

(I learned weeks later that the beeping came from personal alert safety devices worn by firefighters, devices that sound automatically if a firefighter “ceases to move for more than 30 seconds,” according to, an online resource for rescue workers.)

The days, weeks and even years that followed passed in a blur for the zombies left in the wake of the tragedy.


Eight years after Sept. 11, there are many incidents and instances, many people and many statistics that I still recall, that still cross my mind from time to time.

Before Sept. 11, foreign attacks didn’t happen on American soil – the 1993 garage bombing of the WTC was the exception to which we should have paid more attention. Up to that point all I knew about war, about terrorism, came from the nightly news and took place in far off lands. Images of Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war years lingered in my mind. Soon I would see on the cover of every newspaper, tabloid and magazine, and on every single news broadcast, images of America’s greatest city in tatters. My innocence and the inherent security I felt as an American is gone. I knew: It can happen here.

The potential number of casualties was debated repeatedly in the days following the attacks (some debate still remains); many sources estimated numbers greater than 5,000. There was a concern the city would not have enough body bags to accommodate the dead.

Ultimately, almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day. I say almost because to this day the exact number is still uncertain. (Bodies found “intact”: 289; Number of victims positively identified: 1,527)

Posters of the missing clung to any available scaffolding. Memorial candles burned in the streets on the fringes of the financial district. It seemed there were miles and miles of hand and computer made pleadings touting the lost and begging for help in finding them. The news showed mothers, fathers, spouses wandering dazed and confused through the streets hoping to find …? Could they be so hopeful as to believe their loved one was still alive?

By the end of the first week those people who had remained in the city, determined to not “let terrorists win,” sought escape. My sister Jill, a Manhattanite and singer who had performed at the Greatest Bar on Earth, inside Windows on the World, in the hours when Monday, Sept. 10 became Tuesday, Sept. 11, called to ask if she and a friend could come for the weekend. The smell of death, she said, had become too much to bear. Her complaint had been a common one among survivors.

The media shared images of Arabs, dancing in the streets of their native lands, reveling in the destruction of America, pleased that it was our turn to learn what it is like to like in a war zone, that America was not invincible.

And of course, unfortunately, Americans lashed out. Number of hate crimes
reported to the Council on American-Islamic Relations nationwide in the year following Sept. 11: 1,714.
The man who worked at the gas and convenience mart down the street, Mohammed, I think he was from Pakistan, was sincerely one of the nicest and most caring and soft-spoken people I’d ever had the pleasure to know. The look of pain and sorrow on his face in the weeks after Sept. 11 broke my heart. After Sept. 11 he looked broken, like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I still think of him often.

Dan Rather broke down on the set of David Letterman in front of a live audience and openly wept. Some cheered the moment as a human and patriotic while others thought a man in his position should show complete impartiality always. The incident set off debates about whether it was acceptable for news people to wear the then-popular flag pins. ABC went as far as to forbid their people from wearing the pins. Spokesman Jeffrey Schneider told the Washington Post, "Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible ... That does not mean journalists are not patriots. All of us are at a time like this. But we cannot signal how we feel about a cause, even a justified and just cause, through some sort of outward symbol."

And the country was on high alert. In the area I lived in that meant that bridges and parks over and surrounding reservoirs were closed to the public out of fear of possible biological attacks. All cars entering local airports were searched by armed National Guardsmen. And due to the fact that we lived only seven miles from Indian Point nuclear power plant, everyone had an emergency evacuation plan should the plant be targeted. Our plan was to drive east as long and far as we could and hope for the best; driving north would take us closer, and the roads and bridges running south and west would be so clogged in an emergency that surely there would be no realistic chance for escape and survival. An evacuation plan is one thing I haven’t felt I’ve needed since I moved to Ohio in 2003. It’s also one of the reasons I was so quick to accept that impending move.

My husband has a personal policy: He won’t fly on Sept. 11. Not ever. If business demands he be somewhere other than home on Sept. 11, he’ll fly the day before or drive. He doesn’t do this out of fear or superstition. He does it in deference to those who died, a ritual of sorts.

Statistics suggest 20 percent of Americans knew someone hurt or killed in the attacks. My husband and I both went to Pace University in Westchester County, N.Y., well known as a business school, churning out finance professionals by the thousands. We don’t know that we know anyone who died in the attacks. But neither do we know that we don’t. Got it?

The way he handled the days, weeks and months following the attacks made me a Rudy Giuliani fan for life. The man showed grace, class and compassion. In 2001 he attended 200 funerals related to Sept. 11.

The Clear Channel Radio group deemed 150 songs “inappropriate” to play in the days immediately following the attacks. One radio show openly discussed the list. I still have a hard time understanding why Everclear’s “Santa Monica” made that list. Must be just four words from the chorus: “watch the world die.”

In the first year after Sept. 11 more than 422,000 New Yorkers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. An August 2009 USA Today article stated that 10 percent of those people are still suffering.

A photo of United 174 slamming into Tower 2 was everywhere and the video was replayed over and over. In short order, I had had enough. I couldn’t watch it any more. This singular moment in history meant too much to America for the incessant, gratuitous coverage it received and for it to be reduced to an overwrought pop culture clip. I feared, should its exploitation continue, the image would lose its meaning, that we as Americans would become desensitized to its significance. I still fear this, and I still avoid it. I don’t want to be desensitized. It means something to me.


And here’s where I plead. Because I think maybe, over these eight long years, we have become desensitized.

Sure, the eighth anniversary will make the news. You’ll remember it, you’ll be sad, you’ll be respectful. At least for a few minutes (I hope).

But that’s not enough.

My friend Joe agrees. “I think it sucks that ‘never forget’ has been reduced to 1 day a year,” he said in a recent Facebook post. “I suggest that instead of thinking about that day, we think about the names. I’ll give you three: James ‘J.J.’ Carson, John ‘Ice-man’ Murray, Joshua S. Vitale.

“It ain't just a bumper sticker,” Joe continued. “Honestly, as cool as this Facebook thing is, I don't give a fuck what you had for breakfast. Put the mouse down and get on with your day. You are sitting at Penn Station and need us all to know that you are bored? No. Stop. And you know who you are. Use this medium to share something relevant.”sitting at Penn St. and need us all to know that you are bored? No. Stop. And you know who you are. Use this medium to share something sitting at Penn St. and need us all to know that you are bored? No. Stop. And you know who you are. Use this medium to share something relevant.tale. And we all know too many.

Tell me what this day means to you. Tell me what you carry with you. Tell someone else. Tell the world.

Share something relevant.


Take a moment to learn about a few of the people lost to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, like:

Joseph Agnello
Jeannine Marie Damiani-Jones
Jamie Lynn Fallon
Juan Garcia
Rodney Gillis
Stephen G. Hoffman
John Ogonowski
Robert Penninger
Waleska Martinez Rivera
Timothy Ray Ward

More at:

Timeline data from
Statistics and figures from

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Decision to Release Convicted Lockerbie Bomber Is Wrong

Last week Scottish officials released Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on "compassionate grounds." Al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing (co-defendant Lamin Khalifah Fhimah was found not guilty), has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been sent back to his native Libya to live out his final days with his family (90 days, according to Scottish sources).

I've disagreed with the the idea that this man could be released all along. In fact, on Aug. 20 I posted this to my Twitter account:

"Libyan terrorist receives hero's welcome in Tripoli? What the hell were the Scottish thinking? He deserves no compassion."

In response to my tweet, a friend sent me the link to this video:

I think perhaps he thought my tweet expressed that I was unaware of the circumstances of the release. I was not unaware. And while I generally commend persons throughout the world for various acts that demonstrate compassion toward others, even I, a New York liberal at heart, am not that liberal. I find Scotland's decision to be shocking, disappointing and wrong.

270 people lost their lives as a result of the bombing, 180 of them Americans, 35 of them students at Syracuse University.

Mark Caccavo, of New York City, was a student at Syracuse at the time. He knew 23 of the 35 students who died that day, including one he describes as a very close friend and fraternity brother.

"There were 25 people silent around the television, just watching the list of names of people who were checked in on the plane," Caccavo recalled.

Silent that is, until one fraternity brother entered, excited, his spirits high. Turns out he too was returning from a semester abroad in England and was scheduled to fly on Pan Am 103. But he caught an earlier flight in hopes of attending a big party scheduled for that night. His flight landed, he collected his luggage, rented a car and never once turned on the radio. Until he entered the fraternity house, he was completely unaware of the tragedy that had befallen his friends, classmates and so many others.

The days that followed were a blur of tears, prayer and funerals. Caccavo attended as many of the funerals as he could.

"There is nothing more heartbreaking, more heartwrenching than having a parent give a child's eulogy," he said.

Of the decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, Caccavo said he'd prefer to see him die in jail.

"My friends are all very, very angry, and it's like all the feelings you had on that fateful day were just brought back to the surface,"he said. "The families have had to live with this horrible, horrible timeline -- It took 13 years for them to get any justice, [al-Megrahi's] only been [imprisoned] for seven years, and now he's free. I feel a great anger about that. It's such an injustice."

Caccavo also said he'd like to see [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown renounce the decision or face repercussions for his failure to intervene or influence the Scottish decision.

Unfortunately, that's unlikely. Brown has washed his hands of the matter. He stated publicly that he is "repulsed"by the hero's welcome al-Megrahi received in Libya, but that the decision to release al-Megrahi was that soley of the Scottish government.

Critics, however, counter that Brown is being disingenuous at best and at worst is flat out lying. Critics say the Scottish parliment is not entirely independent of the British parliment and that Brown could have stopped the release.

But what's done is done, and in this case the Scottish have made a decision that will continue to bring pain and outrage to the families, friends and countrymen of those lost in the bombing of Pan Am 103. There truly is no justice here.


*Up next: Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will be staying in the U.S. in September, as he will at that time address the United Nations. It was rumored he would be pitching his tent (Bedouin style) in Englewood, N.J.

It has been confirmed he will not be staying in New Jersey after all. But Qaddafi will still be on American soil, location currently unknown.

It's a shame, really. This would be a fine time for the United States to draw a line in the sand.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

U.S. Bank to exit the federal student loan business

In light of the revelation that U.S. Bank will exit the business of federally subsidized student loans, I thought it timely to post two very relevant stories I wrote a while back:

Audit: Fifth Third Violated Federal Loan Laws
Bank denies charges, points to changes in legal interpretation
Kristy Conlin The News Record
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank is under fire for violating federal laws prohibiting the use of financial incentives to market and secure federal student loans, according to a report that comes as the result of an audit conducted by the U.S. Education Department’s Inspector General.

Representatives for Fifth Third deny any laws were violated and instead insist the transactions in question, which involve student loan originators MSA Solution, Pacific Loan Processing and Law School Financial, were for the transfer of loans, not the marketing or solicitation of loans. According to Fifth Third, the buying and selling of existing loans is a common practice.

The Education Department is recommending disciplinary action against Fifth Third. Such action could include fines, removal of federal guarantees for the loans or removal of Fifth Third from the federal loan program.

(Read the full article here or here.)

Tuition rises, loan limits idle

Kristy Conlin The News Record
Published: Thursday, May 8, 2008

The student loan market is getting harder to navigate, thanks in part to the decision by some lenders to get out of the student loan business in addition to the growth of the alternative loan market.

Alternative loans (sometimes referred to as private loans) have risen in popularity in the last seven years and often come into play when there is a gap between educational costs and traditional financial aid.

The cost of tuition nationwide has increased 30 percent in the last five years, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The limit for freshmen borrowing via federally funded loans, however, is about the same as in the 1980s, according to Connie Williams, director of student financial aid at the University of Cincinnati.

"The lending industry saw a market there," Williams said. "We do have students who have larger loans, especially in their senior year when they've used all their federal grants."

(Read the full article here or here.)

*My take: First of all, I'm surprised this story is about U.S. Bank and not Fifth Third. I think U.S. Bank's explanation, as reported in Cliff Peale's article, is disingenuous at best. Of course they'd prefer to move to the private loan business - what banker truly wouldn't want to? Doing so allows for big interest dollars in the highly lucrative private/alternative student loan business. In any event this is bad news for students, students in the Tri-State area and across the country.

*Note to big time media: This story isn't over. The surface has only been scratched. You all have some digging to do.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Much ado about nothing?

Seems this cartoon is causing a bit of a flap, especially for members and representatives of the National Organization of Women. (Thanks to Daryl Cagle and Rob Tornoe for putting the cartoon, along with commentary, on their Web site. Click here to check it out). The cartoon, by Bill Bramhall, was printed in the New York Daily News (maybe my favorite newspaper ever).

So, as you can likely figure out, the gist of the complaint is that the cartoon is sexist, as it depicts efforts by numerous people to silence Gillibrand using any means possible from corks to socks to gags to "the hook."

Bramhall says the cartoon is an editorial on the predilection of some of our esteemed senators to use more speaking time on the floor than they are are allotted. Plus, Gillibrand has apparently made something of a habit of this practice. Her failure to wrap it up in a timely manner during the Sotomayor hearings ultimately was the genesis, according to Bramhill, for the cartoon.

Marcia Pappas, NOW-NYS president, disagrees. She suggests the cartoon is one more example of a patronizing patriarchy in which women are told to "sit down and shut up."

At this point I think her perspective is a bit over the top. Heartfelt, I'm sure, but a little too politically correct, especially when taken in the context the cartoon's creator describes.
Pappas really loses me though when she goes full on crazy. That's the only way this statement can be explained: “Bramhall’s phallic symbols send a clear message that women are good for only one thing."

Call me crazy, but you have to really be looking for those so-called phallic symbols to see them.

It's not easy for me to say she's wrong about this. But she is.

I admire Pappas' efforts to defend women. I consider myself to be a feminist and I see sexism in a lot of places - women's pay vs. men's and the political status and perception of women are the two areas that cause me the greatest distress. (I'm still not over the GLARING mistreatment Hillary Clinton received during last year's primary campaign). But still ...

Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon.