Monday, May 17, 2010

There is no Honor Here: What Rambo Taught us About Afghanistan

by Meg White

If I could add one war movie to the White House movie theater collection, it'd be Rambo: First Blood Part III

Over the weekend, my boyfriend and I spent 102 minutes of our lives watching the final installment in the Ramborambo 3 trilogy. Instead of what I expected -- an adrenaline-soaked, action spectacular from my embarrassingly short-sighted but thoroughly patriotic countrymen -- I got an incredibly prescient lesson in power and terror.

At the time of its release in 1988, Rambo III was widely panned. Not only is it pretty corny, but audiences must have thought that the way Russians were portrayed -- like stupid, sadistic drones -- seemed anachronistic by the late 1980s. Perestroika was already in place and the film was released some 17 months before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Back then, the film must have looked like an artifact of a bygone era. Watching it now, it seems like a bizarre back-to-the-future exercise.

The plot is basically this: Vietnam vet John Rambo -- after fighting to restore his good name against a fascist small-town cop in First Blood and saving stranded American veterans from the Viet Cong years after the police action there ended in Rambo: First Blood Part II -- has settled into the life of a handyman/weekend warrior in a Thai monastery. He's approached by his former commanding officer, Colonel Trautman, and asked if he wants to go to Afghanistan and help the freedom fighters (or mujahideen) fend off the Russian invasion there. Rambo refuses, but after Trautman is captured, Rambo volunteers to go save his former mentor from the Russians.

All of the sudden, Rambo is fighting Charlie Wilson's war. Perhaps the most instructive piece of this movie comes when viewed as part of a trilogy. The first two Rambo movies operate with a subtext that is a mixture of American shame and defensiveness in the wake of the war in Vietnam. Rambo twice plays the part of an abandoned killing machine, eventually redeeming himself and allowing the soldier (and by extension, his country) to return to the realm of humanity.

By the time Rambo III rolls around, we're lording our newly rediscovered humanity over the godless Russians. "Someday you'll understand," we say to them, shaking our heads and half smiling. But, as my boyfriend glumly quipped during our screening this weekend, "We are the Russians now."

Along the way, Rambo learns the bare minimum about Afghan culture, which is to say enough to know that the Russians were incredibly foolish to invade the country. His first lesson comes from his contact in the country, known as Mousa. As the two approach the mountainous Afghan border on horseback, Mousa gestures with a wide sweep and begins the lesson:

Mousa: This is Afghanistan. Alexander the Great tried to conquer this country. Then Genghis Khan. Then the British. Now the Russians. But Afghan people fight hard. They never be defeated. Ancient enemy make prayer about these people. You wish to hear?

Rambo: Uh-hm.

Mousa: Very good. It says, "May God deliver us from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger and the vengeance of the Afghan." You understand what this means?

Rambo: That you guys don't take any shit?

Lesson learned. But the Russians need a little help understanding their fate. In a scene just prior to Rambo's education on the futility of a war against the Afghan people, Trautman is trying to explain to his captor, Russian Colonel Zaysen, that his country is repeating the mistakes of the American military in East Asia (emphasis mine):

Trautman: The Kremlin's got a hell of a sense of humor.

Zaysen: Please explain.

Trautman:& You talk peace and disarmament to the world. Yet here you are, wiping out a race of people.

Zaysen: We are wiping out no one. I think you are too intelligent to believe such absurd propaganda...

Trautman: You expect sympathy? You started this damn war; now you have to deal with it. 

Zaysen: And we will. It is just a matter of time before we achieve complete victory.

Trautman: You know there won't be a victory. Every day your war machines lose ground to a bunch of poorly-armed, poorly-equipped freedom fighters. The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you'd studied your history you'd know that these people never given up to anyone. They'd rather die than be slaves to an invading army. You can't defeat a people like that. We tried. We already had our Vietnam. Now you're gonna have yours.

Just go back and reread that with U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal subbing in for the Zaysen character, and I think you'll get why Rambo III is somehow more painful than The Hurt Locker.

As if to underscore the similarities, Zaysen orders Trautman to be tortured, that they might determine just where those pesky stinger missiles are. Of course, torture only works to strengthen Trautman's resolve (and sharpen his sense of humor, as he tells Zaysen the missiles can be found in the Russian commander's behind. Hilarious).

The similarities even play out in language, in a way only American cinema can achieve. At one point, Zaysen asks of Rambo, "Who is this terrorist?" Little did the otherwise clunky screenwriters know that the Bush Administration would turn the tables on Rambo and his mujahideen friends some 15 years later. 

The concept of inequity of military strength is displayed when a Soviet fighter helicopter chases down Rambo and an Afghan fighter while they're on horseback. It's a sneak attack of sorts, and demonstrates the lack of sportsmanship on the part of the Soviets. Afterward, Masoud, whose character represents a mujahideen leader, says this to Rambo:

Now you see how it is here. Somewhere in a war there's supposed to be honor. Where's the honor here? Where?

I wouldn't be surprised if the same conversation could be heard today from Afghans and Pakistanis wondering about the honor of unmanned drone attacks.

Of course in the end, the Rambo terrorists -- I mean rebels -- win. Though movie-goers at the time saw Rambo and Trautman drive off into the sunset together, giggling about how they're too old for this crap, there was an alternate ending available to me as a DVD viewer. In it, Rambo decides to stay with his freedom fighter friends. 

"Does that mean Rambo joined up with the Taliban to fight us?" mused my boyfriend.

Both versions of the ending of Rambo III feature script that reads: "This film is dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan."

Gallant they are. But if the filmmakers were really looking out for the future of Afghanistan, they should have dedicated the movie to the future leaders of the United States.  


Originally published 2010-05-17

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Democratic Party Comes Clean With its Misogyny in its Latest Betrayal of Women and the Progressive Movement

by Meg White 

You'd think I'd have already learned my lesson during the healthcare debate. You know, the lesson that the Democratic Party will throw women's rights overboard at every opportunity?

Meet Connie Saltonstall, the woman who broke the camel's back for me. Or perhaps you remember her? She was responsible for getting the reprehensible Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) out of our hair by challenging his reelection from the left, until she was taken out by an increasingly misogynist Democratic Party. 

She recently dropped out of the primary race, and did not mince words in explaining why:

...the Michigan Democratic Party has preemptively anointed Gary McDowell as their Democratic candidate. They are replacing Bart Stupak with another Upper Peninsula, Anti-Choice, Anti-Women’s healthcare rights candidate. 

...I cannot support a party that endorses candidates who vote to restrict women’s legal rights and access to healthcare. It is time for Democrats to stop compromising on this issue.

The Michigan Democratic Party ignored the amazing response to Saltonstall's candidacy -- her proven and rapid ability to raise huge amounts of money and gain major endorsements -- and began grooming this McDowell character for Stupak's seat.

NARAL Pro-Choice America points out that McDowell showed his incredible hostility toward women when he "voted to ban a safe abortion method, without exceptions — even in the cases of rape, incest, or to protect the woman’s health." And Rh Reality Check asks this important question of the party:

McDowell, according to the Michigan Messenger, has been endorsed by the anti-choice organization, Right to Life, an extreme, conservative group. Which begs the question -- just where does the Michigan Democratic Party draw the line? They now support candidates who are not only extremely anti-choice but clearly extremely opposed to women's rights and autonomy.  

Back when I posed a question about Stupak's retirement and the Saltonstall challenge, BuzzFlash readers from all over the country were excited about the prospect of a real progressive running under the Democratic Party banner. After all, Stupak was basically hated on all sides, from conservatives who saw nothing but his ultimate compromise on healthcare to liberals who took in his continual assault on the women's health and the reform bill in general with growing disdain. 

Re-reading the comments on that piece now that Saltonstall has been forced out, it's easy to be depressed about the prospects of the progressive movement. One comment from BuzzFlash friend Ray Beckerman stings particularly badly:

It's great news, sends an important lesson to the other Blue Dogs. The progressives are beginning to fight back; we are going to take back the Democratic party.

In view of Stupak's leadership of antichoice anti-hcr Blue Dogs, it was especially important to make him pay a steep political price.

Ray Beckerman 

Now that "price" remains unpaid and the Blue Dogs' "lessons" unlearned. Furthermore, the promise of real change fades so much as to be indistinguishable from the rest of the bull being peddled by Democrats today.

I had a personal philosophy that buoyed me through the idea that the Democrats are going to lose a fair number of seats in this coming election. I figured that many of the most vulnerable Democrats were Blue Dogs, in trouble for the same reasons I highlighted above in my discussion of Stupak's viability as a candidate. So what if we lose the purple or red districts? Most of those positions are held by Democrats-in-name-only anyway. 

But the ouster of Saltonstall just illustrates that the Democratic Party is intent on abandoning almost all of the values I hold dear, in a doomed attempt to hold on to their congressional power. Even if they did hold onto the basic majorities that they now have, it's not like they'd do anything progressive with that power. 

I used to think women's rights were a secondary issue for Democrats. Now it appears that they aren't an issue for the party at all. I'm not the only one who's dismayed at this turn of events. At Salon's smart column on women's issues, Broadsheet, Anna Clark notes that this action bodes poorly for 2010 and the future of the party (emphasis mine):

...what is frightening is that Democratic leadership isn't even trying. We should be able to see in Stupak's legacy that the stakes are costly for putting up Democratic candidates who don’t support abortion as part of a spectrum of reproductive rights. Instead, party leadership has handed over the game to conservatives, presuming pro-choicers will vote Democrat anyway and that nobody who is not a Democrat thinks the right to privacy is a good idea. Such tactics smack of desperation: It seems that the Democratic Party wants to win just so it doesn’t lose, rather than because there is something worth fighting for.

I admit, I'm at something of a loss over what to conclude about this turn of events. As Saltonstall points out, this is part of "an aggressive movement across the country" and is far from an isolated action of political expediency.

So I guess I'll leave you with the final words from Saltonstall's withdrawal announcement and hope that this isn't the last we hear from her or the hundreds of progressives out there being quashed by the Democratic Party at every turn:

We were first in the race, raised more money than any other Democratic candidate to date, collected over 1500 petition signatures, put together a professional campaign team and a path to victory. Without the interference of the democratic leadership, we might just have won the election!


Friday, May 7, 2010

Joe Lieberman Should be Disbarred for His Disregard for the American Justice System (He's Lucky He Gets to Keep His Citizenship)

by Meg White

Quick. Someone strip Joe Lieberman of his citizenship before he causes actual damage to the country. Oh, wait. I forgot; we don't engage in that kind of Orwellian nonsense in this country.


You probably heard about the latest idea from the "independent" senator from Connecticut (who seems to be independent of nothing more than reality) to strip citizenship from people who are accused of having ties to terrorism. Somehow this incredibly stupid idea got codified into an actual bill, which was introduced yesterday. The fact that this knee-jerk response is now present in the Congressional Record is an anathema to our justice system.

Countless questions have been raised about this ridiculous notion advanced by Lieberman. Like, for one: "Why?"

After all, what good does this actually accomplish? The ability to try someone in a military tribunal comes easier when the accused is not a U.S. citizen, but then again, what's the problem with criminal court? And apparently the Miranda rights argument advanced by Lieberman is erroneous as well.

So why would a graduate of Yale Law, who should know better, introduce such a legally fraught, Draconian law?

Oh, of course! I should have known. Thanks for spelling this one out, Rep. Charlie Dent:

Stripping U.S. citizenship from terror suspects is not only the moral thing to do - it will make it easier to kill them, legislators argued Thursday.

"I suspect it would be easier to launch a Hellfire missile at a noncitizen than a citizen," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.). He rolled out a proposal with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and others giving the State Department power to yank the citizenship of Yanks who join up with Al Qaeda or similar groups.

Yeah, just killing U.S. citizens whom the State Department suspects of having terrorist ties would be wrong. Instead, we should strip them of their citizenship then bomb them to smithereens. Neat and tidy.

But here's another nagging question: What if they're wrongfully accused? After all, it's happened before. Richard Jewell, anyone?

Of course, Lieberman probably has no interest in stripping citizenship from white Christians accused of terrorism. You didn't see Lieberman all over FOX News suggesting that the Hutaree militants -- who were recently arrested under the suspicion of planning to wage war on this country from within -- be stripped of their citizenship or denied their Miranda rights or tried in a military tribunal. 

Nope. It took fellahs with scary names such as Faisal Shahzad, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Khalid Sheik Mohammed to arouse such despotic ire in Lieberman.

The scariest part is that Lieberman has bipartisan support for the measure, and by "bipartisan" I don't mean independent Lieberman plus the GOP. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) is introducing companion legislation in the House with the aforementioned Pennsylvanian who likes bombing people. And Greg Sargent is predicting that there are more spineless Democrats "than you might think" who are afraid to deny the State Department the right to deny you your citizenship. Awesome. 

I can't wait to hear psychopath-at-large Glenn Beck try to rationalize this to his Big Gubmint-fearing audience.

Not only is this proposal downright offensive to the very idea of American citizenship, it is also downright frightening that people with the grave responsibility of holding national elective office would propose or support it. And that is why we need to act to stem this sudden rush of fascism.

But since we are lawful U.S. citizens who have faith in the American system of justice, I'm not proposing that we strip Lieberman of his citizenship, or toss him in jail or even bug his phone line. 

Instead, let's get him disbarred. He clearly has forgotten everything he learned about American justice while in law school. Any Yalies out there who can help me out with this one?


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sweet Beginnings

by Meg White

Economic indicators may be up, but the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago is not one of those places where you can see the recession receding.

"You know, we have a crack house right here," said Brenda Palms Barber, pointing to a house with a brown door across the alley. "People go back in there and get high all the time. It's crazy what I see in this alley."

Barber, the founder of the social enterprise Sweet Beginnings, is giving me a sort of tour through the single window of her small office.

"This gas station is the highest crime area in North Lawndale, one of the highest, because of the drug traffic that goes on on the highway," she continues. Her finger moves to the barrier between Sweet Beginnings' back yard and the gas station. "You see the different colors of fences? That's how many times it's been knocked down, driven through, rammed through..."

You wouldn't guess that such a troubled area is also home to a 28-beehive apiary. The honeybees don't seem to mind the crime or the drone of highway 290. Then again, they draw their inspiration from what grows in North Lawndale, as opposed to what is merely waiting to be torn down.

The bees tell a different version of this community's story. They help people get out this alley and back on their feet. These are the honeybees of Sweet Beginnings, a nonprofit social enterprise venture on the West Side of Chicago that helps people who have spent time in prison transition into the work world through beekeeping.

"In the case of men and women who have been incarcerated, it is too seductive -- it's almost too easy to go back to a life of crime if you can't attach to the labor market in a legal way," Barber said. "People can turn their lives around. But they have to have the opportunity to do so."

Barber explained that often many barriers -- from lack of education to the stigma of incarceration -- make this a huge challenge. And it's a major problem in North Lawndale, where 57 percent of adults have been involved in the criminal justice system.

I was lucky enough to meet some of Barber's budding beekeepers in a visit to Sweet Beginnings on a breezy but sunny day in late April. BuzzFlash sells Sweet Beginnings honey as well as their "beeline" honey-derived beauty products in our Progressive Marketplace. Sweet Beginnings opened their busy doors to me so I could paint a picture of a day of urban renewal via honey for BuzzFlash readers.

The apiary looks like it was once a daycare play lot. The walkway surrounding the dandelion-choked yard has playground equipment sunk into the concrete; a turtle, a pony and what appeared to be Donald Duck were each set on coiled springs, waiting for a kid who needed a ride.

Beekeepers-in-training LaMorris Patrick and Orieal Williams are carefully pulling slats of honeycombs out of the hives, which resemble 28 little nightstands, each humming with hundreds of bees building up the comb so their queen can lay her eggs.

Williams, a quiet young woman with short-cropped hair in a hoodie and jeans, shows me how to tell how old the pupae are and which ones are going to grow up to be drones and which ones will be worker bees.

John R. Hansen, a professor and beekeeper who oversees the apiary, teaches classes at both Sweet Beginnings and at Wilbur Wright College, where Sweet Beginnings installed six more beehives last year. Using a "smoker" full of burning wood chips to calm the bees, he goes on teaching his two students new material, automatically raising his soft voice a little whenever the train or a semi truck rumbles by.

Back in the classroom, Hansen goes over some of the parasite problems common to bees. Unlike industrial beekeepers, Sweet Beginnings doesn't use antibiotics or chemicals to keep their bees healthy.

"If we do see a problem, we're going to address it, but we're not going to address it with chemicals," Hansen reminds his students. Beside where he stood in the small room sits a shelf packed with 20-some different jars of honey, ranging from off-white to dark amber in color.

The classroom is also where employees make the many skin care products sold by Sweet Beginnings. They also learn sales and demonstration techniques that they can take to the local farmers market or Whole Foods, in order to get the word out about their products.

Unlike typical employment available to economically marginalized workers, Sweet Beginnings gives its employees more than just training and work experience. The sense of pride evident in everyone working there made an immediate impression on me.

Sweet Beginnings team leader Tiffany Chinn told me that it's not too difficult to get people to clear out of the busy classroom/kitchen/production center once you explain that you're sterilizing the area in order to make beeline products.

"It's really how you say it... no one really gets offended," Chinn told me. "There's almost a sense of community ownership."

And that sense of ownership extends outside the doors of Sweet Beginnings as well. After all, when bees collect nectar from a certain area, they are also collecting the floral profile of an entire community.

"One of the few farmers markets that we do now is here in North Lawndale, because we want people to see that something called honey was made in our community. And they're like, 'This was made here?'" Barber recalls. "I love that sense of pride. That's what I love most, is that you see their faces and they're like, 'Wow.' And that sense of pride comes from, yes, working with the bees. But oh my gosh -- go to a Whole Foods Store and let them see the little hanging tag that says 'Made in North Lawndale.' It's awesome."

Recidivism rates for participants in Sweet Beginnings are almost unbelievably low: Less than 4 percent wind up back in jail, while the national recidivism rate hovers around 60 percent. Barber said that pride also plays into the program's impressive success rates.

"I think it's a person regaining a sense of self-worth. I think that when you've done bad things, and when you live with stigma and then you're able to connect with a program and a work that is of high quality, where you feel respected... and see that people are buying a product that you have something to do with, something that you helped to contribute to, I think it does something to restore one's sense of self and their self-worth," she explained.

Holley Blackwell, Sweet Beginnings' general manager, agreed. When I asked her about their low recidivism rate and their 70 percent employment rate for program alumni, she said the sense of pride and purpose were important.

"I think the success comes from getting back into the habit of going to work, finding value in something that is positive and meaningful and creative and exciting, finding value in having a productive day," Blackwell said.

"It's a mind set," Patrick added. "I think [the program] sets the ground rules again, because somewhere along the line I lost the focus and the basic things that I already know."

Sweet Beginnings may sound like it's step number one, but the true new beginning comes from an older program called U-Turn Permitted. Barber established the training program in August 2000 within the larger nonprofit North Lawndale Employment Network to transition people from prison life to the work world. Participants get personal development coaches and work on issues such as anger management and strengthening communication skills.

"The development coach was very powerful. He made you want to do better for yourself. So many times people just tell you that this is what you should do," Chinn said of her experience with U-Turn Permitted. "That makes you want to transition from the U-Turn program."

Participation in U-Turn Permitted isn't required to apply for a job at Sweet Beginnings, but it helps.

"We also found empirical data that showed that people who did not go through U-Turn Permitted and came to Sweet Beginnings were not as successful as those who did U-Turn," Blackwell said. "I've never been through U-Turn Permitted, but I'm jealous. It sounds like a good place to really do some introspective thinking and to look inside and say 'OK, what am I doing?' It's valuable."

The poetic resonance of worker bees getting economically marginalized people back into the work world was pitch perfect to me, but it certainly was never a foregone conclusion. After she established U-Turn Permitted, Barber started thinking about what kind of work she could help her alumni to obtain. She toyed with starting a temp agency, a landscaping business, a delivery service... but nothing seemed to fit.

"We enrolled folks in the program, and then I felt very frustrated and very disappointed that after people had done all the right things, we still couldn't really get them the kind of employment opportunities that they needed. And I thought, 'My gosh, I'm letting these people down,'" Barber said. She began to get a little desperate. When a friend mentioned that the art of beekeeping is something that gets passed down by word of mouth and mentorship, she thought she'd investigate. "So, next thing I know, I'm meeting with a group of beekeepers!"

Still, not everyone was immediately sold on the whole "urban honey" notion.

"I was facing a lot of criticism for this idea," Barber said. So she decided to bounce the plan off of Paula Wolff, a friend and influential Chicago policymaker, over breakfast. "I explained it to her. And she paused, and then she said, 'What a sweet beginning for those people.' And I still get chills every time I think about it, because then I knew I had a name. There was a name for what this was going to be. We were going to create sweet beginnings for men and women who needed second chances."

The Sweet Beginnings program itself is only temporary -- employees work Monday through Friday for three months, or until they find another job, whichever comes first -- but the hope is that permanent change can come of it.

Chinn told me that besides the skills she's acquired in beekeeping and marketing since being hired, the green ethos of Sweet Beginnings got her to start thinking more about the environment around her.

"That whole green thing, and knowing that it's giving back to Mother Earth -- it's not depleting her -- it makes me feel good," she said. "Now I'm trying to get into the whole recycling thing, so this goes hand in hand with that."

Though Barber's priority is workforce development, she says there's no reason to think you can't do that and be green at the same time. Besides, she said it's better for the bees and the honey anyway.

"We don't use pesticides. We use natural approaches to taking care of the hive and our bees. We're very respectful of the colony, if you will, and -- like most beekeepers -- we only extract about 50 percent of the honey that is made, so that they can actually live and thrive on the honey that they're making. I think that's important," Barber said. "I think that one of the reasons we weren't struck with CCD -- colony collapse disorder -- was because of our old-fashioned approach to beekeeping. I think that some of the commercial beekeepers probably ran into more of a problem because sometimes they use a sugar derivative [to feed their bees]."

The whole operation comes down to a group of people with a great respect for bees.

"I respect bees for many, many reasons," Barber said. But, perhaps most of all she noted that "they don't distinguish their floral source from a flower or a weed. They just don't. They go, 'There's another flower source; there's another pollen source or nectar source for me.' And so, what I love is that they take something good out of what people see as weeds and make honey with it. Oh, come on. It doesn't get better than that."

Just then I noticed the vacant lot behind Barber's office window boasted a bright bolt of yellow flowers that surely no one had planted there, yet which were destined to become urban honey.

Doesn't get much sweeter than that.


You can learn more about Sweet Beginnings, U-Turn Permitted and other North Lawndale Employment Network programs here. And don't forget to check out the many beeline products for sale at the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hot Flashes? Seriously?

For anyone I haven't already spilled the beans to yet, I am now officially a salaried writer at BuzzFlash. I even have health insurance for the first time in years!

Anyway, I wrote this essay as part of an application for a writing job awhile back, so I thought I'd share it with you all. The assignment was to write 500 words about hot flashes, believe it or not. I mostly just applied because I like writing challenges... So, here it is for your non-commercial enjoyment:

I've changed quite a bit over my 26 years on this earth. But the one thing that has remained constant is my hatred of winter.

Although my last move technically was southward, I wouldn't say it's much of a weather improvement. In fact, I remember saying as a teen that I'd never move to Chicago, because it was too windy for my tastes. The gusty downtown corridors made me feel even tinier than I already was. Add that to the big shoulders, and you get a "Hey, no thanks."

Yet, here I am. And if I've learned anything about Chicago, it's this: rather than the Land of Lincoln, it's the realm of sideways frozen rain.

You may wonder why I don't just haul off to warmer climes. Well, I tried, but I found that I like what this weather does to the size of both insects and arachnids. I also look terrible in shorts. Furthermore, I don't think I could give up on the amiable Midwestern personality that surrounds me here, fostered by mutual suffering.

I saw an ad for clothes with little built-in heaters on the El the other day, and considered the innovation for a moment. But wearing a battery seems silly, and might interfere with my pacemaker, should I ever decide to get one.

Then, I remembered talking to this middle-aged woman at a chiropractic clinic at which I used to work. She was cranky about her hot flashes, especially because of the 90 degree weather we were currently enduring and her broken car air conditioner.

Then, the epiphany. Of course! Hot flashes are the answer. They're totally natural, carbon neutral and above all, good and toasty.

According to a recent study by the University of Illinois at Chicago, hot flashes do have the drawback of decreases in memory performance. But I'm sure I'll forget all about that in time. Also, hot flashes have the side effect of producing sweat, but that may be my solution to dry winter skin. Some women complain that hot flashes cause insomnia, but I find that sleep often interferes with both my work and play schedules, so that might be a hidden benefit for me as well. And who doesn't love rosy cheeks?

Now the problem of procurement. The average age of menopause is 51, so I've got two decades and some change to go. Hot flashes are thought to be exacerbated by hot drinks and food, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol and spicy food, all products I've been known to enjoy. On the other hand, soy products are thought to reduce the chances a woman will get hot flashes, and I'm not giving up my Tofutti.

Ah well. All good things come to those who wait. So, whether it be springtime or menopause, I'll just have to keep wearing long underwear and ski masks until it arrives.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thank you for riding the CTA

It was my first day back to work in about two weeks today, and what I really missed is rush hour. Thankfully, the CTA spiced it up for me by increasing both incompetence and fares while I was away.

My morning ride was pretty uneventful, other than a delayed Red Line train and a strangely unidentifiable smell in the Jackson tunnel (usually the stench is unmercifully familiar).

My evening commute was really a treat, however. In transferring to the Red Line from the Blue Line, I noted the tell-tale sign of another delayed train: the platform was so crowded as to be nearly impassable. Then, the overhead speakers sounded a note much like a phone ringing. An effeminate man's voice came over the loudspeakers:

"Attention CTA riders: At this time, all trains are running on time. We thank you for your business."

OK, not only is that statement a near impossibility with the sheer number of rush hour trains running coupled with the ineffectiveness of the CTA in general, but from the exasperation issued from the platform crowd, clearly not true.

When the train finally arrived, I was lucky to squish in. The frustrated young woman running my particular train kept screaming to the would-be passengers trying to squeeze onto the crowded cars that "there is an immediate follower," something that clearly contradicted the vaguely homosexual voice that issued from the stations assuring us that all trains were running on time.

There were a few other unexplained delays, a blackout at Sheridan and an equipment failure at Berwyn. A woman behind me questioned the fare increase, saying to no one in particular, "We paid $2.50 for this??"

That, however, is the wrong question to ask. If the CTA's problems magically disappeared after a fair increase, we Chicagoans would surely be a happier bunch. For that day, at least. But six months or a year later, when Ron Huberman comes shuffling down the aisle asking for another fare increase, we would be incredulous. If only by their ineptitude, the CTA proves it needs our money.

I did not share this with the woman, as she did not seem interested in what she did not pay $2.50 for. Were I interested in engaging in conversation with strangers on public transportation, I might have said this:

"Do what the signs say, lady. Stand clear of the doors and thank your lucky stars they completed the 3-track operation. It could, and probably will, be worse."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Not another one!

I'm blogging for my course on international reporting at (a terrible blog site, fraught with unnecessary complications and glitches, which I do not recommend to anyone and am being forced to use for class).

It's a different subject each week, which means even more variable quality than what you're used to. If you do find it necessary to subject yourself to more of my trash, click here.

In other news: If I like you at all, I probably miss you, as I'm too busy to interact with the human race. So, take care of yourself, and I'll see you after graduation.