samedi, juillet 22, 2006

Out of control?

Our power went out Tuesday night. My son was at his dad's house-they also lost power, but a bit later. Sian and I got out the candles, ate our corn (all that I had cooked before the electricity went) and salad in the dining room, and watched the wind bend the tops of the big trees in the back near the private road. I had rarely seen a storm that fierce, nor rain that violent. When the storm subsided, we decided to take a drive around the neighborhood. We had the insane thought that we might find a place to buy ice cream. In our defense (ok, not much of a defense, officer), we were clueless as to how powerful the storm had been. I learned later that the town where we live had some of the highest wind gusts in the area... they clocked hurricane force winds of more than 70 miles an hour. It wasn't too long before we discovered that the storm damage was much greater than we thought. Tree branches had fallen throughout Glenmoore and made driving difficult, if not impossible. The fire company had gone out before us, their sirens blasting down Fairview Road. We ran into them around Little Conestoga near the creek, and were forced to turn around and drive back. If we'd been truly intelligent (if I had been truly intelligent) we would not have gone out in the first place. The next two days were spent throwing vegetables and fish into the trash, finding creative places to take showers (not that creative, don't get your hopes up) and trying to maintain some semblance of a normal routine. Blessings on the friends who took us in on Wednesday night and gave us an air conditioned, peaceful refuge. In the suburbs, we were hit hard, which makes sense when you think that there are many more trees out here in the boonies. From what I read, the storm took out a power line here and a tree there, damaging substations all over the area, which made it impossible to fix the problem at any one source. So the crews (some of them workers who volunteered to come in from neighboring states!) worked (and are perhaps still working) 16 hour days to restore power to towns like mine. Running my usual route yesterday, I noticed many trees uprooted, and branches sheared from the trunk...and I wondered: who is paying attention? What are the climatologists thinking about this tropical summer here on the East Coast? What of the heat wave seizing Europe, where few families have air-conditioning? Will we look at this summer as the beginning of the end of normal? Alternately furious and curious, I wondered what those of us with children and grandchildren could or would do to stop the seemingly inevitable incursion of global warming. The one thing I will not allow myself is hopelessness and a sense of inevitability.

lundi, juillet 17, 2006

Where exactly is one of the world's biggest countries?

"In the taped conversation Mr. Bush, clearly eager to get home to the White House after six days in Europe, is heard saying, apparently to a counterpart, possibly President Hu Jintao of China, who was sitting next to him, “Good job, gotta keep this thing moving — I gotta leave at 2:15 — you’ll want me out of town so to free up your security forces.” The voice that appears to be that of Mr. Hu agrees, “Ya,” and he laughs along with Mr. Bush’s trademark giggle.
But Mr. Bush sighs, and explains, “Gotta go home, got something to do.” Apparently betraying some confusion about the geography of Europe and Asia, he asks: “Where you going? Home? This is your neighborhood; it won’t take you long to get home.”
The counterpart, perhaps Mr. Hu, cannot be heard as he responds, but Mr. Bush exclaims, “You get home in 8 hours? Me too! Russia is a big country, and you’re a big country.”
A moment later, Mr. Bush can be heard saying to a waiter, “No, not Coke, Diet Coke.”
But it is around then that Mr. Blair walks by, and the president yells out, “Yeah, Blair, what are you doing? Leaving?”" New York Times, July 17
I have to admit that the first time I read the account of what George Bush said (presumably he didn't realize the microphone was on) I chuckled. There is something absurd about the idea that the leader of the world's largest democracy would not know that China wasn't near Germany, or even in the "neighborhood". Why, by the way, would he say to President Hu Jintao of China that when Bush left town that would free up his security forces.
Perhaps President Bush actually thought he was in China, not Europe.
Somehow, however, I don't find all of this too amusing. The exchange displays Bush as ignorant, bombastic, and profane-are these qualities we want in a President? In addition, his gung-ho approach to diplomacy seems obscene when hundreds of civilians a week die in Iraq, and families are being slaughtered in Lebanon, while the infrastructure of that new democracy is torn apart. Yes, I feel for the Israelis, and I understand why they felt that they had to retaliate against Hezbollah's attacks. Their citizens are also terrified, the victims of a gang of terrorists who want to run them out of the land that they fought for. Yet their overkill (literally) approach is that of an elephant trampling a mouse. And their wanton disregard for human life mocks a civilized nation's respect for the human rights of noncombatants. Have we heard President Bush express any but a token regard for the lives that are being lost in Beirut? Has he read what rwe read, as in this excerpt from another article in the Times: At the Amel Hospital, Dr. Ali Mroue took stock of what he had seen in recent days: decapitated bodies, severe burns, disfigured faces. The hospital has lost 25 patients, he said, but saved 100.
But most of all, he lamented the death of a 2-year-old girl, whom he tried desperately to save. She had severe burns on half her body, internal bleeding and her eyes were perforated, but she fought to live, he said.
“She was a mere child,” he said, as his voice cracked. “She had nothing to do with this. Maybe you can accept the death of an adult, but she had so much ahead of her.’’
The man who weeps at the death of a child can be forgiven much. A man who confuses China with Switzerland belongs on a weekday comedy show, not in most powerful seat at the world's table. Give the guy Pepsi. He deserves it.

dimanche, juillet 16, 2006

Old South/ New South

I come from a family of middle-class intellectuals who didn't care a lot about material wealth, but chose to roam, picking up ideas and people instead of staying at home and raking in the bucks. My maternal grandmother and grandfather flew to Mexico and South America in the depths of the Depression, bringing back blankets, silver and a cosmopolitan attitude that has served future generations well in this global world. Hopping a flight to Europe was a treat, but not remarkable-grandma, by then a widow, came to see us when we spent a year in Italy. After all, she and grandpa had survived a shipwreck, the sinking of the Mauretania. Besides, she didn't scare easy, that one. Dad's parents journey from Russia was just as intrepid. But I suspect that though there were some things they missed about the home country, they weren't eager to return to take pictures and eat the local cuisine. My dad and mom took us to Italy for a year when I was in second grade. We lived in Bologna, where my sister and I went to a Montessori school ( my brother, who was two or three, was doted on by the Italians, who seem to love children), and I struggled to learn the fundamentals of Italian-which I never mastered. Although I don't have the money or the time to travel much, some instinct kicks in when someone offers me a chance to hit the road and learn something new...even when that place is the heart of North Carolina's furniture-selling industry! Thanks to the generosity of a friend, who needed to furnish a home she and her husband are buying, I recently came back from a couple of days in the Piedmont area. That middle area of North Carolina, between the beach and the mountains, doesn't offer the spectacular terrain of the Smokies or the beauty of the Outer Banks. Yet the stories it tells are probably as compelling in some ways. High Point is apparently the furniture capital of the US. When we drove through it that first day, we were struck immediately by the poverty surrounding the fancy furniture stores. Inside the buildings, some of the stores were empty, and outside, in the scorching Southern heat, the streets were quiet. Many businesses had moved out to the surburbs, which are growing like crazy. Apparently that area around Greensboro is still bringing in businesses, as the furniture and textile mills have outsourced manufacturing overseas. Walking through that city one evening, we strolled past the boarded-up Woolworths where the students had their famous sit-in at the lunch counter during the early Civil Rights years. Kris noticed that there appeared to be some kind of work going on inside to renovate the old store. I wondered how many Greensboro residents still remembered those days. There may be racism still beneath the placid surface, but Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh seem to be well integrated towns. And there are other benefits to living in this cosmopolitan part of the South. The cost of living is much lower than in the East. The people we met were lovely. There's a lot to be said for courtesy and warmth. I have to admit that part of me was disappointed that we didn't have time to visit any monuments or see any battlefields. With that explained, you might see why, when we visited Raleigh the last day we were there, I was hot on the trail of the "Old South." I dragged Kris to an historic house billed as a "plantation"...the plantation part had been sold years ago, but the house was lovely. Raleigh is a fascinating city, and well worth a lengthy visit sometime. We just had time to take a bus tour, and to drive by the Capitol building. As we drove by I saw a monument to "our Confederate dead" and discovered that North Carolina debated secession in that very building. Given that we didn't have a lot of excess time, we couldn't get out and visit the Capitol. I would have to be satisfied with our taste of Southern life and the statues mute testimony that, 150 years ago, that city was not as much of a civilized haven for people of all colors as it seems now. Oh, in case you are wondering what happened to the birthplace of Andrew Johnson? He was the only other President to be impeached, apparently over a debate about Reconstruction. It's been moved. It now resides near the Mordecai plantation, where it offers the visitor a hint that it is never fair to judge a man by whether he was impeached or not. In some cases, it might actually have turned out to be a badge of honor. I must learn more about President Johnson!