Sunday, July 31, 2005

Don't Trust Anyone Over 70

If you're old enough you may remember the line from the sixties that was the badge of the youth counterculture movement. "Don't trust anyone over 30!" Because when you're young, you really can't imagine attaining that advanced age, and thus becoming untrustworthy. That was also the premise for the short-lived TV series Logan's Run. In that futuristic sci-fi world, anyone over 30 was executed, so no one would have to take medication, endure wrinkles or eat fiber. A few defiant 29-year-olds made the bold decision that instead of the hemlock cocktail (or whatever was the form of execution, I forget. Maybe the younger generation ate them) they would instead make a run for it, hence the title, "Logan's Run." Well I have good news about all that. New research has pushed middle age back much further, so we don't have to worry about being old for many more decades. It's true! What they're basing it on is our longer life expectancies, and general better health during those middle and older years. So if you used to worry about "getting old" when you turned 30, ferggedabouddit! According to researchers, FORTY is the new 30. Now when we turn 40 we can START to wonder if we should move out of the house, attain a significant other and perhaps apply for a mortgage. Oh, yes, and be sure to slap on some sunscreen. At 30 you are still a young sprite with lots of years of youthful clubbing to do. Think about it, when you see people in their twenties with kids, don't you automatically think they must be the babysitter or the nanny? And if you find out they actually GAVE BIRTH to the kids, why, it's like "Babies having Babies!" What person in their twenties is mature enough to change diapers, treat diaper rash and monitor a little human's nutritional intake? I wouldn't trust a person in their twenties to vacuum out my car! And by the way, this wasn't just ANY team of researchers that came to these conclusions. It was an INTERNATIONAL team of researchers, so you know that 20-something slackers exist all over the globe, particularly Italy. (I am just referring to the recent report from that nation that tells us Italian men live at home longer than men from practically any other country because their mothers bribe them with excellent home-cooked meals.) So the new measuring stick is NOT how many years you've lived since birth, but rather how many years you HAVE LEFT until you go to the great Methodological Research Study in the sky. (Be sure to know what cohort you belong to before expiring.) One slight problem with this is we're never quite sure exactly when we're going to leave the planet, with the exception of death row inmates. That makes it more difficult to know if you're in early middle age or late social security bordering on deceased. Personally, some days I feel like Young Parent With A Modicum of Control (never more than a modicum, though) and others I feel like I'm partially embalmed already. But the researchers are saying that nowadays young retirees are as healthy and vigorous as their early middle aged counterparts from a few decades ago. Partly because they have better health habits, and partly because we have better medications and treatments for the disorders that afflict us as we age. Admit it! You are a lot younger-feeling than your parents were at the same age! There is no getting around the fact that previous generations smoked like a New Jersey tire fire, ate fat like it was a food group and thought seatbelts were purely decorative. No one had even heard of the terms cholesterol or triglycerides! Women should make a special note. Your biological clock is NOT going to allow you to wait until you're in your fifties to have kids. So best to be one of those young mothers and at least try to start your family in your thirties. However it's comforting to know I can retain my youth for a few more decades. Remember, the only people around you who are aging at a normal rate are the ones who are smoking. Bad for your skin! Bad for your lungs! Bad for Peter Jennings! So lay off the cigarettes and eat your fruits and vegetables, and you can join the rest of us 90-year-olds as we decide what sport we're going to take up in the active adult retirement community.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Does the Space Shuttle Need AAA?

Just to update my earlier rant on the Space Shuttle Discovery, it blasted off finally. And guess what, MORE debris "just fell off" the shuttle, causing damage somewhere, perhaps the "heat shield." Hope those astronauts have updated AAA cards! Someone is going to have to show theirs when the Emergency Service shows up for the tow. ALSO! The BBC is suggesting that "it appears the tip of the shuttle's external fuel tank also hit a bird." Ha! This is exactly the sort of mishap I was speculating about in my earlier post. Birds are not smart enough to get out of the way, and of course the engineers forgot to install their "bird shields" along with their heat shields. But not to worry. They've also installed a specialized "robotic arm" that is designed to snake its way to the back of the shuttle and scratch anyone's butt that may be itching. (Do you ever wonder how astronauts do that in their spacesuits?) This robotic arm can also apparently look for damage that may pose problems upon re-entry, of the sort that caused the previous shuttle to self-destruct. I am thinking I need a robotic arm in my van. I could use it for a variety of tasks, such as picking up the kids' toys that fall to the floor at an inopportune moment. (They then proceed to wail about it for the next 30 miles or until I pull over and retrieve the toy.) Also it could serve them their drinks and food when we're doing drive-through McDonald's. And I could turn off those overhead lights that they flick on! Yes, I definitely could benefit from having a robotic arm at my disposal, and possibly a spare astronaut to operate it correctly. I will immediately add it to my birthday wish list, along with an Instant Battery Charger. As you know, a couple weeks ago the Space Shuttle did not take off as scheduled due to a minor fuel gauge problems. Like those astronauts need to know how much fuel is left! Once you're up there, you either have enough to coast home, or you don't. No sense getting anxious about it! If they kept the tank topped off and got the oil changed regularly, they wouldn't need to be so obsessed with the gauges. Anyway, within days of THAT delay, we were all packed up in our own white van, ready to motor to the Orlando Airport with the kids and luggage. Suddenly, our trusty 9-year-old van wouldn't start! Can you imagine? I think it was just perhaps copying the space shuttle's peevishness. So we had to unbuckle the kids, unwedge the luggage, transfer the small change for the tolls, and hurriedly get rid of a mound of paper trash that had accumulated in Hubby's car that sort of made him look like he had a papier mache passenger. (Which might be a good thing in California's commuting lanes, but really does not benefit us here.) So the shuttle and our van are even MORE alike than I had originally suggested. Now, however, the NASA people appear to be fuming about their "foam problem." You know, the fact that it crumbles upon takeoff, sort of like the way those white coffeecups do if you bite down too hard on the rim. And no one wants the astronauts floating around in the cosmic coffee, if you know what I mean. In fact, I previously mentioned that some expert said the shuttle could NOT withstand a hole in the heat shield as big as a standard fingernail. Well I think now they're saying they've got a gouge about one and a half inches big. Don't know about you, but that's bigger than MY fingernail. Is someone sweating over the gauges up there? Maybe, just maybe, it's time to end the space shuttle program and spend the money on kids without health care. I'm sure they enjoy the occasional blastoffs, but unless they start developing vaccines in space or coming up with cures for cancer, I think the whole thing is an expensive entertainment on the order of Evel Knievel. And he was lucky he never crashed and burned.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Where Was I? Oh, Tanning In Buffalo

I suppose I should've mentioned in advance I was taking a hiatus. It was our annual family vacation to Buffalo. It was certainly a departure from our usual trip there, consisting of sporadic activities scheduled between cloudbursts, waterspouts and strong gusty winds. No, this year was much different. We got off our flight from Orlando and discovered Buffalo's current weather system felt a lot like....FLORIDA! Yes. Hot, humid, with a chance of violent late afternoon thundershowers. All that was missing was a local hurricane trajectory, shark attack update and sex offender sighting. I don't know that I have the meterological vocabulary to describe Buffalo's weather of late. Here are some symptoms of Buffalo's suddenly menopausal hot flash: 1) Sunscreen is no longer sold strictly for its moisturizing qualities! 2) Air conditioning has become more than a quaint technology invented (but rarely seen operating) in Buffalo! It has become downright desirable. Not even necessarily an extravagance. 3) Pools now contain more kids than algae! 4) Local TV weather personnel have been citing the "heat index" with straight faces! As if it mattered! 5) It's been too hot to cross the street in your bare feet! Let me put it this way. If it suddenly decided to snow on August 15th, most Western New Yorkers would probably agree that they'd already received a full summer's worth of heat and sunshine, possibly even two summers' worth. They'd gotten their climatological money's worth. The sizzling heat made up for the past two dreary summers, and maybe even apologized for that aberrant 7-foot snow dump a couple Christmas Eves ago. We spent a whole week enjoying various forms of water-based relief. Drinking it. Swimming in it. Splashing it. Wading in it. Not coming in when it rained. You name it, we reveled in it. Uncle John's pool! (Complete with Giant Realistic Snake Replica embedded in the side yard that scared the slime dogs out of Hubby. He HATES snakes almost as much as Indiana Jones. Brother-in-law claimed it was a rodent-repelling device.) Cousin Peggy's sprinkler! (Barefoot, to boot, as Buffalo's climate is toxic to fire ants.) Grandma and Grandpa's plastic pool! (filled with ice cold hose water) Water pistols! (Uncle Tom shot one through the screen into the house.) Lisa and Karl's pool! (Complete with slide, floats, and every imaginable pool toy.) Fantasy Island's water park! (who knew they had one?) Ice cubes down my back! (Eh, why not?) And finally, recreational showering! Yes, it's a good thing that Western New York is conveniently located next to that giant body of water known as Lake Erie. After all the water that was used last week, it might even be a little low. So did people complain about the heat? (Yes. Although they said it was primarily the "heat index" that was getting them down.) Did they deserve their orneriness. (Yes.) Will it ever be this hot in Buffalo this many days in a row again? (Based on our little climate crisis, I suspect so. Also there is the theory that Hell is venting.) Will everyone sell out and get air conditioning? (Never! We're Buffalonians, after all. It's nothing a sturdy fan and a cross breeze can't handle.) Our visit to Buffalo this year was nothing less than a tropical vacation. I think I have the tan lines to prove it. The heat burned a memory into the minds of young Western New Yorkers that will warm them this winter as they dream of next year. Buffalo is capable of a deliriously enjoyable summer season. This year has been one of them.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Do We Know Space Shuttle's Blue Book Value?

This past week I was getting the disconcerting feeling that the Space Shuttle Discovery has a lot in common with our Ford E-150 Econoline full-sized van. Granted, our van is a 1996, so merely nine years old, compared with Discovery, which is a 1984 model. Like cars, everyone knows you can get a great deal on last year's models parked at Cape Canaveral's Used Shuttle Lot. The minute you fly one off the launch pad it starts depreciating like crazy. There are a number of eerie similarities between the shuttle and our van. For one thing they are both gleaming white as a protection against the baking Florida sun. Second, neither of the vehicles gets great gas mileage, although Discovery fares a little better once it gets into orbit and you can hit "cruise." Third, and most disturbingly, they both have pieces that fall off at inopportune moments. And just like at our house, it's NEVER anyone's fault! (And how much do you want to bet they have Mystery Stains on their aeronautical upholstery?) Yup, less than 24 hours before launch a protective cover fell from the top of the shuttle and bounced off a heat shield. A NASA spokesperson arrived at the newsconference, and with a straight face, told the nation, "It just fell off." Well that inspires all kinds of confidence considering that Columbia broke up into balls of flame in the atmosphere due to a hole in the heat shield. One space expert said the shuttle could not sustain damage as big as a human thumbnail without jeapordizing the mission. True, there aren't a lot of human fingernails for the shuttle to encounter during liftoff (hopefully most of them are tucked safely inside, clutching an important control or perhaps twiddling), but what about other miscellaneous hazards? Like birds! Birds are stupid enough to bounce off your living room window repeatedly. There is no reason to think they will see the space shuttle and make a mental note to stay out of its path. As an aside, I think the protective cover that "fell off" the shuttle is actuallyPart # USA-BPS, or in layman's terms, Bird Poop Shield. NASA folks hate using potty language on TV. They come up with part numbers and technical terms to avoid this. Another similarity between The Space Shuttle Discovery and The Ford Van Panara is that none of its occupants want to make a fiery re-entrance into the (CIRCLE ONE) a) Garage b) the Atmosphere c) Restroom. Both the shuttle and our van are equipped with sophisticated devices to ensure sanitary disposal of human waste products. The astronauts of course have their state-of-the-art pee bottles. We, on the other hand, have thoroughly tested hygienic wipes, a compact "potty seat," and a virtually limitless supply of plastic grocery bags. (Note: The 3-year-old is fully potty trained -- it happened by magic one evening when we got distracted by the Runaway Bride's shoplifting woes -- but like astronauts you have to be prepared for emergencies.) Discovery has a technologically advanced guidance system. We have several dog-eared maps with rips in the creases. The shuttle has a sophisticated rescue plan. We have Triple A Plus. One notable difference between our vehicles is that the van is made of something heavy. I'm thinking it's probably steel, or maybe even lead. Discovery, for all its size, is composed of some incredibly lightweight materials. That piece that, ahem, we keep wanting to remind ourselves, "just fell off?" It weighed only two pounds! It is important to use light materials so that Discovery can achieve liftoff in spite of its heavy fuel load. So these days they make the shuttles out of styrofoam, plastic wrap, toothpicks and aluminum foil. (Sort of like our old science projects) In the interest of keeping weight to a minimum, the male portion of the crew allegedly voted to get rid of the brainy chick and replace her with Lindsay Lohan. However the brainy chick is the commander, so she commanded them to shut up. We're really overdue to replace our van. Maybe we'll head over to Cape Canaveral one of these days and start kicking some tires.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Dennis" Discos Through Florida Panhandle

There were no cheering partygoers as Hurricane Dennis discoed through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Florida Panhandle this week. Any stobe effect was surely the result of the electricity winking out as Dennis shimmied ashore at Pensacola Beach, an area hard hit by Hurricane Ivan last year. By means of comparison it was no contest -- in spite of similar strengths Ivan remained a Terrible Encounter, whereas Dennis' threat dwindled as he speedily left the region to give his watery welcome to inland areas. Hubby and I decided to "ride out" the storm. Mainly because we live in CENTRAL Florida, which pretty much missed the excitement, which was all focused on the Panhandle area. In fact if that area gets a few more big storms like this we may soon be referring to the Florida "Pan," as the Handle may just break right off or disintegrate. Thus we were located to the east of the Cone of Doom that the weather people had been yapping about endlessly. That is the ever-shifting funnel that suggests where this early-season weather monstrosity might actually hurl itself ashore. Last year we rode out three other hurricanes (Charley, Frances and Jeanne) that did pass directly over our house. However there was no place to evacuate to. It was more a matter of deciding whether to ride it out in the kitchen or perhaps all crammed into a closet and risking hanger trauma. The meteorological excitement over Dennis had been building for more than a week, reaching its crescendo Sunday in a Surge of Rainjacketed Reporters. (You can use your color-coded maps to determine the volume of reporters stacked in any given "strike target" location and your probability of traversing the region without being interviewed about your previous hurricane experiences and plans for "riding this one out.") So of course there were many exciting facts reported. Such as, the Department of Transportation announced plans to "suspend" construction on the I-4 between Orlando and Tampa until the hurricane was past central Florida. Well fiddle dee dee! Did they have a choice in the matter? Surely they weren't going to send their flag people out there slowing up traffic if people had to flee the coast. I sincerely hope they brought the orange cones inside, or else glued them securely to the asphalt. Otherwise they may have migrated to Alabama. Consumer experts advised evacuees to "take your hurricane policy with you." As opposed to, say, leaving it out on the kitchen table next to a burning candle as you leave the house. And be sure to enclose it in one of those handy ZipLoc bags! Still, shouldn't your INSURANCE COMPANY also have a copy of this important document? If yours is destroyed will they deny it? Meanwhile NASA announced it was NOT planning to move the Space Shuttle Discovery indoors as a precaution. What was that? A dare? Better to announce plans to protect the shuttle, then quietly cancel them as the storm continued on its path to the Panhandle. Mother Nature has excellent hearing. She will always try to foul up your so-called plans. Meteorologists are coming up with increasingly sophisticated tools to aid their predictions and give the impression this isn't something you couldn't have figured out yourself by opening a window or watching debris from your neighbor's patio party fly past your house. They have so many indices now: Sustained Winds, Maximum Gusts, Storm Surge, Strike Probability, Palm Tree Hunching Ratio, Roof Loss Coefficient, and of course the Probability of a Geraldo Rivera Sighting. The newest measurement tool is called the SLOSH indicator. Which seems to be the amount of rain that ends up in your shoes as you hurry to your car prior to evacuating. Or possibly the amount of alcohol you need to consume in order to fully "enjoy" your hurricane experience. The forecasters pretend it measures the amount of rain the hurricane sprays on your community as it passes by, but which is not accounted for by "storm surge" or "flooding." Another fascinating tool is the predictor for areas at high risk for tornado activity. This is designated by a "box" on your weather map that gets stretched to be a rectangle, or sometimes even a Parallelogram of Danger. However there are no curves or concentric circles, possibly because this could cause confusion with the lines designating the hurricane force winds, which take priority on the map. So tornados are instructed to adhere strictly to the box formation! Or as we call it in Florida, the Box Step. One two three four WHOOPSTHEREGOESTHEGARAGE One two three four...and so on. Fortunately Hurricane Dennis, which was nearly a Category 4 storm when it hit Pensacola Beach, did not do nearly the damage of last year's Hurricane Ivan. Experts attribute this partly to a compact eyewall. Also Dennis made like a bad blind date with his hasty exit. (That's okay. We're playing the field!) I've heard there is already another tropical storm makings its debut in the Atlantic Ocean, the demurely dubbed "Emily." I'm planning to watch for the Animated Whirling Red Ninja Disks of Disaster to mark this potential hurricane's path. Last year's parade of storms shredded parts of central Florida into Tropical Confetti. From a resident's perspective, that's nothing to celebrate.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Sorrow of London Town

"Cockney Feet Mark the Beat of History, Every Step Pins A Memory Down. Nothing Ever Can Quite Replace The Pride of London Town." -- song lyrics by Noel Coward Evil commuted into central London this week. Three bombs detontated in the city's underground Tube subway system, and one vaporized the top portion of a doubledecker bus on the street. Upwards of 50 people have already died, 700-plus wounded, and many unaccounted for. Even now rescue teams cannot get to some of the shattered bodies at certain stations deep below the city's surface. Britons' traditional stiff upper lips are quivering with grief, but still they are gamely carrying on, undeterred in their intention to live as they've always done, and fight terrorists wherever they find them. The carnage recalls the horror of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, as well as our own indelible experience on 9/11/2001. The question everyone seems to be asking, helplessly, is "how can we rid the world of terrorism?" We can't, not completely. We can only give it our best effort: fight wars, pass laws, hunt fugitives, check IDs, convict criminals, profile foreigners, interrogate suspects, guard borders, search vehicles, inspect bags, translate chatter, neutralize cells, unlace shoes, monitor airwaves, pursue Osama, freeze funds, gather evidence, and...cry ourselves to sleep when the sorrow grows too deep. Terror has been around a lot longer than, say, the killing of Israeli Olympic athletes by Arab terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. Ironically, one of the earliest identified groups with characteristics of modern terrorism were the Jewish Zealots. They fought against Roman rule of Judea. They were referred to as "dagger men" who would carry out assassinations of both Roman occupying forces and Jewish collaborators with the ruling regime. The Zealots felt that living as Roman subjects would compromise their Jewish beliefs. Zealot terrorism gave way to an open revolution which resulted in the siege of Masada (yes, you can rent the movie!) where many of its followers died. Now, of course, "zealot" has become a noun inextricably linked to fanaticism. In our own American history we have that whole Indians vs the Settlers thing. Native American Indians sometimes rode in, torched settlements, and maybe even carried off a few women and children to be forced to learn native ways. ("Shops-with-Wampum," or "Longs-for-Video-Games.") Can we blame them? Surely we weren't expecting them to pack themselves off to a reservation, join the U.S. Cavalry, or just simply disappear. At the same time, U.S. soldiers and settlers were known to have massacred a tribe or two, offered smallpox-infected blankets or violated a treaty now and again. Surely the Indians weren't expecting us to stay bottled up in Delaware, moored to Plymouth rock, or cloistered on Cape Cod. We weren't going to leave the country unsettled. So Prairie Etiquette and Neighborly Negotiation broke down. Terrorism erupted. It isn't a new thing. Only the variations and means of delivery are new. Terrorists think their cause is more important than the innocent lives they are taking. I guess the struggle for power is more crucial if you think living on this earth is more important than what happens to you after you die. Is your soul worth a worldly political gain? Only if you're planning on running for Mayor of Hell. (Eh, won't speculate on what THAT campaign would look like.) It doesn't matter if you're a ranking member of Al Qaeda or the lone nut Unabomer, who for years sent package bombs to oddly selected targets such as airline executives, scientists and academics. His nemesis was "technology," and you can see how well his campaign to eradicate it worked! Determined individuals can wreak terror even with few resources and a shockingly simple plan. D.C. snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo proved that a few years back. They terrorized the entire Washington metropolitan area using only a junky car and a rifle, shooting at residents via a hole in the trunk. If it were not for taunting notes and clues left by Muhammad, they might never have been caught. The could've killed daily, had they wanted to, and had a far higher body count. Good thing bullets aren't cheap! When people talk of "stopping terrorism" they refer to a state of relative calm in which politically-motivated terrorists or personally-motivated crazies refrain from inflicting their violent fantasies on society. They can never be entirely stopped. I'm always amazed at how few of these incidents there are, considering what I believe to be the high number of crazies we currently have running loose in our country. Most of them are "good citizens" most of the time, if you think about it! If they all took to the streets at once I'd have to cower with my family in my laundry room hoping that the high spin cycle drowned out the shooting outside. Terrorist acts are willful ones, and they outrage us because they are unnecessary. But maybe we'd be better off viewing them as unfortunate things that happen, like a tornado leveling your house. You can shake your fist at the sky, but then it's time to contact the insurance company. In that sense terrorist acts are no different than car wrecks, plane crashes and natural disasters of every stripe. The fact that someone planned a terrorist act makes it more horrible, but no more avoidable than a lightning strike. You take your basic precautions and hope for the best. I don't want to die in a terrorist incident, but neither do I want to die in a tsunami or in an appliance malfunction. We all want to die peacefully in our sleep when we're 85. Well it just isn't possible! Some of us have to catch malaria, forget to take an important pill or get hit by the crosstown bus. We should be ready to die at any time. Terrorism is nothing but a reminder that we all need to have our spiritual affairs in order because our final prayers might not be issued from a hospital bed. We may not have time to pray at all.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Me Chinese, Me Play Joke...

Are China's new Huns wearing three-piece suits and natty tie pins? I keep reading about the potential Chinese takeover of important U.S. companies such as Unocal. At least the media thinks they're important, whereas my first reaction was, "What's Unocal?" Does it sell eyeglasses? Cell phone service? The card game UNO? Could it be the brand name of yet another entry into the crowded field of one-calories colas, perhaps aimed at the hispanic market? Maybe it's like Enron, where it sells nothing at incredibly inflated prices. Turns out, it's an OIL COMPANY. Well that's clever! Instead of picking fights over Persian pipelines or jockeying for the best-disguised military base in the Middle East (slap a drive-through window on it and call it McTabbouleh's), the Chinese have decided to strategically outflank us. And that's not an easy thing to do, because Americans have some of the most massive flanks on earth. Why bother to negotiate, drill for oil or threaten aggression when you can simply purchase a controlling interest in a U.S. oil company? You see, China has lots of U.S. dollars. We have been shipping boatloads of greenbacks overseas for years, probably in foreign-made boats. All in exchange for potholders, toys, futons and whatever else you can grab in Wal-mart's well traveled aisles. All that cash ultimately doesn't do the Chinese much good unless they spend it. Which they now seem increasingly inclined to do. Perhaps because they sense that confidence in the U.S. dollar is based more on our national self esteem than any real value. Two decades ago the Japanese were Kings, er, Emperors of the Hill, exporting Toyotas so fast that we decided to allow them to build manufacturing plants here. Thus convincing ourselves that Japanese autos are somehow as American as Car Key Lime Pie. They proceeded to buy a few movie studios, gave Godzilla a tummy tuck and better special effects, and slapped their names on the deed to the Rockefeller Center. However they did not rename it the SONYCenter. Basically they left Exxon and the New York Yankees alone. (except for Hidecki Matsui, who owns left field.) But this time around the Chinese seem to hold not only all the cards, but all the chips as well. And we aren't going to get very far in a game of Texas Hold 'Em if we don't come to the table with any resources or resolve. What's to stop them from buying anything they want? And what if they suddenly stopped selling us stuff? After twisting my neck into an awkward position and checking the tags on my clothes, I suspect we're only a couple of high spin washer and dryer cycles away from complete National Nudity if the Chinese decide to stop sending us the goods. The shortage of cheap plastic crap would be incalculable. We would soon be reduced to buying well-made expensive things that last a long time. Oh, the indignity! Also, I'm sort of wondering how our companies would fit into their system, being communist and all. Would Unocal and Maytag become instruments of the state? Would Chinese citizens have to wait in long lines to gas up their cars and buy dishwashers? Would we? Do the Chinese even use dishwashers? Even though China is a rapidly industrializing nation, I still picture the China evoked in Pearl S. Buck's novel "The Good Earth," with Wang Lung astride his fields. Then again, I'm always shocked when I see footage of cars in India when the Indelible Portion of my brain insists everyone there has an elephant parked out front. So if China buys up all our real estate and major companies, do Americans still own America? Has one nation ever taken over another buy simply purchasing it outright? And if we suddenly decide we don't want to sell, what happens to the trillions in debt owed by our government? Can the Chinese conquer us just by showing up at the international auction and paying the back taxes? Perhaps this is China's way of informing us that they've gone pee pee in our Coke.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Hurricane Shelters Bar Sex Offenders

As if we didn't have enough to worry about in Florida with the prospect of hurricanes bearing down on us like a fully dilated pregnant woman. Now comes the news that some hurricane shelters are planning to put out their UNwelcome mats to the local sex offender community. I realize with the recent high profile sex crime cases it probably seems like the sex offenders outnumber the normal people in Florida. Which would technically make the sex offenders "normal," but never mind. And really, I do draw a distinction between younger men who make a bad judgment call with a teen pretending she's older, and the weirdos with the long rap sheets who run around menacing little boys and girls. The thing is, last year's hurricane season was so roof-collapsingly horrific, that Hurricane Safety Plans are no longer theoretical exercises. We actually have to worry about who shows up at the shelters now that we've experienced three major hurricanes in two months. We have also discovered there is a need for shelters for pets, since pet owners don't like leaving them home to starve or to be pureed in the hurricane. There are no Storm Surge statistics on the amount of Florida carpeting ruined by pet urine. And for reasons ranging from allergies to legal liability, pets cannot simply accompany their owners to a shelter. So you can see we are dealing with some serious technical and personal issues as we approach the height of the 2005 hurricane season. Getting back to the sex offender problem, it seems that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has adopted a policy prohibiting sex offenders from seeking safety in an official storm shelter. They are even planning to send letters to each and every one of the approximately 1200 registered sex offenders and predators in that county to warn them to make other arrangements. Now don't be thinking I'm about to go soft on sex crimes. But part of me is wondering what this policy could lead to. Do we really think Florida's natural beauty will be enhanced by having pieces of sex offenders blown all over the state, stuck in treetops, hurled into scenic waterways or impaled on your local gas station canopy? I think not! This would make the sex offender problem even more obvious, as teams of forensics experts would try to re-assemble the offenders via matching DNA. After all, sex offenders are no more likely than average citizens to use their common sense and evacuate in the face of an impending hurricane. (And a significant percentage of "average citizens" feels it can evacuate within 30-60 minutes of hurricane landfall!) So maybe we need special shelters set aside just for the sex offender community. Ideally these would be located at the local J-A-I-L. I mean, why not? A lot of them would find it a familiar setting, and there would be no one to molest except other offenders. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Sheriff David Gee has no plans at the moment for alternative shelters to house sex offenders. "They can take care of themselves," he reportedly said. I've come up with a humane idea that would afford protection for the sex offender crowd, and provide a service to the rest of the community. We could designate special shelters for pets, and have the registered sex offenders stay with them! They could be in charge of feeding and entertaining the pets, and walking any dogs outside as the eye of the storm passes over the shelter. Remember the eye is the calm part, so we would not have to worry about dog urine accidentally soiling Georgia or Alabama. Then the only thing we'd need to worry about is any offenders with a predilection for bestiality.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Searching Past the Obvious

I am going into WAY too many safety rages lately. There are a zillion daffy ways people get injured or killed each year so tragedies are nothing new, whether they involve exotic household pets, enraged household appliances or challenges to nature that should never be issued. But whenever these deaths involve children it attracts both my attention and my unending ire. You've heard the story: three kids, ages 11, 6 and 5, are missing from a Camden, New Jersey neighborhood. It seems to be a working class neighborhood of people who care about their kids and are trying to make ends meet. So when three kids turn up missing, an alert is sounded. Friends, relatives and neighbors mobilize to scour the area. After four hours, the police are summoned. Bloodhounds set upon the scent. Helicopters and boats are pressed into service. The news media join the increasing frenzy. For almost 48 hours the search continues. Until the night of a prayer vigil when one of the boys' uncles goes to retrieve jumper cables. Along with the cables, the man finds: Three. Dead. Boys. They had been there the whole time! Helplessly trapped in a the trunk of an unused vehicle stored in the yard. Perhaps able to hear the searchers calling their names. Unable to attract anyone's attention. A pelting rain may have muffled the boys' cries for help. The 1992 Camry did not have the release feature contained in the trunks of newer model cars. So my Tasmanian Devil style rage flies in a number of directions. First. You've got a crappy old "unable to be driven" car. Why is a relative's house a better place to park this worthless piece of junk than, say, a junkyard? Brimstone soup for the relative who owned the car. Fiery thunderbolts for the parents who permitted it to be parked on their lawn. A lot of neighborhoods won't allow you to park a "not in service" car on your lawn. Or on your front lawn at all, in service or not. It's more than an eyesore. It's a SAFETY HAZARD. (As has been so vividly demonstrated.) Or as my hubby calls it, an "Urban Jungle Gym." If you're going to park a crappy old car on the lawn, you might as well stick your old refrigerator or freezer out there too, along with a big sign that says, "Play in Me!" For good measure you could leave a can of gasoline and some matches out on the lawn too. Next item: They had some high-tech help in this search. Helicopters. Boats. Dogs. And the neighbors said they checked every abandoned house, garbage can, crack and crevice for miles. You mean to tell me no one checked the trunk of a car PARKED ON THE PROPERTY? Supposedly the car itself was "searched." Who searches for kids in a car and doesn't check the one place where they could actually be hidden? Where did they look -- the glove compartment? The cupholders? Under the floormats? I understand a car isn't the first place you'd look if you thought your kids were missing in the neighborhood or possibly even kidnapped. But it ought to at least be in the top five. Or ten. Certainly before the sun goes down. Since the police were involved, I would think checking the trunks of the vehicles on the property would be a no-brainer. However the boys probably died before the police were summoned four hours later. One of the families allegedly is retaining a lawyer, but hopefully that is just a Grief Reaction and not a real intent. The police are not responsible for junky cars you park on your lawn and fail to check yourself. Out-of-service cars do not belong on private property. They should be towed and junked. Because this one wasn't, three families had to attend three funerals for three little boys. It's a crying shame.