I suppose there’s a reason why clichés exist- there’s truth to them. Here are two that seem appropriate as we start this first week after Christmas: 1) Even when they fail, terrorists win and 2) We have to be successful every time, they just have to be successful once.
Yeah, I’ll admit it- I’m a little spooked. It struck a nerve; the near-disaster that was averted only when a faulty detonator prevented a bomb from taking out 278 passengers aboard a plane headed for Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. I know 40 thousand people die every year in car accidents in the United States so, technically, the automobile is a bigger killer than terrorism.
But stuff like this becomes personal when your kid arrives from Atlanta for Christmas week and all is right with the world. Five days later he flies back from New York’s La Guardia airport and- just like that- we now have to get to the terminal an hour earlier with a freshly renewed specter of terrorism in the back of our minds.
And I’m frustrated at the workings of a seemingly incompetent bureaucracy. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s own father had warned U.S. officials of his son’s increasing radicalization and associations. That’s how he got on a terror list data base to begin with. Why wasn’t that also good enough to get him on a no-fly list? Why, exactly, was he issued a U.S. entry visa?
I heard Homeland security chief, Janet Napolitano tell ABC News’ Jake Tapper on Sunday: “The system has worked really very, very smoothly.” She lauded the passengers and crew for their actions. What? Passengers putting out a fire and subduing a man who just tried to set off a bomb, are an integral part of “the system?” I’m really glad the passengers did what they did, but I do believe their mission on that flight was to sleep, eat some pretzels and get home, not wrestle some maniac to the floor who wanted to kill them.
Napolitano also said on ABC’s This Week that there are no indications the screening in Amsterdam was not properly done. She has since pulled back from that statement. Clearly, somebody messed up. This fellow got on board an aircraft with pentaerythritol (PETN), the very same plastic explosive material al-Qaeda operative Richard C. Reid used in 2001 when he tried to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner by igniting a homemade bomb in his shoe.
As for terrorists failing and still winning- Richard Reid, of course, was an abysmally failed terrorist, but his legacy lives on with every shoe we’ve had to remove at airport security screening for the past eight years. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab apparently had these explosives sewn into his underwear. I can only imagine what his legacy will be on the traveling public. Is it too much to ask for airport screening that works and is effective- that’s minimally smart and profiles people and behavior instead of profiling their luggage? It seems to work for Israel’s El Al airlines just fine.
I hate that I’m even slightly spooked as I take my son to the airport. I’m frustrated that these deranged losers can affect our lives in so many ways, large and small. I’m not proud that in feeling these things, I’ve let these guys win even a miniscule victory by stoking my own, mostly irrational, fears for my family and friends.
But at least now I know how it works. Next time I put my kid on an airplane, or board one myself- turns out he and I and our fellow passengers are a primary line of defense in a system that works so “very, very smoothly.”
(Note: On NBC’s Today Show this morning, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, completely reversed her comments on ABC’ s This Week and specifically stated “Our system did not work in this instance. Nobody is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is underway.” The President has also decided to address the nation later today about the incident.)
Yesterday, I complained about the NFL and Microsoft. Today, working up to the Christmas spirit- nothing but appreciation for the wonderful things in life (in no particular order):
◊ Sunset over the Hudson River.
◊ Strawberry Fields in Central Park; the sweet innocence of the flowers and notes left by people from all over the world honoring the greatest dreamer of our time.
◊ Watching my cats sleep, deep into pillows and blankets, looking cozy with their limbs draped all over each other.
◊ The puppy; how anything can be so bad, sneaky and cute all at the same time.
◊ My soon-to-be 18-year-old son, Charlie, proof that every generation gets better than the last; writing and producing all kinds of music with meticulousness, dedication and passion.
◊ The I-Pod; the Steve Jobs’ invention that has become life’s customized sound-track.
◊ High school friends who all at once discovered Facebook and rediscovered each other and have turned out to be kind, gracious and the sweetest people on earth.
◊ Friends from all the iterations of my past who, thankfully, remain along for the ride through every twist and turn, every failure, every success, every tragedy and every recovery.
◊ Butter; the secret ingredient to all food that tastes good and evil and French.
◊ Hot showers; you don’t appreciate them until you can’t get one.
◊ The Lincoln Memorial at night.
◊ Sitting on the left side of the plane on the Potomac river approach into National Airport and watching the monuments just before the pilot takes a sharp right bank on final approach toward the runway at an altitude of 500 feet.
◊ Cabbies everywhere- the salt-of-the-earth; with great stories about their customers, their dreams and their often amazing lives.
◊ The sound of the clanging bell as a train pulls alongside a platform.
◊ U.S. servicemen and women who salute and deliver, making sacrifices most of us would find unimaginable.
◊ War correspondents who risk life and limb to bring us the truth.
◊ Parents, who despite their imperfections, give everything they have for their children.
◊ Aaron Copeland music as you gaze in awe at the rolling fields of Pennsylvania Amish country.
◊ All the women in my life who have ever put up with me, including the current and last one who has made me promise I will never write about her on my web-blog.
◊ The twinkling lights of a Christmas tree in an otherwise dark living room at 2 in the morning when you get up with a sudden urge for butter cookies and a cold, fresh glass of milk.
Sometimes it all goes by so fast that by Friday you forget what happened last Monday. Then when you successfully navigate all the clutter in your brain and finally remember what happened Monday…bam…Tuesday’s now been erased. Here’s a helpful guide that won’t tax what’s left of your brain cells and updates some of the week’s noteworthy events:
Monday, November 30: We all returned to reality after the Thanksgiving holidays and after four days off, it was a slow and grudging return to work (or return to looking for work as the case may be). Some of us got through Black Friday, Black Saturday and Black Sunday relatively unscathed. And we thank you for spending. Preliminary sales figures show the retail madness in 2009 was slightly better than it was in 2008. This, of course, was that imaginary Cyber Monday thing and you spent the whole day listening to the media tell you were supposed to follow your brick-and-mortar shopping with excursions to Amazon.com and LL Bean online. You forgot to do it (9 in 10 don’t according to Mastercard research) but that’s ok, because you know you still have about three more shopping weeks left.
Tuesday, December 1: It was a day for the silly and the serious. News coverage was split roughly 50/50 between the President’s impending speech on his new policy in Afghanistan and the saga of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who had crashed the White House state dinner the previous Tuesday. The day started with the Salahis showing up on the Today show, insisting they had been invited to the function. The week ended with an e-mail trail you’d have to be slightly nuts to take as an invitation to the White House. Plus, a trio of Secret Service agents is on administrative leave and in trouble for letting the Salahis in. The White House admitted it played a role in the security breech but also invoked executive privilege in refusing to allow the social secretary to testify before congress.
After no doubt high-five-ing their way through all the glory and media attention, the Salahis also conclude the week under investigation by the State of Virginia for the way they run a charity polo event that some are claiming is pretty much a Ponzi scheme. This proves there is an important addendum to Andy Worhol’s rule that all Americans will eventually receive 15 minutes of celebrity status. It could be followed by 10 to 15 in the pokey.
Wednesday, December 2: It was a day filled with reaction to the President’s war plans for Afghanistan and as one administration official after another marched up to Capitol Hill, it quickly became evident that everyone hates the plan and further proved the old axiom that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Liberals think nation-building starts at home. Conservatives disliked the timetable that starts a withdrawal process in July, 2011. The week ends with the White House being highly uncertain about the specifics of the withdrawal date, further angering the left, but not enough to appease the right.
Oh, and God help us- it was Tiger Day. The greatest golfer of all time, who we all apparently thought was a candidate for the Papacy- turned out to have been very naughty and participated in a slew of infidelities which are yet to settle at a final number. Perhaps the most notable coverage of all this was the animated recreation of Tiger’s now infamous single-car accident produced by a Japanese media outlet. There was also the voice-mail Tiger left, begging one his mistresses to take her name off her phone greeting message because the wife was going through his phone contacts and apparently making systematic calls. The week ends with one of Tiger’s ladies abruptly canceling a news conference leading to the biggest flurry of conspiratorial conjecture since smoke was seen rising from the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza 46 years ago.
Thursday, December 3: The White House holds a “Jobs Summit.” Various wise men and women, media moguls, newspaper columnists and policy experts, truck on over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to share their innovative thinking. The President makes it quite clear Uncle Sam is tapped out and that job-creation is going to be the task of the private sector. Of course, there are things the government can do to help the private sector do this but those specifics will apparently come later.
Friday, December 4: The day is young and unfolding but rest assured Matt Drudge stands ever vigilant to find any innocuous thread of fact to prove there is no global warming, starting the morning with a large headline that screams: “Houston May See Earliest Snowfall Ever.” Well, that seals the case. Especially when you put it together with his various headlines over the summer about it being cooler than usual in some city or another. Apparently, unless the oceans are boiling over there is no threat to the planet from carbon emissions. Tell that to the polar bears and walrus clinging to a shrinking North Pole ice floe as we speak.
And finally, a sliver of unexpected good news today; unemployment dropped from 10.2 to 10% last month. It’s just possible we may have hit bottom. The Dow Jones is
very happy about this at the moment (oops- now selling off- forgot how Wall Street loves high unemployement). I think we should all be extremely impressed that the White House “Jobs Summit” produced such lightening fast results!
Hey, I know how the internets work. The idea is that you communicate via your computer. If you want to buy something, you can usually get it shipped in 3 to 5 days and that’s the slow boat. So why would we be rushing to our computers today to buy stuff for Christmas, a holiday which is more than three weeks off? Because of a marketing campaign and the hunger of the mainstream media to write silly, fluff stories about the holiday shopping season, that’s why.
The concept was originated four years ago by Shop.org, an arm of the National Retail Federation, whose own survey of the trade association’s members found the busiest day for e-commerce was actually December 12th, two weeks later than “Cyber Monday.” Mastercard has also done some research in this area. They found the busiest e-commerce day is December 5th. They also found that only one in ten people said they would actually buy stuff on “Cyber Monday.”
But why would simple facts stop the media from promulgating the myth? Because they just can’t help themselves. I heard this line on News 1 in New York this morning. “It’s Cyber Monday! Shopping at real stores is “so last weekend.” Cute. Hey, Shop.org- mission accomplished!
By the way, one of the best sources on this Cyber Monday business and its true origins is Drew Curtis’ FARK.com who writes about this in a 2007 book called, “It’s Not News, It’s FARK: How Mass Media Tries to Pass off Crap as News.” The web site makes it its business to detail idiotic moments in the mainstream media. Today, for example you’ll find some hilarious entries documenting that MSNBC is reporting police in Rockville, Maryland have shot Jesus (in this, case, a dog named Jesus) and New Jersey.com is reporting a local church has found success using football to bring people closer to God because football is real and can change people’s lives.
Look, it’s good for the economy- it’s good for all of us if we all shop until we drop no matter where we do it. So please continue to think Cyber Monday really exists and before you go to bed tonight, Google some really neat stuff to buy, make sure to activate the “Autofill” function on your browser for the payment page on your retail web site and go crazy! I’m sure you’ll get a nice thank-you note from the National Retail Federation.
It has become an annual ritual; people encamped at retail establishments in the dark hours of the early morning, waiting for stores to open the day after Thanksgiving so they can stampede the aisles looking for deals. Some find this tradition a disturbing example of gross materialism. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a symptom of just how horrendously the economy is affecting us.
Washington Post staff writers, Ylan Q. Mui, Dana A. Hedgpeth and Debbi Wilgoren present some pretty poignant reporting on what’s really going on out there. And hats off to them because getting the Black Friday reporting assignment is usually one of the silliest and predictable stories ever.
I was struck by the fact that a lot of folks are not just buying flat-screen TV’s; a lot of them are out looking for some cost relief on basic necessities. A lot of what drives people to the stores on this day is fear. One woman is quoted as saying, “You can’t take anything for granted. I’m not stupid enough to think I couldn’t lose my job tomorrow.”
And there’s this observation from Great Falls, Virginia resident, Teresa Lanz:
The economic downturn is squeezing salaries and forcing layoffs at the construction company where Lanz’s husband works. He will not be getting a raise or bonus this year, Lanz said, and she has already warned her two daughters that it is going to be a lean Christmas season. “Don’t even make a list,” Lanz said she told them. “Hope for the best, and if you get one thing, that’s great.”
These are anecdotes. Here’s the scope: the National Retail Federation says 134 million people are likely to have gone out shopping by this Sunday. In previous healthier years you might make the argument this is just the beginning of the Christmas buying frenzy.
In this holiday season, I’d make the case that the hunt for the deal is not just about purchasing gifts. They’re out there looking to take care of their families. The desperation shown by businesses that would lead them to offer 30 and 40% discounts is matched only by the anxiety people are feeling that the economic foundation is crumbling beneath their feet.
Does this sound like gross materialism to you? It sounds like survival mode to me.
It starts this week with an orgy of eating and continues into the next few weeks with endless shopping, parties and travel. It proceeds onto that flurry of gift-giving and receiving that marks Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, etc., etc. and culminates on December 31st with binge-drinking. Ah- the glorious holidays are upon us. Happy, happy, happy.
Well, not so happy for many. Here are a few links that might be helpful in getting you through this time of year:
First of all, if you hadn’t noticed, we’re in a hellish recession and unemployment is at its highest level in 27 years. A lot of folks can’t even afford to have holidays. At the risk of dampening a consumer-based economic recovery- be reasonable with your finances. Here’s a nice piece on whimsical gift-giving by Leslie M.M. Blume, author, journalist and contributing style editor to Huff Post. For those of you with politically conservative tendencies, I would recommend replacing her suggestion on giving an Obama poster with, perhaps one of Sarah Palin’s books.
Don’t Be Lonely
Not everyone is happily (or unhappily) connected with a significant other. That can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness. Here are four easy steps on how not to feel alone from ehow.com.
The average American gains at least five pounds during this time of year. Balance and moderation might be a good thing to consider. Oh- and common sense. Here are ten really great tips from a registered dietician at UCLA. This is not the usual crap. For example, she advises NOT to sign up for weight-loss programs at the start of the New Year because it just sets you up for binge-eating during the holidays thinking you’re going to be shedding tons of fat in just a few weeks. And if you are overweight, this is not the time of year to go on a diet. Part of being reasonable means managing your expectations.
Family reunions are big during the holidays, obviously, and that opens up a whole other can of worms (for those with tight family structures, apologies for making an analogy of your loved ones to worms). Remember, you aren’t 10 years old anymore. You’re an adult now and you get to have your space if you want to. One of the most common tendencies is for people to fall into their old family roles even though it’s been 32 years.
But perhaps more useful than anything is this guide from the Stress Management section of about.com on How to Become Adept at Dealing with Difficult People and Avoiding Conflict. Not that I am suggesting for one second that you have any difficult people in your family.
Then, of course, it all comes crashing to an ignominious end with the onset of the New Year as you pack up the decorations, send the tree off to the landfill, look down in shock at your waist line and snap back into the normal routines of life. Here are five, reasonable and easy tips from associatedcontent.com on easing through the post-holiday blues.
You see, I want my friends and readers to be happy. Oh, and I want to be happy too. So this, just now, was my gift to you this holiday season. Maybe it will help keep you sane. Expect nothing else, and definitely nothing expensive. Hey, we’re in a recession.
A Merry Rama-hannah-kwanzamas to all! Read more…