Friday, September 29, 2006

All Republican Congressional Representatives (and Some Democrats) Sink to Bush's Level

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann
Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

I'm very disappointed by the vote to geld the Geneva Convention. A shame all Republicans have been captured by the rovian ravings of the Bush administration.

So here's what I wrote in response to my recent thank-you letters to several senators:

Dear Senator [[McCain/Graham/Warner]]:

A few weeks back, I sent you a thank-you letter over your then stated support of treating detainees fairly.

Now, given your vote yesterday, you've demonstrated you're nothing but a politician, Geneva Convention be damned. I'm disappointed, but not at all surprised by your behavior.

I look forward to the day when people of principle are elected to public office in this country. Because they clearly aren't being elected now.

Laurie Mann
McDonald, PA

I don't believe the Constitution is quite dead yet, but parts of it have clearly been amputated. This by the man who said, just last fall that the "Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper."

Toilet paper to many of them, apparently.

His administration has now done more damage to the Constitution than any other enemy, either foreign or domestic.

This is just plain sick.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Specter Sinks to Santorum's Level

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann
Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

In the past, Senator Specter had shown some amount of independence from the neo-cons.

Unfortunately, at a time when America again needs some independent Senators, Specter has shown an inability to comprehend why Bush is wrong about wiretapping and wanting to disregard the Geneva Convention. These days, about the only Republican in the Senate with any backbone at all is John McCain.

So here's a letter I wrote to Senator Specter today, after he sold out the Constitution and the Geneva Convention to satisfy Karl Rove and company:

Dear Senator Specter:

I am very disappointed by your support of warrantless wiretapping. I had hoped you had more respect for the Constitution than to support this the administration in this fashion.

I am also appalled that our government is trying to modify its acceptance of the Geneva Convention, and that you support this attempt. I would have expected such behavior from Santorum, but not you.

I no longer have a Senator whom I can believe in representing my state. I will remember this when you are up for re-election.

Laurie Mann
McDonald, PA

I suspect that Senators McCain, Graham and Warner are getting a fair amount of hate mail from the raving rovians out there. I sent each of them a thank-you E-mail today. I've linked to their contact forms if you're in a hurry and want to drop them a line.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Don't Panic - a Repost for 9/11

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann
Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

After 9/11, I was generally aggravated, by the terrorists who did it, but also by our country's over-the-top response. I wrote the following essay a few months later. I still stand by most of what I wrote (though I was clearly wrong on at least one point):

Don't Panic - Suicide Bombers, Anthrax and Other Fears of Modern Life

© 2001, Laurie D. T. Mann (with occasional updates)

We should feel sorrow, but not sink under its oppression.

I haven't been fretting much more about life and death since September 11. Sure, I had a major anxiety attack after watching about 36 hours of TV news on the night of September 12. But that was to be expected. Since then, no. I've driven to New York, New England and Maryland without any more concern than usual. I've gone to work and opened my mail.

Perhaps it's because I'm naturally a little more cynical than most people. When the media spoke of September 11 as "the day we lost our innocence," I wanted to ask what alternate reality they had been a part of. Just in my lifetime (I'm 44 now), I've seen bigotry and terrorism and war and just plain bad accidents. I've experienced sexism and hate speech. America has had many bad days in my lifetime.

While I do not remember the exact date, that terrible day in November 1978 when nearly 900 American citizens murdered members of their own families then took their own lives on the command of "religious leader" Jim Jones particularly affected me. How can people follow the insane commands of any person? Very few people ran out of the jungle to the relative safety of a nearby town. Almost everyone who was told to poisoned their children and then, themselves. The ability for nearly 1,000 people to think for themselves was completely lacking.

Or the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. Initially, we all thought it was some sort of foreign terrorist. It was almost a worse thing to learn that it was a pair of Americans who murdered 168 other Americans in cold blood.

September 11 was a bad day, but much greater in scope.

I live in Pittsburgh, a city with more bridges than any other city in the world except for Venice. I've always been aware that bridges could collapse or tunnels could be blown up, yet I travel on them daily. I flew in early December, for the first time since July. I did fret a little more than during my last plane trip, but I expected the plane would not be hijacked and that I would get to my destination safely. And home again. And, I did. Statistics bore this out, even after this year.

My husband and I went to England, a country with a long history of living with small-scale terrorism. There are more video cameras about, but I did not notice many more police. Security in English airports was a little stricter than in American airports even before September 11. It was not a coincidence that none of the September 11 planes were international planes, despite the fact a plane flying to Europe would have had even more jet fuel than a plane flying to California.

I don't want to sound too much like a Pollyanna. I'm always aware of the terrible things that could happen, but I'll go along with living regardless. Life isn't about seeing how safe we can be, it's about having many different experiences, interacting with many different people and making contributions to society. Despite the horrible events of this year, statistically, we aren't that much less safe than we've ever been. Statistically, we aren't going to die from the acts of terrorists or from a war. We're way more likely to die in car accidents or from cancer or heart disease or AIDS.

These are the facts: Terrorists, whether they be foreign or domestic, do not have limitless resources. A number of their planned activities had been discovered and stopped before September 11 and continue to be discovered and stopped now. That doesn't mean they will never succeed again - it's likely that they will. It's unlikely that they will ever be able to hijack a plane and turn it into a flying bomb. But we might have small-scale suicide bombers like those in Israel. We may have more anthrax and other acts of bioterrorism. (Frankly, the anthrax letters and most of the threats look more like the acts of the American looney fringe than the Islamic looney fringe.) The looney fringe might even deploy "dirty bombs" (bombs made with nuclear by-products, but without enough enriched uranium to go critical), but getting a real nuclear weapon is unlikely (unless the government of Pakistan collapses).

Next fact: Lots of people get their kicks from making bomb (and now anthrax) threats. Bomb threats were very common in the '70s and early '80s and making threats have made massive comeback. None of the major terrorist incidents from the last few years had any real warnings. Frankly, I'm ignoring all threats as hot air.

Anthrax has people very upset, but I have to take the attitude of Dan Rather - if we let things like anthrax paralyze us, the terrorists, whether they be domestic or international, have won. Most of the people who got anthrax were mail handlers. Most of the people who died from anthrax had compromised immune systems. It's sad that anyone has gotten sick or died from bioterrorism, but, statistically, it's unlikely to happen to you, me or the vast majority of people alive today.

The level of fear is particularly troublesome when you consider how much the world has changed over the last hundred years. One hundred years ago, the life expectancy was not all that high; people died easily from TB, from childbirth, from viruses. Yet people still went out of their homes and went on with their lives. They explored all parts of the world without being guaranteed of their safety. We who have long lives and sanitary environments should not be so afraid of dying from a statistical unlikelihood like "murdered by terrorists."

I might be more fearful if I had lost a loved one on September 11. I heard the terrible news at work, and the Internet was so slow that virtually no news was available for an hour. Once I heard about the Pentagon, I thought of my brother who lives just down the street in Alexandria. It took nearly an hour to reach his answering machine, but even hearing his voice was reassuring. I was so shocked by the events of September 11 that it was literally days later that I remembered that, with all his business travel, he could have been on one of those planes.

I have many friends who live and work in Manhattan, but they work in publishing, within sight of the twin towers, but not in them. A handful of acquaintances have not been able to return to their apartments in lower Manhattan. Still, the closest call was an acquaintance from Massachusetts was due to fly out to California from Logan Airport to have a meeting that Tuesday morning. The man he was going to see called to postpone the meeting on Monday night. The flight he cancelled himself off of later crashed into the World Trade Center.

We felt extremely safe in Pittsburgh that September 11. No one would try to crash a plane in Pittsburgh, we all reasoned. But we had friends who called us to check in, having heard about the plane that crashed some 90 miles to the east.

I did panic briefly on September 11. I stayed at work but couldn't concentrate. My job was closed down at noon that day. I wanted to do something, but couldn't think of what to do. A friend sent around E-mail, urging people to go out and give blood. So that's what I did. Having something useful to do gave me a little better focus.

Short term panic in the midst of catastrophe is understandable. We're only human after all. But long-term panic isn't good, either for the individual or for the culture. We've got to do what we can to avoid cultural panic.

Photos from a trip to New York City, December 2001
We're Not Afraid - a Great Site, Post-London Subway Bombing 2005

I submitted the following two photos, and they used the Edinburgh one:

We're SO Not Afraid!
Not Afraid to Visit Edinburgh, 7/31/05! London - Be Back Soon!

Thanks to "Aifacat" at We're Not Afraid for finding that Confucius quote about not being oppressed by sorrow. Perhaps that's a big difference between the Americans and the Brits - I think there are a lot of Americans who wallow in sorrow as if it was a national pasttime. Both ends of the political struggle in America are quite guilty of this.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Using TV to Understand Life: Steve Irwin and Chuckles the Clown

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann
Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

Like I said a few days back, I don't normally get upset when I'm updating Dead People Server. Not that I don't care, but I'm just a realist about death. I did find Steve Irwin's death upsetting, however. He was so youthful, so enthusiastic, and he left a young family. He was literally just getting started.

But, this morning, I was recording a segment on the Ugly Phil Morning Show, a radio show on Kerang in Birmingham, England. I'm unfamiliar with ths show, but it sounded like it was kind of a comedy show, and that's fine.

We talked about Dead People Server and about the shock of Steve Irwin's death.

And suddenly, thinking about a man who wrestled hundreds of crocs during his life, dozens of poisonous snakes and probably other encounters not recorded, to be cut down by a stingray barb, made us all laugh. We really didn't mean to. We don't look at Irwin's death as a, when you get right down to it.

Back in the '70s, The Mary Tyler Moore Show comically dealt with the very odd death of Chuckles the Clown (dressed like a giant peanut and trampled by an elephant). Everyone in the newsroom laughed about Chuckles' death, except for Mary. She kept getting angry at the people who laughed. Suddenly, in the middle of Chuckles' funeral, it was Mary who couldn't stop laughing.

There is normally nothing funny about death, but, sometimes, the situation around it can be. If Jim and I die from a common cause like cancer or heart disease or a car accident, that's not so funny. If we die because a bookcase falls on us (we're avid book collectors)!

If, say, Rick Santorum died of a heart attack, well, that wouldn't be funny (though it would make many of us breathe a sigh of relief). If he died of a heart attack during a homosexual tryst with a HYSTERICAL! Not because he collects leathermen (to the best of anyone's knowledge, he does not), but because he is so adamantly and so publicly homophobic.

So sometimes death...can be a scream.

Monday, September 04, 2006

DPS Updates: Steve Irwin and Bob Mathias

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann

Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

I'm a realist - we all die. So while updating Dead People Server is sad, the vast majority of dead people listed on it are fairly old. Which is as it should be.

Every once in a while, you have an "Oh shit" reaction to someone's death. And that's what I said when I checked CNN this morning and read about Steve Irwin's untimely death from a stingray barb. Irwin was alternately entertaining and exasperating, but I always loved his enthusiasm and sense of humor. Since I was not a big fan of animal shows, he was the only reason I ever watched the Animal Planet channel.

Back in the days before the picture on the Wheaties box changed more regularly than Allen Iverson's tatoos, Bob Mathias' picture was there through the '60s and some of the '70s. He died of cancer at 75 over the weekend.

Shoot, and I always thought Wheaties were good for you. ;->

Seriously, he won two Olympic decathalons over 50 years ago, and that record still stands.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some Thoughts on Mayor O'Connor

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann

Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

I haven't lived in Pittsburgh in a while (though I've lived in suburban Pittsburgh for the last 13 years). Bob O'Connor has been involved in Pittsburgh politics almost as long as I remember. Win or lose an election, he always seemed very enthusiastic about the city, and I was glad when finally was elected mayor last fall.

On July 1, he was involved with singing "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" at Point State Park with several hundred other people for Carl Kurlander's documentary "A Tale of Two Cities." He was looking very dapper that day, dressed in a crisp white shirt and talking to Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County Chief Executive.

Ironically, it was one of his last public appearances. Within ten days, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died tonight about 24 hours after being taken off of life support.

It's a shame. O'Connor is now the second Pittsburgh mayor to succumb rather early to a rare disease. Eighteen years ago, Mayor Richard Caliguiri died at the age of 56.

Unlike Tom Murphy who always seemed to be "going through the motions," O'Connor genuinely liked getting out and talking to people and trying to move the city forward. I will miss him, and I wish young Luke Ravenstahl, who'll become Pittsburgh's next mayor as he's currently the President of City Council, good luck. O'Connor will be a very tough act to follow.