Thursday, March 25, 2010

I tried. God knows I tried. Well, sort of.

In the spirit of journalistic honesty, I hopped online and attempted to read the healthcare bill. What follows is a very brief recap of my experience.


Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm ethical. And I love London. So sue me.

Please review this list and get ready for today’s quiz:









South Africa


What do these ten places have in common? No, they’re not the latest countries to host American celebrities who are adopting children or the places bidding on the 2028 Olympics.

They are the developing world’s top ten ethical destinations in the world, according to Ethical Traveler. Wondering what the heck it means to be an ethical traveler? I was, too, so here you go, and it isn’t exactly intuitive. Forget about being polite, tipping appropriately and not taking the hotel shampoo. Ethical travel is mindful travel: an awareness of our impact and responsibilities as we explore the world. That certainly is mindful. Because I have to admit that when I think “vacation travel,” the words awareness, impact and responsibilities are almost never found among my “must haves” when choosing where to go and how to get there.

I get the feeling this makes me ‘the ugly American.’ The kind of person who runs around the globe, wreaking havoc and ignoring the cultural differences that exist from place to place and nationality to nationality. The kind of person who tries to find a McDonald’s in Rome or visits Eurodisney.

Not true. But it feels true.

Let’s get back to the list. How is the list determined? Three general categories get considered and scored: environmental protection, social welfare and human rights. If that sounds kind of dry and almost grim, that’s because it is. The list also considers more light-hearted categories like experiencing nature, and interacting with “local people and cultures in a meaningful mutually enlightening way.”

For God’s sake. Let’s consider just a couple of things here, okay? If you’re planning trips to Seychelles or Namibia or Suriname or Ghana, you’re a traveler. Developing nations don’t generally attract novice travelers. If you fly to Lithuania, it’s probably because you’ve already visited Sweden and Germany. If you land in the Seychelles, you’ve already been to Madagascar, Kenya and Mozambique.

You starting to see a pattern here?

Let’s also consider this. Because of the land mass and other considerations, about 90% of the earth’s population lives in the northern hemisphere. Ninety percent! And even that 90% is concentrated in about 20% of the earth’s land mass. Can we agree that most travelers flying to at least half of these locations (found in the southern hemisphere) will leave quite a significant carbon footprint?

I hate the sanctimonious nature of lists like this. You like to travel but enjoy such pedestrian destinations as Western Europe, the Caribbean or Asia? Poor, unenlightened you. Your ethics are obviously lacking.

Then again, even this year’s report acknowledges some anomalies and seems to look the other way under certain circumstances. In Belize, Seychelles and Namibia, homosexuality is a crime, although it’s not “zealously enforced.” South Africa has a wide gap of rich vs. poor and a high crime rate. And some of last year’s most ethical destinations have been removed from the list entirely because they are leading the world in sex tourism or in trafficking children in to the sex trade: Costa Rica, Bolivia and Bulgaria. Nicaragua was removed because of fraudulent elections and both Croatia and Estonia basically outgrew the list by virtue of their economic success and classification as High Income Economies.

So in 2008, Costa Rica was on the list and travel there was encouraged. Now it's off because it rivals only Thailand and the Phillippines when it comes to prostitution and sex trade. Did this happen in basically two years? Really? That’s quite an accomplishment.

This is why lists like this are specious and pointless. How about this instead? Travel honestly. Don’t make a mess or cause any mayhem. Obey the rules. Respect the people around you, their surroundings and their traditions while you’re in their midst. Be kind. Don’t be judgmental while visiting another culture. There. My suggested rules around ethical travel. So go where you will - that’s entirely up to you - and enjoy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Okay. Sometimes you can make this stuff up.

And I have the post to prove it, considering this post. I wrote it ages ago. If you want, take a look and then come back for the latest.

So today, I'm on my favorite homepage - MSN - and what do I see but a story about Demi Moore, and her latest "news."

For God's sake. It's not enough that she and her ilk inflicted the entire idea of "cougars" on us, and that a network produces a television show about older women and younger men. She's not satisfied that a dating service called exists only to create older woman / younger man couples, if only for a night or two. Now that the word has become part of the early 21st century lexicon, in no small way due to Demi's antics, she now labels 'cougar' a distasteful term. (Demi Moore determining what is or isn't distasteful is kind of funny if you think about it.)

May I ask why? Maybe it's because when she was the only one out there - the only older woman from a certain generation of Hollywood leading ladies that had attached herself to a younger husband - that being identified as a cougar was fun and unique. Maybe she doesn't want to belong to a club that would have her, although in this case she was not only the Founder and President, she was the Senior Publicist.

That's all in the past. Now she's a self-identified Puma. How sweet. I want to know the difference between a Puma and a Cougar, other than Demi's dismissal of the latter. Maybe Pumas are snobs? That may have first welcomed others like them but now look down on the cougars that surround them? Perhaps they pretend to be part of a group and then when too many others join they break off into their own new, better, more exclusive group.

God knows. If anyone finds any of the details surrounding this very vital differentiation, I'd be delighted if you'd share them here. Otherwise I'll be forced to imagine more of them. And not one bit of it will flatter any member of the feline family.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Isn't just being invited exciting enough?

At the risk of offending readers' sensitivity, I offer today's Daily Caller column.

Suffice it to say, I would have thought that most men would be delighted just to be asked to the party, so to speak. I'm positive not one of them would complain or be disappointed about the lack of decorations they found upon arrival, if you see what I mean.

A new low in self-esteem has been reached. Who could have imagined it would be so sparkly?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What passes for integrity in Georgia these days?

Many years ago, before we had children, I used to accompany my husband on a golf outing once a year. No, we weren’t golfers – at least, I wasn’t. Our trips were work-related. He spent several years working as a videographer for a number of clients, attending PGA tour events annually from April to August.

Because of a personal friendship with one tournament’s producer, I was invited to accompany my husband to that particular event every spring. While my husband worked as a cameraman, following specific golfers around the course, or shooting every stroke on specific fairways or greens, I held such important jobs as labeling videotapes and driving the cart. Clearly, not exactly something that needed my personal touch but it did give me the opportunity to spend a long weekend on a gorgeous course and watch some great golfers once a year.

I remember one specific exchange that happened on the course one year, and in light of Mr. Woods’ return to Augusta next month, I think it bears some contemplation. As I sat down – inside the rope line, mind you, courtesy of my “press” credentials – I slipped off my sandals to revel in the gorgeous spring weather and feel the soft, warm grass under my feet. No sooner had I touched a baby toe onto the carpet that covers a golf course when one of the “officials” stepped over to me and quietly requested that I slip my feet back into my sandals and keep them there, thank you very much.

Because of the horrified look on his face, I have to assume that sitting barefoot on a golf course – especially during a PGA event - was simply not done by anyone with any sense of decorum. It wasn’t appropriate or accepted behavior. It wasn’t polite or properly respectful of the course and the people surrounding me. This wasn’t a weekend at the beach, for God’s sake. This was the PGA! Have some pride, woman! A little dignity!

Now, I’m well aware that a bare foot on a tournament observer, even if she is “working” at the event, is a far cry from shocking behavior but it sure felt like it was. And as I said, I can’t help but remember this feeling of humiliation as Mr. Woods is about to step foot onto Augusta National Golf Course and claim his place back on the tour. Sure, he’ll be wearing shoes but what about everything else he did to sully the dignity of the game?

My husband tells me my logic is flawed here. Whatever Woods did – he did off the course. He didn’t exactly debauch Magnolia Lane or the Amen Corner. Had he done so, tournament officials – even the PGA itself – may have been well within their rights to request that he remove himself from their event, even if only for a probationary period. Plus, he’s not exactly the first pro-golfer who turned out to be a cheating scumbag, despite a pristine reputation.

But my contention is that at this point in Woods’ career, it’s difficult to separate the professional golfer from the very highly compensated spokesperson he became as a result of his athletic prowess. From the admirable, upstanding family man he conjured up for the viewing public, which is about as far from reality as you could get with this guy.

So the question is: if a prominent person acts in a way that is morally questionable (at best) in personal life, must they somehow make up for that behavior by bowing out of the public life that helped them achieve their prominence? Depends on the person, I guess. And the act. Elliott Spitzer resigned his governorship. John Edwards withdrew from political life. Senator John Ensign resigned his committee leadership after admitting an affair with a campaign worker. Governor Jim McGreevey resigned after admitting his sexual orientation and his affair. ESPN fired commentator Steve Phillips following his disclosure of an affair with a younger co-worker.

On the other hand, Letterman is still behind his desk. Mark Sanford is governing South Carolina. Bill Clinton never resigned for God’s sake after having an extra-marital affair in the workplace, aka The Oval Office, with a much younger associate.

Maybe none of this would bother me so much if I didn’t remember the look on that guy’s face when he more or less asked me to behave myself and cover my bare feet. If golf is so pure; if it’s so respectable and mannerly and played by gentlemen, how could it ignore Tiger Woods' cheating? Why is it so easy to separate the athlete from his actions?

According to the PGA website, it makes enormous sense for Woods to rejoin the tour in Augusta. The Masters Tournament is among the most restricted sporting events in the world. “Media credentials are limited even in normal circumstances, and the club has tight control over who gets in. Some fans with season badges risk losing them forever for violating rules, such as being caught with a cell phone or a camera. Among the rules: No running.

Most players expect Woods to be heckled, although not as much -- if any -- at the Masters.

"That's why Augusta makes such good sense…There's less of that than anywhere else. Everyone is afraid to lose their ticket. The etiquette and behavior is far better than anywhere else because of the fear factor."

Legendary Augusta stories abound, including the (possibly exaggerated) one about sportscaster Jack Whitaker referring to the Augusta fans as a “mob” and subsequently being asked to remove himself from the proceedings by club president Clifford Roberts. Augusta National and the Master's Tournament refused television sponsors for more than two years after the national outcry about having no women among their members. Says a little something about the club's ability to finance a network broadcast from its own resources.

Augusta can be prickly but it seems to be consistently prickly. If anyone in the world of professional golf had had the guts to shun Woods and make a statement about honor and integrity, it would have been Augusta National. But they didn’t. And that’s just a little disappointing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Have a child? Sign here, please.

Thanks in large part to friends who can't help but think of me when they encounter situations or come across news items that are annoying - I'm trying to take that as a compliment - I offer today's Daily Caller column.

Thanks to Mary for the Facebook inspiration. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Great. More inspiration for the rest of us.

I am far from an expert on anything but there is such a thing as the law of diminishing return in many, many aspects of life. According to an interactive tutorial from the University of South Carolina, “The Law of Diminishing Returns is an economics classic. It says: As you repeat doing something, each repetition becomes harder and/or less rewarding. The "returns" to your extra efforts 'diminish…'"

This concept occurred to me when I read the news about Sarah Palin’s next foray into publishing. Apparently, she’s writing another book, this one as yet untitled, in which she will gather a “celebration of American virtues and strengths.” She’ll select “readings that have inspired her and portraits of she admires.” Mixed in between her favorites will be her own musings on her personal experiences to “amplify” the themes she’ll cover in the book.

Let me see if I understand this. It took Sarah Palin about forty-six years of living before she burst onto the literary scene with her multi-million copy bestseller, Going Rogue. Full disclosure: I haven’t read her book but understand it to be her own irreverent, unapologetic autobiography. Granted, crammed into her years were a governorship and a national campaign for the Vice-Presidency of this country but those things happened only over the last few years. For the first forty-one years or so of her life, she was very far from a familiar name, living for all practical purposes the exact same life millions of Americans lead on a daily basis.

But there is no denying she has her fans and Harper Collins has the book sales to prove it. And like any publisher on the planet, it simply has to be true that one bestseller deserves another. There is no other reason to believe that the Sarah Palin has any more enlightened ideas about the “readings that have inspired her,” (which by the way would be “writings,” wouldn’t they?) or can choose from among portraits of people she admires better than you, or me, or the guy down the street who walks his two standard poodles every morning, or the man who pumps my gas, or the guy who hands me coffee through the window at Dunkin Donuts or the CPA who does our taxes every year.

I have no doubt that Sarah’s collection of inspiration, mixed with her own personal reflections on said inspiration, will sell like mad. But getting back to our law of diminishing return rules, it won’t sell as well as Going Rogue. There is simply no way it can. It’s not a personal, “let me tell you how it is” story. It’s not an inside look into the life of a woman who emerged from all but obscurity outside of Alaska onto the national stage in exactly one day in 2008.

What is it again? “A celebration of American virtues and strengths.” “Readings that have inspired her.” People she loves plus her own personal connection that will “amplify” the essays. That's super.

These kinds of books emerge from celebrities with some regularity. They must do well enough, although I don’t think I ever bought one. Maybe they’re supposed to inspire the rest of us to get inspired, or inspire others, or recognize inspiration when it smacks us in the face. All I know is that I don’t really care who inspires David Archuleta (“Chords of Strength”), Maria Shriver (“We Inspire”), Marlo Thomas (“The Right Words at the Right Time”), Marlo Thomas (“The Right Words at the Right Time Volume 2”), Charles Grodin (“If I Only Knew Then…learning from our mistakes”), or Jane Seymour (“Open Hearts”).

Question: is the book-buying public clamoring for another one? Are we all just dying to read Sarah Palin’s hand-picked collection of inspiration? Let me rephrase: are enough of us dying to read it make it worth publishing?

I guess we’ll find out.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Never have so many.....

Yes, I'll be watching Sunday night. And I'll be rooting for Tarantino and Firth.

That aside, here are rest of my thoughts about the Academy Awards in today's Daily Caller.