Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Social Nazis

The timing is amazing. Hard on the heels of yesterday's post about otherwise nice people who insist that you must do things that are good for you, comes an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle opposing the currently fashionable persecution of smokers, and I'm amazed to find I agree with it.

Let's get the disclaimers out of the way. I don't smoke; hell, I'm an asthmatic. I've smoked I think 7 cigarettes in my life, when I was in grad school, to see if I liked it. I didn't; you wake up in the morning and your mouth tastes like an ash tray. They say that kissing a smoker is like licking an ash try (
I was married to one, and it's not quite that bad, but you do notice it); try waking up with that in your own mouth. So I never contracted the habit, which is fortunate because if I had, I probably couldn't breathe at all now.

But this hounding of smokers by constantly reducing the list of places where they're allowed to indulge their habit is getting into the category of the people who yell publicly at pregant women drinking wine (see yesterday's post). The official justification for segregating smokers is that secondhand smoke gives non-smokers lung cancer. OK, that may even be true; but the guy with the Camel in his mouth is at much higher risk. Also, the nicotine habit is the hardest addiction to break - worse than heroin. But as long as they stay in their corners and don't breathe the smoke at other people, how is their nasty habit anybody else's business? Enough already.

This comes back down to civility, a topic I've ranted about before. If I have a nasty habit of some sort, which I manage so that it doesn't harm or threaten other people, then it is nobody else's business. If I'm fat, that's my business. If I drink too much, as long as I don't drive, that's my business. Ditto with the smoking: as long as they control where they light up, it is nobody else's business. But the category of people I call "social Nazis" (yes, I realize I'm echoing Rush Limbaugh, with whom I disagree on almost every point) feel that they, through their superior moral characterstics caused by their possession of The Only Truth, have the right to chastise other people publicly for indulging in habits that injure only the habituee.

But the pregnant lady with the wine, they cry: she's harming her baby. Well, maybe she is: but there was a whole generation of people born in the Roaring Twenties, when everybody drank socially all the time, and that's the generation that won World War II. It's probably better if she doesn't drink, but you don't see fetal alcohol syndrome in the child of a woman who has an occasional glass of wine with dinner. You see it in the children of women who drink their dinner, and breakfast and lunch too. Besides which, it's her baby. It's not the critics' baby. And, getting back to the smokers: as long as I don't have to inhale their smoke, if they want the habit, that's their problem.

The critics really just want somebody to look down on, so they can feel morally superior, safe in their possession of The Truth, which gives them the right to criticize, because they are Right. Try criticizing something they do and see how they like it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A True Believer

I was proselytized today - and all I set out to do was take a water aerobics class. The instructor is a temporary substitute, while the normal Tuesday instructor is recovering from knee surgery; this was the first time I'd seen her, as the regular instructor just had surgery last week.

The new instructor had just read a book, after seeing the author interviewed on public television; and she was full of the enthusiasm of the converted. Nothing would do but that she must share her bright new truth with the class, especially since it was about our health. We must know this, it would be good for us. I don't remember the author's name, she said he was a researcher at Cal Berkeley; but the burden of her song was that it doesn't matter how much you exercise or how carefully you watch your diet: you must eliminate bread. If you eat bread you will be fat, and you won't be able to control it. Bread is evil, especially white bread. We all know, of course, that sugar is evil, too; but I admit I've never before heard high-fructose corn syrup described as "toxic." I think that may be a little overstated. Even fruit should be eaten only in moderation, as it contains - yes - sugar. She particularly warned the group against mangoes.

About this time, I stopped listening. I went there to exercise; if I want advice on nutrition I know how to find it. I also know a fad when I hear one, and this, by God, is a fad; in a couple of years they will have found some other thing to be appalled about. A few years ago it was the carcinogens in grilled meat. Her horror at the unsanitary conditions in a soda pop factory - they get so many flies, she said, that the FDA gives them an allowance of insect parts that are acceptable in soda pop - led me to remark that they probably do filter out the biggest bits; but mostly I just let her rant.

The interesting thing about the whole incident was her tone. She spoke with the accent and the emotional verve of a recent convert to a new religion. In another era she would have been standing on a street corner with a tambourine, singing hymns and exhorting passers-by to believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved, brothers! I guess it's true that you don't have to follow a formal religion to be religious; she certainly exhibited a religious fervor over this.

And I, of course, immediately raised my hackles and growled; I don't like people who know the only Truth. The step from "I know the only Truth" to "The people who refuse my Truth (translation: don't agree with me) are evil and must be destroyed" is all too short: and the next step after that is into war and ethnic cleansing and other unpleasant pastimes. I doubt anyone would kill someone because they eat white bread; but there are people in Berkeley who publicly embarrass pregnant women whom they don't know, if they see them drinking wine or smoking in public. This is a form of social assault, and is a lesser manifestation of the impulse that leads the Taliban to beat women who appear in public without a burqa.

I also have little patience with ascetics; this is the new asceticism, where we will only be purified if we give up the foods we like. I like bread, and it's certainly better for me to snack on than, say, potato chips or pork rinds. For that matter, I like soda pop, although I limit my intake because I'm trying to control my weight.
My main reflection on the proposed diet is that you wouldn't be able to tell if it actually made you live longer, or if it merely seemed that way...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

St. Michael of Washington??

Has anyone else seen the wonderful AP photograph of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff? Here's the link from Yahoo News. He looks like a dyspeptic Russian icon...

Comments on the Proposed Ceasefire

Here's a summary of the proposed U.N. "peace deal" for Lebanon and Israel:
U.N. resolution: Steps toward a permanent cease-fire in Lebanon

-- The resolution calls for the "full cessation" of fighting. Hezbollah would stop all attacks, and Israel would be limited to defensive military operations.

-- Once fighting ends, the U.N. force would be expanded from 2,000 to 15,000 troops to help deployment of Lebanese soldiers and withdrawal of Israeli forces.

-- It spells out a series of steps toward a permanent cease-fire and a lasting political solution, including the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon.

-- It stresses that the Lebanese government must be the only armed force in the country.

-- It requests international aid for the Lebanese people.
I have several comments on this, but they all boil down to: What on earth do they think is going to make Hezbollah abide by this agreement? Let's keep one thing in mind here. Hezbollah started this. They invaded Israeli territory just for the kicks they get from pulling the Israeli tail, and Israel reacted, big time. Worse, Hezbollah is getting major PR goodies on the Arab street for their valiant stand against the evil Zionists. They say they'll quit per the deal, but really, they have no incentive to quit. Why would they? We'll see whether they do. (How many of those damn' Katyushas do they have, anyhow? And how are they getting resupplied, if they are?)

I've heard remarks about Israel's incursions into Lebanon's sovereign state. That's ridiculous. Between Syria and Hezbollah, Lebanon isn't a sovereign state. They certainly have no control over their foreign policy: Hassan Nasrallah is in charge of that. The deal suggests that the Lebanese government should be the only armed force in the country; of course it should; and from that I deduce that at this point, Hezbollah is the Lebanese government, since it's clearly the only armed force in the country.

I'd also like to know where the extra 13,000 soldiers will come from, with which the agreement proposes to reinforce UNIFIL. This falls into the "You and what army?" category. At the best of times, the U.N. has trouble getting people to put boots on the ground under those blue hats, and the situation in Lebanon is disastrous. The U.S. has already weaseled out. Who's going to provide 13,000 additional U.N. troops? Santa Claus? The Arab League should, but in their hearts they think Hezbollah's doing just fine.

The only part of the deal that actually makes sense is the request for international aid for the Lebanese people. If only the people who promise millions of dollars in aid were willing to write the actual checks...

More Road Signs

Our recent trip turned up 2 new road signs plus an "honorable mention". The best one was

Fruit Antiques

seen in Yakima, Washington. A close second was

Espresso Burgers

just south of Orland, CA on I-5. Finally, although it doesn't fit the general category, I was charmed by the sign in Vacaville, CA advertising

Live bait indoor shooting gallery

The combination is just too odd.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Summer Vacation

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, because I was on vacation and out of computer reach. I actually had my cell phone along for emergencies, but since at least half the trip was spent in locations with zero reception, I'm still not sure why I lugged the thing along.

It was an interesting vacation. Our normal process is that my husband finds a place he thinks he'd like to go, and makes all the arrangements, and I go along for the ride. He's aware of my preferences and shares most of them, so it usually works pretty well, and on major shifts we consult more closely. On this one, though, we both were bitten by our assumptions, and by the weather.

First, the weather. Remember the heat wave that flattened the country in late July? OK, we left on about day 3 of that (having spent day 2 doing laundry, packing, and attending a wedding in full regalia including pantyhose for me and a tie for him), to drive up the California Central Valley on I-5, a trip that normally sees temperatures in the 90-100 degree range. On that trip it never got below 100 degrees, although my bet that it would be over 110 in Redding failed. By 1 degree. We spent the first 3 days of our trip driving to our ultimate destination, Lake Chelan in eastern Washington, and it was at least 100 degrees all three days. Thank God for Volkswagen air conditioning.

After overnight stays in Wolf Creek, OR, and beautiful Yakima, WA, we went up a back road to Wenatchee, WA.
My gardener husband wanted to stop in Wenatchee to look at the Ohme Gardens; but my enthusiasm for touring gardens, no matter how lovely, flags rapidly in that kind of heat, so I retreated to the shade and waited for him. The Ohme Gardens are on top of a bluff and really are quite lovely; you can see the confluence of the Wenatchee River and the Columbia River from there. If you can stand the heat.

From Wenatchee we went on to the town of Lake Chelan, WA, on Lake Chelan. Now, Yakima isn't exactly nowhere, although you can see nowhere from Yakima; but Lake Chelan -
Lake Chelan is Nowhere. It's a 3 day drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and at least 2 days from Portland. In Lake Chelan we boarded a boat, and rode another 50 miles up Lake Chelan (it took 4 hours) to our ultimate destination, Stehekin, which can be reached only by boat or air. Our room in the Stehekin Lodge had no air conditioning. (It did have good cross drafting.)

all this area is high desert. This is where the assumptions came in. We both assumed, without exactly stating it, that a remote lake surrounded by mountains would be cool. Lush, green, and relaxing. We learned on this trip that everything in Oregon and Washington east of roughly The Dalles is high desert. Can you spell "rain shadow"?? Brown as toast, no trees, sagebrush, etc. And, given the heat wave, hot enough to fry eggs on the rocks. Furthermore, this entire area has a more or less constant wind coming down off the Cascades. Stehekin does actually have trees, but it's pretty dry, and the downslope wind from the head of the valley stops only briefly around 4 AM. When we stayed in Seattle some years ago, we bought a book called "The Wet Side of the Mountains", and I think we just visited the other side.

We hadn't been in Stehekin 3 hours the day we arrived, when we ran into one of the side effects of a dry, windy, hot climate. It's called the Flick Creek Fire, and it started while we were in the visitor center talking to the rangers; and the only good thing about it is that it was 2.5 miles downwind from us. I have never been so grateful for a steady north wind; if that wind had changed, we might not have been able to get out. I think I got some photos of the first hour or so of a forest fire (film not developed yet); very scary. Everyone was nervous the 2 days we were there, going out on the dock to watch the fire; and the firefighting teams used the Stehekin docks as a staging point.

We left Stehekin on Friday the 28th, as planned; the fire was still burning but had settled down to a widespread smoulder. We were frankly happy to see it recede down the lake. The rest of our vacation was much less interesting, spent poking around Vancouver, B.C. in cool comfort (the heat wave having broken). Someday I'll figure out why pleasant, uneventful vacations make such dull stories...