Friday, December 1, 2006
Out of step, out of time
State of Denial is a recent book by Bob Woodward in which he excoriates the Bush administration for its disastrous failures in planning for post-war Iraq. "Denial" is a word that pops up frequently now — the most prominent example came earlier this week when President Bush denied that Iraq is engaged in a civil war. This triggered a number of definitions of "civil war," from media analysts in a semantic exercise reminiscent of Bill Clinton, another famous denier, who once pondered "what the meaning of 'is' is." O.J. Simpson continues to deny that he murdered his wife and her friend.
Bush, Clinton and Simpson are individual deniers, not to be confused with groups of deniers who refute and challenge scientific and factual evidence that points to the opposite conclusion. Deniers of global warming are vociferous, skeptical of the evidence gathered by leading scientists around the world. In Carlisle the writer of a letter to the editor (Mosquito, August 25, 2006) charged that the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, was "info-tainment," not fact, and stated that he would pursue his own scientific inquiry. Two weeks ago Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a U.N. Conference on Climate Change that those who would deny global warming or delay taking action against it are "out of step" and "out of time." Denier-in-chief is President Bush, who has refused to sign the international Kyoto Protocol that regulates greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations until further evidence of climate change is presented.
Deniers, in great numbers, deny that the Holocaust happened, despite its being the most extensively documented period in world history. Refuting the Holocaust deniers is my friend, an Auschwitz survivor who, after 60 years, has found the courage to speak to high school students in Boston about the Holocaust and answer their questions — all their questions.
As preposterous as the Holocaust deniers are those who call in to talk radio shows and loudly deny that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 occurred or that man landed on the moon. Then there are the evolution deniers. Many call themselves "creationists" and followers of "intelligent design theory," again in the presence of overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to the Big Bang theory. They are the direct descendants of the 17th-century "flat earthers," whose society still exists today.
The Internet, and especially blogs, offer these deniers a community in which to share and reinforce their opinions. Deniers in our country have the constitutional right to express their opinions. Yes, they are annoying and ill-informed, with seriously flawed arguments that puzzle a majority of Americans. One way to counteract their falsehoods and misinformation is through education, from elementary school through universities, especially on global warming and the Holocaust.
Or, we could ignore the deniers, denying them our attention.
Revisiting the holidays
The holidays are upon us again. Although the obligatory turkey and tummy-numbing sports events are behind us, endless cocktail events and more festivities are ahead. (What's a gourmand to do?) Fear of steatopygia looms ominously on the horizon. The bathroom scale becomes the most feared household totem and seems only to measure our dietary guilt. Are we helpless in the face of such gustatory opportunity? A tailor's tape might well be a better measure of our malcontent.
Enough! I say it's time to rethink the meaning of these holidays. Black Friday was again a consumerist abomination. Most of what shoppers thoughtlessly gobbled up will be returned on the first post-New-Year's opportunity. Love and joy cannot be measured on the cash register tape or credit card statement. Maybe what holiday shopping really inspires is fear and loathing when we are feeling most vulnerable as life proceeds into the cold dread days of January. Debt- and diet-angst come creeping where heartfelt joy once romped.
Is there another perspective which might garner less angst? Of course. We all know it but in the rush toward tradition and conformity, the essential spirit of these holidays sometimes becomes lost — especially when off-spring are in school or under foot. While we can all agree that Thanksgiving pretends to be nutritionally sound, the Christmas/Chanukah holiday tends to cater to our acquisitory nature and diet debasement. Sadly, it seems that store-bought generosity is sometimes the perceived measure of our affection. This need not be so. Food and education are both political statements which tend to define who we become. By reframing the sense of these events from receiving to giving, from selfishness to selflessness, we can at least recast the social politics and the spirit of the holidays.
Neither relative nor abject poverty is readily evident in quaint but wealthy Carlisle. However, all of the surrounding towns and cities have enclaves which could well warrant our attention this holiday season. Food pantries, shelters and charities which provide help to families in crisis (or are simply less fortunate) abound. None of them will disdain your family's good intentions whether they be financial support, food for the hungry or hands-on help to serve a homeless family a holiday meal. Whether your household is red or blue, sharing the real meaning of holiday giving might be the best gift a family can make to one another. In our value-added lifestyle, nothing adds value like sharing the gifts which almost all of us have been so fortunate to receive — not the least of which are food and education. The gift of your time and attention neither increases your credit-card debt nor adds to your waistline. It will, however, amplify your family's sense of self-esteem. Your gifts to those less well-off are truly the gifts that never become worn-out or obsolete, and your children will remember them long after whatever you stood in line for has been cast aside.
© 2006 The