Monday, March 28, 2005

On 'We, the people'

This whole drawn out, ghastly Schiavo matter has been extremely troubling from the perspective of democratic principles. The founding fathers devised our Constitution to delineate clearly the powers of the different branches of government, namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. This is called the separation of powers, and such a separation is necessary because a democracy needs checks and balances to ensure no one branch assumes overall control.

Unfortunately, the current Administration hellbent on spending some of their self-proclaimed earned 'political capital'--I speak of the executive branch, of course--sought to interfere with this dependable doctrine and usurp the power of another branch of government. It has interfered in what is essentially a private matter (or at best a matter that falls within the jurisdiction of a State). Moreover, simultaneously, the Congress--the legislative branch--sought to interfere and usurp the powers of the judiciary in the matter.

This is a dangerous precedent and we should all be troubled. The fundamentalists drove these two branches to act. They have no respect for those who disagree, nor do they respect the Constitution of the United States. In addition, their hypocrisy
makes me nauseous: they have recently vociferously proclaimed the sanctity of marriage and now seek to interfere with this so-called sanctity by urging the government to interfere and overrule Michael Schiavo's decision. They can not have their cake and eat it. Every rational American should watch their actions and take note of the things to come if they were to get their way.

I am glad a backlash has occurred against the Administration and Congress. It is 'We, the people' collectively, who share the burdens and benefits under our Constitution. Provisions of the Constitution are not to be cherrypicked or for the sole benefit of political hacks and private constituencies. It is also 'We, the people' who must protect it and be vigilant.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Birthdays and looming weigh-ins

Back in Northern Ireland, my mother and sister Siobhan's weight loss has been continuing at an 'extremely satisfying rate'. Each now can boast a number of glittering black stones-each stone representing the loss of 7 pounds--in their jars. The journey has not been entirely worry free, however.

Mum's birthday fell on March 1st and, in addition to warning each of her offspring and grandchildren that she wanted 'no birthday cards with large numbers on them,' there was the dilemma of where exactly to celebrate the event. Watchful as a hawk about her calorie consumption, Mum (who's always been partial to a delicious meal out)proved extremely evasive when asked by Siobhan where she'd like to go for dinner. In the end, after much pressing, she said she preferred to stay at home and cook for everyone, but was told that was not an option. In great anguish about possibly going over her 'points' allowance, she agreed to go out to eat provided some kind of fresh fish was on the selected restaurant's menu. They went to a place called 'Rafters' in a neighboring town. On the actual night, Siobhan reported to me later, Mum's resistance was not up to snuff and she had a fillet steak and went over her allowance--mashed potatoes with lashings of butter (anything potato being an Irish Achilles heel) and a sherry trifle with whipped cream being the culprits--but did reign herself in next day by taking an additional walk in the woods, forgoing her morning porridge and reduced her supper portion size.

Siobhan's birthday fell on Monday but, according to Mum, unofficial celebrations had been ongoing for the entire preceding week. There were dinners-in and dinners-out. She's almost certain Siobhan will have to return a black stone at next Monday's public weigh-in and it matters not a bit whether my sister puts in hours on her exercise bicycle this coming Easter weekend as she threatens, but has decided it's wise to say nothing in the interim.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Terri Schiavo revisited

Patricia Heaton, actress, feminist, mother of four and I agree. Terri Schiavo's husband is behaving despicably. On telly last night, she said he's had girlfriends. So he's moved on with his life. Why can't he just bow out gracefully and let her parents look after her as they desperately wish to do? Is it machismo? Is it anger at her parents?

And the law continues to be an ass--a great big ass. We're living in the new millennium in the USA, in a civilized society, and we have a woman who's being deliberately deprived of her daily nutrition dying without dignity among us. No matter how it's dressed up, no matter how clinical the terms, the courts are permitting a woman to be STARVED to death before our very eyes. Why don't they proceed a step farther, stop this fiction that she's dying slowly and the courts are acting objectively, and order the hospice to administer a lethal injection? Spare us this excruciating spectacle. We Americans were outraged when the Iraqi insurgents beheaded innocent people. Where is our outrage now? Because this woman's entwined in the twilight world of a coma, because we're of the opinion she's a 'vegetable', could it be we're indifferent?

And last night, I had the misfortune to watch a Roman Catholic clergy man--a man who purports to represent the religion I was born into--mince words about the church's position on this public starving. He said the church does not view this as an issue of euthanasia; it's a question of removing her feeding tube and allowing her to die. Sidestepping the issue, just when one expects the church to do so. No surprises there. He's dead right, of course. It's not an issue of euthanasia. It's an issue of public execution.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Leaving the Dial-Up Age

I've done it. I've actually taken the plunge and subscribed to DSL and my old computer--the one I thought was on its last legs--is behaving like a young pup. It's whizzing me through to my favorite sites as fast as the old Concorde. Seems odd to use that analogy, but everything has its time.

I really don't know how I put up with dial-up service for the past two years. All that waiting and crunching sounds the computer's hard disk used to make. Now make no mistake, Dear Reader--very George Elliot, that is--my computer still makes the plinking and crunching sounds, but they're now so much perkier, so much more musical, and not at all worrisome anymore.

The only think I'm pissed about is that my Internet provider(read, the local phone Co.) has a monopoly in my area. I'm hostage because the pie's divided up by one or two companies in the countryside where I live--same for cable TV. So, while others across the road from my home pay $29.99 per month for DSL, I have to pay $39.99. That's a rip-off. I mean, this is America. What the hell happened to competition? I've taken note of this double standard in free-enterprise, 'American Dream' America. The principle of competition applies only when it suits; nor does it apply to tobacco, dairy and a bunch of other industries, either. Subsidies, subsidies, subsidies is the codeword. Screw the consumer is the mantra.

Anway, back to my young pup of a computer again so I can wind up on an upbeat note. I'm also very happy because I've downloaded a free software program that cleaned up my hard disk and removed all the pesky spyware programs, cookies and eavesdropping stuff that was slowing down my computer. (It's called Lavasoft for those that are interested, it's from Sweden, and I love it because I can scan my disk and it removes all the crap.) Best of all, as I said, it's free for home users. Three cheers for the Swedes.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

So you'd like to be authentic on St. Patrick's Day?

As it's Saint Patrick's Day, I thought I'd list some facts:

1. Native Irish people do not eat Corned Beef and Cabbage. Corned Beef is a putrid, fat addled meat and comes packed in a can in Ireland (was actually once a staple of British Army rations), very few people eat it, and it is not to be confused with what the American-Irish call Corned Beef--which in itself is equally as unappetizing as far as I'm concerned. On Saint Patrick's Day, Irish people eat whatever meal is on the menu for supper that night.

2. No town or city in the North or South of Ireland dyes its river green.

3. The Native Irish do not dye their beer green or eat green cake or butter cookies baked in the shapes of shamrocks and sprinkled with vivid green sugar.

3. Irish Protestants go about their daily business because the day is a normal workday for them. Irish Catholics--those that practice their faith that is--will attend mass if they are available to do so because it is a Holy Day of obligation. Those who don't will go off to work.

4.Irish Protestant children will go off to school, whereas Catholic schoolkids will have the day off. (I believe the Protestant schools do have a day off in lieu--in Northern Ireland, it's July 12th, but I don't know about the Republic.)

5. There are no massive public street parades, no marching bands, no dancers. Dublin does have a parade, though it is so minor in the scheme of things, the prime minister of Ireland (the republic, that is) usually comes over to the States to celebrate the day here.

6. Native Irish people do not exchange St. Patrick's Day cards. They simply do not exist because there is no demand for such expensive silliness.

7. In Ireland, the people do not wear green on Saint Patrick's Day--unless by coincidence--nor do they wear crazy green hats. (Green is in fact considered an unlucky color in Ireland--there are not too many green cars and the authentic color of Irish Aran sweaters is off-white.) Some native Irish do wear a tidy bunch of shamrocks on their lapels. However, at the end of the day, they do not eat them as the Welsh eat the daffodils they sport on their lapels on Saint David's Day. (In fact, I did not realize daffodils were edible until I attended Cardiff University and saw my fellow Welsh students tucking into theirs.)

Enjoy your day whether you celebrate it Irish or American-Irish style.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Another Bronx tale

What a difference a day or so makes. Already, the sun feels warmer and there's a definite hint that spring's in the air. On a late afternoon ride up to NYC, the entire area was bathed in a gorgeous glow from the sun, one that turned the grey trunks and branches of the trees coppery red, the grass coppery-red, everything coppery-red. I love when I come upon the sun painting scenes like this, and it always seems to occur at two times of the year;mid-fall and very early spring.

We were on our way to visit Larry's mum who lives in the Bronx. She's can see into the Yankee stadium which is useful if you're a baseball fan, but not to her because she's wholly disinterested. As we drove by Yankee stadium, yet another sign of the changing season was evident--there was a sign on the wall announcing '27 more days' until the start of baseball. On we went past the Bronx Supreme Court in the Grand Concourse. I'd forgotten how impressive and beautiful the building is with its art deco copper reliefs and pinkish granite statues.

Every time I pass its great, sweeping steps, I'm reminded of a foreclosure sale I held there when I was at my old lawfirm--it was nerveracking because my boss had sent me out alone for the first time and said no-one would be there to bid on the commercial property. He was wrong. Many people were in attendance and I was terrified I'd make a mistake, maybe let the property go at the wrong price, my fear compounded by the knowledge that an associate before me had been fired for making such an error and I'd had to draft the litigation papers suing him. In the end, all went well and my boss trusted me enough to send me to do the closing of title a week later.

Larry's mum makes the most superb Puerto Rican food--there's Pernil (a fresh ham done in garlic), arroz con grandules spiced rice with pigeon peas, pegao (that's the crunchy bits of rice at the bottom of the pot, and my absolute favorite tostones deep fried plantains.

Jean Brodie says 'Ah, carnations, such a serviceable flower' most dismissively in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Well, in my opinion, plantains are such a serviceable fruit, but I mean that in a good way. You can have them as a savory dish or, when ripened, served with honey and ice-cream. Yummy!! His mum knows I love them and makes them especially when I visit, so I've become an expert in all things 'plantain.' Now she looks to me rather than her son for approval as to how they've turned out. Imagine, such an honor for a potato man.

And we polish the meal off with cake and Puerto Rican coffee, done Puerto Rican style with hot milk, of course. It's the best thing since I lived in Germany and drank tons of their coffee. For me, American coffee's just too weak.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

The Blarney Stone

Well, we attended the opening of the 10th anniversary of Riverdance at Radio City Music Hall last night and it was brilliant. The principal dancers were Sinead McCafferty and Conor Hayes and they were on top form, the sets were creative, the singing and instrumentation well-executed, and the crowds huge. I'd assumed the crowd would be Irish and was astonished to find how disparate the audience was judging by the wide range of languages I heard spoken at intermission, though I realized later that the performance includes flamenco, tap and Ukrainian dancing. It was also interesting to learn that the Riverdance concept began in Dublin as a six minute routine to fill an intermission in the 1994 Eurovision Song contest; 300 million Europeans had been watching and it proved so successful the producers created an entire show.

Because St. Patrick's Day is almost upon us, and thinking to keep the theme of the evening very Irish, Larry and I sought out an Irish Restaurant/Pub called The Blarney Stone in Midtown which had been recently featured on the Food Network. On the telly, it looked very inviting and Bobby Flay, the program's host, lauded the food and authentic atmosphere. Of course, assuming there wouldn't be very many restaurants called 'The Blarney Stone' in midtown, I didn't bother to go on the net and research its address. Instead, my strategy was (and I thought it sound) to ask the first cop who looked Irish around the Port Authority and he'd sure point us in the right direction. After all, I reasoned, they hang out in Irish places. The problem was neither the first, second or third cop looked Irish and, when I found one that did, she knew some Irish bars but had never heard of The Blarney Stone. Of course, I'd also forgotten that many NYC cops live in Long Island and do their socializing there. In the end, I inquired in the first Irish restaurant I came across and the very helpful manager--himself from the 'old sod' too--said there were no less than three places called 'The Blarney Stone' in mid-town, all quite distant from each other.

Off we went to the nearest one on 47th Street. Inside looked vaguely familiar to the interior I'd seen on the telly--I allowed for telly lighting, etc. I asked the Mexican waiter if this was the restaurant featured on the Food Network and he nodded. I was completely satisfied. It was a typical NYC Irish pub: de rigeur faded portrait of JFK, posters of Gaelic football players--I imagined a few years ago they probably had my brother Dermot's mug up there because he was one such famous Irish footballer--the Irish flag, Guinness, Smithwick's and Harp on tap. One interesting twist was a blown-up photo of the 'Rat Pack'. And the food, especially my skirt steak, was delicious. After we'd eaten, the manager came by and I remarked how good the food had tasted. I decided to make his day by adding we'd heard of his pub on the Food Network and made a point of coming here.
"Oh, this isn't the joint," he said. "That's up on 3rd Ave. People make that mistake all the time." He winked. "But we're not complaining, like."

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The alumni questionnaire

My law school at my old alma mater is setting up an alumni program to compliment the existing university's alumni relations program. So one of my old professors who used to teach me Juristic Technique--which I passed at the end of the year but never quite understood its thrust or importance--is now the acting Dean and he sent me a letter that arrived in the midst of yesterday's snow storm raging in Pennsylvania requesting that I fill out the enclosed questionnaire. I have to admit the questions weren't as invasive as I thought they'd be. Basically, the school (used to be called a faculty when I was there but has now Americanized to 'school') wanted to know what I'd been up to and if I'd be interested in reading Law School Alumni news on their website, by email or receive it a magazine format similar to the existing University Alumni magazine. They also wanted to know if I'd be willing to contribute articles to the magazine, if I'd like to hear about UK and Welsh lawyerly things--definitely crossed an 'x' in the NO box--and if I'd be open to law students contacting me in the future.

This trend toward forming alumni associations is, to me, an example of what I call the Americanization of the British higher education system...and I mean that positively. American colleges and universities are notorious for having fraternity and sorority clubs (haven't decided if that's a good or bad thing as yet, though have to admit it does appear a little strange when seen through European eyes) and large alumni associations where people can network and find jobs for each other if they so desire.

The only time I came across this sort of association before I moved to the States was a long time ago. I was sharing a house in London with a chap who'd graduated in law from Oxford University and he used to receive this scrappy newsletter (desktop publishing was not yet mainstream) periodically in the mail with news about the goings-on of people who'd graduated from there, who lived overseas, who had died, etc. He was a friendly but odd bloke--lived in terror of his very stern father, sported an earring before it was fashionable to do so in England and wore leather, had a sackful of female friends with names like Annabel who came to dinner wearing twinsets and pearls and who were clubbily pretentious in that British upper-middle class sort of way. He could also be arrogant and patronizing when required. When he first showed the newsletter to me, I was impressed notwithstanding its overall ragged appearance and said so, but then walked into the trap (I'd been out drinking the night before so my brain was soaked) when I mused aloud, "I wonder why my university doesn't do something like that."

Never one to miss an opportunity, he removed his thin, hand-rolled joint slowly from his mouth, his lips curled into a triumphant smile, and his dark-ringed eyes gazed at mine fixedly as he said, "Damian, this is an Oxford world, an Oxford world."

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Sixty days of selling

Traveling on I78 to NYC on Friday was a nightmare. Everywhere there were police, along the sides of the road, in unmarked vehicles, on top of bridges. And the traffic jams. A traveler simply could not put their foot to the floorboard and do the customary 85 to 90 MPH and complete the journey in the customary one hour and fifteen minutes. And the reason for all this security? Our President was visiting New Jersey.

As we approached Newark airport, the thickets of police grew larger and suddenly a white helicopter loomed from above. Then, on the other side of the motorway, I witnessed a spectacle. It was the presidential motorcade--motor cycles and police cars awash with flashing red and blue lights, unmarked cars, even an ambulance, and in the middle were two vulgar black limousines decked with the Presidential and American flags which fluttered prettily as the car sped forth. At this point, I feel compelled to explain why I use the word 'vulgar.' You see, I do not care for the official cars used by the US government. It may be patriotic to use something whipped up in Detroit, but let me tell you there is nothing to rival the jolly old Rolls Royce when one wishes to make a statement. The statement is clear, unmitigated, pure. On that point, the Brits are absolutely correct, as I'm sure H.R.H Lizzie would attest. The Presidential limo looks like an armoured sardine can in comparison, and where is the dignity in traveling in a sardine can?

The reason the President was in New Jersey was to attend a town hall meeting. This is an aspect of American life that fascinates me and which I really wish we'd had in Ireland or Britain. It is good for the people to convene and discuss vital matters.

In the President's case, the first day on his sixty day tour--he was speeding to the town hall meeting to sell the people on his plan for restructuring of social security. My understanding is that, as part of his plan, he wants us to be allowed to keep some of the money we would contribute to Social Security and invest it in the stock market. At first instance, that appears an excellent idea. On TV that night, I saw the fat, happy housewife and other cliches telling us that his was an excellent agenda, that we the people should all want to be in charge of our own money, because only we can 'husband' our money. All the people in the room agreed, which immediately did make me suspicious because I thought the idea of a town hall meeting was to listen to the pros and the cons of an issue and then decide. (However, I will not go into the issue of the lack of dissenting, but you get my drift.)

All I will say is this: I am a writer, do not make pots of money, and I am NOT capable of looking after my money in the stock market. How could I be? First, I do not have hours to spend doing the research on which companies are crooked and fudging their accounts and which are playing by the rules. Secondly, I have a life, want to enjoy it while I can, and do not have the inclination to obsess and worry about money. Third, even financial advisers are NOT capable of looking after my money. I have seen my IRA fall to half its value over the last seven years; only since last year is it recovered to a shadow of its former self. And my IRA is managed by so-called professionals! But these so-called professionals--I know regard them in the same light as I regard used car salesmen--have not shared any of my loss because they make money on trading and thus earn fat commissions.

So yes, I suppose in the end I really do want to look after my own money just like that fat, happy housewife cliche at the town hall meeting in New Jersey on Friday. But here is how the administration can help me do it. They can leave the framework of social security alone and work with both sides of the aisle to find ways to cut costs and save it from this much-heralded demise. Believe me, look around a little and you'll find ways to save money. They can let me continue to make my full contributions to the Social Security Fund because I DO NOT want to have a personal account. And they can help by not encouraging the president to be a salesman for the financial industry and have him go about vulgarly hawking the need to create new legislation to enable them to have yet another bite of the cherry. That's exactly how I want to manage my money.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

A penchant for texting

It's not often I get a chance to say that Northern Ireland (and Britain) appears to be more 'cutting edge' and sophisticated than America in an aspect of contemporary life. By this, I'm referring to what is commonly called 'texting,' that is the sending of messages via a cell phone to one's friends, family and business colleagues in the form of words as opposed to simply phoning them. The vast number of people of all ages texting on London's streets and in rural Ulster astounded me, and I probably need not add that it was preferable to see this ritual played out than to have to listen to people rabbiting on into their cell phones as we do in the US. (I might also append that these observations are made by someone who hates cell phones, who consented to carry one (a 'pay-as-you-go' one at that) on his book tour last summer only to satisfy his publicity agent, Joan, who implored him.)

At any rate, it is clear the mobile phone companies are making a killing. One evening, traveling in the car on our way to dinner, I noticed my niece, Michaela--who's a crazy driver--and her fourteen-year-old brother were texting madly. Filled with curiosity, I asked how much each text costs and what was so important that she needed to text while driving.
"It's only 10 pence a text," my niece said, her fingers freezing momentarily on the keyboard as she said this.
"And what do you text about, exactly?"
"Have a look?" she said, and giggled as she peered in the rearview mirror at her brother, Eugene.
So abbreviated was her script, it was difficult to decipher at first. But I soon got the gist--namely the teenage universal of how gorgeous some chap she fancied was and whether the texted friend thought her target fancied her, blah, blah, blah. One word really stumped me, though. It read 'l8r'
I tried all sorts of combinations but still remained stumped. "Michaela, I don't get it. What does 'C U, one-eight-r' mean?"
Eugene, normally a child sensitive to hurting his uncle's feelings, began to cackle hysterically in the back of the car.
"That's, 'See you later.'" she said, and shot me a look that I interpreted as being, 'Uncle Damian might be a published author but he's bloody old.' She took back her cell phone, shot a perfunctory glance out the front window, decided the car was still on track, and commenced texting again "It's L8r, not l8r."

As I said previously, the cell phone companies are making a killing. Certain I would elicit sympathy from my sister (their mother), I remarked to Deirdre at a party on the eve of our departure that her son and daughter were making a fortune for the mobile phone company. Michaela, pruning her split-ends that evening, shot me a swift, dark look from the depths of an armchair.
"Oh, I know," my sister said as she began to change her baby's diaper. "It's outrageous and I'm forever telling them that. In fact, Eugene has already been told he must pay for his own cell phone bills from now on."
"And they text about such silly stuff," I said.
Michaela guffawed.
"You're talking to the converted," said Deirdre. "It's ridiculous."
Scarcely a minute later, a cell phone rang and five or six hands in the room rummaged furiously for their phones--including, I might add, my father. It turned out to be Deirdre's. After flipping open her phone, she pressed a few buttons with amazing dexterity and began to read, her infant daughter gurgling and kicking out her legs contentedly on her lap. She laughed aloud and then began to text, again with impressive dexterity.
"Must have been important," I said.
"Oh, it was. Anthony [her eldest son who's working currently in Australia and whom she visited a few weeks ago] was texting on his way to work to ask me about a pair of jeans I bought for a bargain at some shop over there. You see, I've mailed them back to him to exchange for me because I got them in black, hated them as soon as I got home and fished them out of my suitcase, and he wanted to know if they've been sent to him yet."

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Blood and marriage

The protracted case involving Terri Schiavo disturbs me as a lawyer and a human being because her husband and parents should by now have been able to come to some sort of common sense agreement. It's at times like this I really feel the law really is an ass. My interest in this case is also piqued by the fact my brother Seamus was involved in a dreadful car accident when he was eleven--an incident I witnessed as a fourteen-year-old and never wish even horrid people the misfortune to have to witness. He was rendered unconscious for months and eventually emerged, though with some permanent brain damage. Thankfully, after much physiotherapy, training and family encouragement, he now enjoys a normal life.

It's my understanding that Ms. Schiavo had not prepared written instructions or a Health Care proxy in the event of her being rendered unconscious and unable to make decisions about her life. Her husband is arguing that she always stated to him that she'd rather die than live on a respirator. In a court of law, her husband's statement is old-fashioned hearsay and cannot carry significant weight. Moreover, the medical community is divided in Ms. Schiavo's prognosis, some declaring her vegetative while others say she has a degree of awareness.

To me the question is really one of common sense and I side with the parents, specifically Terri's mother. We have a case where the husband wants, understandably so, to move on with his life; as such, all he really needs to do in our Western society is divorce his wife and leave. Her parents are willing and able to look after their daughter, want desperately to keep her alive on the chance she might recover. (Harboring such hopes is not unfounded because a few weeks ago someone emerged from a comma after 20 years--granted it's not common, but nevertheless it happened.)

I believe there is nothing stronger on this earth than the mother-child bond by virtue of the fact the mother carried and fed her offspring with her own blood. Even a father, no matter how loving, cannot experience this degree of closeness. Unlike this bond, the bond of matrimony is manmade, is really a legal creation to help regulate personal relationships and bestow legitimacy on two unrelated persons living together in society. (I know some people will argue its not a legality, that God created the institution every bit as much as He created man (and woman), but I'm afraid at the end of the day it's a legal institution, period.) Regardless as to the words used during the various kinds of religious services, all of them to the effect that the couple are 'joined' or become 'one,' common sense dictates that two individuals enter the institution and two individuals emerge after the ceremony. All that has changed is that legal papers have been signed and emotions and attitudes have readjusted--both those of the people who married and anyone encountering them as a married couple from that day onward--and any offspring will be legitimate in the eyes of the law.

As such, I believe a spouse's rights should not automatically be regarded as higher than a parents rights. Our society puts a premium on blood relations, so doesn't it automatically follow that blood should always trump when it comes to who makes critical decisions such as the one in the Schiavo case? In this case, with no written instructions from the infirm woman, her mother, the person who gave her daughter life and weaned her, wants her daughter to live and will provide for her needs. That should be sufficient for the courts. Let Ms. Schiavo live so she can be looked after by those of her blood. Enough of this unseemly tug-o-war.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Digging out

Ever since I was a child, Mum has held steadfast to the March lion and lamb adage and, being Irish and thus partial or victim to this sort of thing, I'm very glad the month was given birth during the throes of a huge snow storm. She will not allow a dove to land on the roof of her house--that means a death in the family--which terrified my siblings and I as children when two landed one balmy summer evening, and she also makes many signs of the cross if she sees one magpie as opposed to two and then cranes her neck searching to find another.

Anyway, if the saying about March is true--and we have to wait 31 days to find out--we shall have a gentle spring and warm summer. Of course, I realize this may apply only to the British Isles because I have found Pennsylvania summers with their intolerable humidity as horrid as the winter, neither of which I am partial to no matter where I live.

I have just come in from shoveling the back deck to allow Spice, our dog, to go out and attend to business. Thinking I would be clever, I shoveled twice yesterday, once after the evening news on the telly and then before I retired for the night, but I might as well not have bothered. We got about eleven inches in all. As I shoveled and rested, Spice watched with supreme doggie condescension from the door. Each time our eyes met, he seemed to rebuke my efforts in the equivalent way that we humans rebuke someone when we need a job done chop-chop and it's happening too slow. Of course, after I'd finished, off he trotted past me as fast as a dog with arthritis can go with his head in the air as if there had never been any obstruction in the first place.

Now for some well-deserved coffee and then I'll tackle digging out the car. In a perverse way I'm enjoying the whole thing, and the exercise is great, of course.

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