Friday, September 29, 2006

Act Now, Before It's Too Late

Pretty Lady has a suitor!

Dear Pretty Lady:
You sound like a classy lady to me. The piano music of Erik Satie...I hope you play as well! I worked for thirty years for a fun music publisher...then they moved to New York State and I could not relocate. (personal reasons)
Let us see, my pretty doll, you were born in Nipples, Italy...sorry, I meant Naples, Italy. Your photo on your blog site is really classy. I mean REALLY CLASSY!
I'll bet you have pretty, demure feet with toenails painted red or pink. I'll bet the only time you become NASTY is when you are in bed with CLAUDE or ANDRE and then you become wild!
If you are ever in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania please E-mail me. I could at the very least buy you coffee and offer to suck your demure toes!
Naaah, you would never be caught dead in the Stroudsburg/East Stroudsburg area. The trashy, vulgar, disgusting, and downright brusque drug dealers have invaded this once pleasant area.
East Stroudsburg University has more homosexuals and lesbians that any other East Coast university. (Isn't that something to be proud of?)
I'm very glad there are people like you left in this world. Intelligence has taken a back seat to that filth called "rap music!"
If I hear one more individual call me "Bro" or "Chief" or the ever popular "Dude"...I'm going to scream! Am I prejudiced? Damn right!
Remember, pretty lady, we have an image to keep up. One that is clean and pristine. I once had a young man ask me what the word "plagiarize" meant. Another young man knew the "PYRAMYDS" were in Egypt but he was almost certain the Amish built them.
The next time you are having a pedicure and you are sitting back, drinking a cappuccino, listening to Mozart or Corelli, think about me...another bubble of sanity in this screwed up world.
Big hugs: John

Pretty Lady is Overwhelmed. That such a classy gentleman should have found her, against all odds, and taken the time out of his classy schedule to have written her such a letter! So earnest, this gentleman. So down-to-earth. So straightforward, intellectual, sane and sober.

What do you think, dear friends? Is this The One? Should she jump on the opportunity, or moulder away in stagnant singlehood a bit longer?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Inner Voice

Torture, torture, everywhere. How these boys do agitate themselves. Kantian Categorical Imperatives flying every which way. Pretty Lady felt so intimidated that she had to take a break. She is happy to report that the weather is preternaturally gorgeous today, and the sunny spot in the corner of the yoga studio was All Hers this afternoon.

So. Fortified by a series of pigeon poses, headstands, and a nice long soupdebadacanasana (or however you spell it), Pretty Lady pulled out her copy of Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Gracious. It has been awhile. Here we go:

This principle is therefore also its supreme law: Act always according to that maxim whose universality as a law you can at the same time will. This it the only condition under which a will can never be in conflict with itself, and such an imperative is categorical. Inasmuch as the validity of the will as a universal law for possible actions is analogous to the universal connection of the existence of things in accordance with universal laws, which is the formal aspect of nature in general, the categorical imperative can also be expressed thus: Act according to maxims whcih can at their same time have for their object as universal laws of nature. In this way there is provided the formula for an absolutely good will.
There! I hope that's clear. At any rate it was the simplest and most self-explanatory passage that Pretty Lady could glean, after a cursory overview of the text.

When Pretty Lady first studied Kant, at the tender age of nineteen, all this stuff seemed to her to be simple and obvious. Of course one acts acccording to a maxim of universal will; that's what that pesky 'do unto others' rule is about. Quibbling over 'situational ethics' was decried as a feminine, and thus flaky, argument. All right for family politics, but death on the International Stage.

Thus she has been shocked--shocked!--to notice that some allegedly male persons of her acquaintance have been arguing quite seriously for the situational use of decidedly non-universally-willed tactics, i.e. waterboarding, dismemberment, the pulling out of toenails, and other things Pretty Lady has mercifully blocked from her consciousness. The universal maxim underlying these arguments, as far as she can tell, boils down to "It's okay to do bad things to bad people." Is that correct, boys out there? Hmmm?

It seems to Pretty Lady that other sets of Kantian boys have adequately dissected the hidden falsehoods and ungrounded assumptions underlying this argument. Some persons have been convinced. Others have not. Rest assured that Pretty Lady still loves everybody, no matter which side of the debate they come down upon, and that she has no intention of dredging up past disharmonies.

What seems to Pretty Lady to be the next obvious question is, "If it is NOT okay to do bad things to bad people, what do you do then? Particularly when situational circumstances are pressing and dire?"

It is a common characteristic of pressing, dire circumstances that they do not generally allow time for the whipping out of "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals", perusal and analysis of such. The same goes for thick, legalistic documents issued forth by Congress, Holy Bibles, and the Bhagavadgita. Although she has known of some holy men who recite the entire Bhagavadgita every morning before breakfast, she feels that in general, this is an unreasonable requirement to add to the responsibilities of already-overloaded military personnel. No, dire circumstances require the ability to Think On One's Feet, in the moment.

In fact, a great many of the direst of circumstances allow, literally, no time to think at all. To further complicate matters, devotees of chaos theory will no doubt know that the most negligible of actions can have the most extreme and unpredictable of long-term consequences. Dire circumstances are, by their nature, chaotic. Not meaning to make any of you feel stressed-out or pressured in any way, of course.

So what it boils down to is this: when making ethical decisions under conditions of maximum stress, the best thing to do is consult a decision maker who knows the entire set of conditions, involving all parties concerned--past, present, and future--and the most intimate and far-reaching outcomes of all possible decisions. This decision maker should be able to think through all ramifications, select the best action to perform, and communicate this action, instantaneously. Right now. En este momento. Ya.

In other words, one must create a miracle. This may sound deeply unreasonable and feminine, but in the circumstances it is about as reasonable as Kant.

Many persons have, in the past, gotten up in arms with Pretty Lady when she claims to hold daily conversations with God. They believe that this is arrogant and delusional of her; they thump their thick moral texts and tell her to pipe down. She has been accused of sorcery, psychosis, sabotage, flakiness and liberalism. Pretty Lady freely admits that her accusers may be correct; they must judge her, as the Bible says, by her fruits. If the following of Pretty Lady's advice creates chaos, misery, and discord, then, feel free to jettison it and burn her at the stake.

Friends, it is Pretty Lady's perhaps-delusional proposition that God, or the Holy Spirit, or prana, or whatever-you-may-call it, is speaking to us all the time, if only we listen. In general, a person cannot talk and listen at the same time. It is then reasonable to assume that if one is listening for the voice of God, one might wish to shut up for a second. That includes stopping the chatter within one's mind, as this is liable to be just as audible to God as otherwise.

This is not easy. Try it for a moment.

Pretty Lady has found, in the course of a lifetime of churchgoing, Bible reading, study of Kant, yoga, meditation, and sitting still near large bodies of water, that sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to get through. At these times, just about anything might happen. There might be a lot of light in her mind. She might suddenly, spontaneously understand French. She might find herself saying or doing any number of unpredictable things, acting on information only intuitively understood. She might get up and paint her living room a glowy yellow/brown. She might call up a friend and say 'I love you.' She might write a flippant little essay, or put her hands on someone's feet. The someone generally says, 'wow. That feels amazing.'

All this stuff, Pretty Lady thinks, is merely training. It is so that when circumstances become truly dire, she's got some practice in handing over the wheel. For as some Christian comedian says--'what's with those bumper stickers that say, "God is my co-pilot?" If God is in the car, Let. Him. Drive.'

So obviously it is completely unreasonable, ridiculous, and quixotic for Pretty Lady to tell all those stressed-out military personnel to stop torturing terrorists and let the Holy Spirit decide what to do with them. She is telling them anyway. The Holy Spirit gave orders this morning, and who is she to countermand them?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rhetorical question

Crom poses a no-brainer:

Now that you have seen Paris, could you really go back to the farm?

Crom, dear, the one place that Pretty Lady will never go back to is the suburb. Farms are A-OK.

Pretty Lady has long known, deep within her, that suburbs are the Root of All Evil. Well, perhaps that is an extreme perspective. Suburbs are well-intentioned creations; they intend to combine the advantages of community living, with the space and healthfulness of Owning One's Own Chunk of Nature. It is a terrible pity that they have turned out the way they have.

Pretty Lady must be fair. One thing she felt, while growing up in a suburb, was Safe. She had an acute sense of safety, blanketing her existence; the dangerous, interesting things were all happening elsewhere. Around her, all was bland and predictable. The floor plan was the same for every house on the block. The streets in their stringent grid all had names that began with W. The nearest accessible public space was fifteen minutes away by bicycle, and that was the 5 and dime. Space, space, space was all around her; empty, muffling, featureless Space. Things rarely happened. The bees and butterflies visited the lugustrum. The ash tree grew. It was almost big enough to climb, by the time she'd outgrown the age of passionately needing to climb trees.

As a little girl, Pretty Lady wished for stairs, going to interesting places like attics and basements. She combed the single-floor ranch house thoroughly, tapping walls, looking for secret passageways. 'There won't be any secret passageways in this house,' said her mother. 'It isn't old enough.'

It seemed to Pretty Little Girl that her life was a mere half-life, thin as paper, suspended from the action, in the interests of safety and prosperity. She had the inchoate sense that much would be demanded of her in restitution, for growing up thus securely insulated from things like war, famine, pestilence, poverty, hurricane, volcano, and earthquake. Tornadoes came sometimes. Those were fun.

Pretty Little Girl vowed to herself that as soon as she was eighteen, she'd go someplace dangerous and interesting. Until then, she read about them in books, and fantasized about bombs, tornadoes, and running away to California with her best friend from kindergarten, who had been hospitalized at fifteen for psychiatric disturbances. It wasn't that Pretty Lady lacked creativity, or initiative, or drive; it's just that suburbs have no physical outlet for such. Drag racing, getting bombed in parking lots, and taking machine guns to one's high school are about the extent of it. And we wonder why.

This may all go partly to explain why Pretty Lady has generally been cheery and cavalier about the hazards and inconveniences of living in ghettos, foreign countries, and big cities. The car alarms may go off at midnight. She may not speak the language fluently. It may be a bad idea to go for a walk after dark. (Not that that ever stopped her.) It may be difficult to park; there may be pipe bombs going off in the intersection, or gangstas doing donuts in stolen cars. She has lost a lot of bicycles, and pieces off her car.

But at least it's not a freakin' suburb.

Pretty Lady has come to realize, in recent years, that she's actually not so much a City Person as she used to think. What she is, simply, is a social creature. Not compulsively extroverted; merely human. And the fundamental problem with suburbs is that they are physically structured so that one never encounters another human in the course of one's whole existence, unless one makes a gargantuan effort to do so.

Oh, there are Jobs, of course, if you choose that sort of thing. Jobs which consist largely of fluorescent lights, boring co-workers, pointless and repetitive tasks. There are grocery stores. There are schools and dance studios. But mainly, life in a suburb consists of house, car, institution, car, house. Television. Vinyl tile, shag carpet, tuna fish and dirty diapers. Toddlers. Toddlers who do not appreciate good sets of blocks, or fairy tales.

(The real reason Pretty Lady has no children, truthfully, stems from all those years being the Responsible Babysitter in high school. The girls that were out having fun in high school have all settled down into good little breeders. Pretty Lady was too vividly forewarned.)

No, gentle readers, the problem with modern development is very simple; the absence of plazas. Plazas with fountains in the center, and cafés around the sides. Plazas where one can casually saunter down and pick up a taco, a latte, and the daily gossip. Plazas where one can reassure oneself that one is not the only conscious human on the face of the planet. That is what the designers of Suburbs forgot, and it was a truly tragic error. (Shopping malls do not count.)

Farms? Farms are fine. The farm in the South of France, where her darling ex-boyfriend's extended family dwelled, was overflowing with Real Life. It had goats, and terraces covered with hundred-year-old wisteria, and lambs, and fig trees, and medieval stone walls, and thousand-year-old olive trees. It had basements, attics, and secret passages out the wazoo. It also had aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and old family friends, popping in and out at all times. It had a farmer's market in the town square on weekends, and a river to swim in, and Roman ruins to explore.

Rural Maine was similar. As was rural Mexico. In fact, the only places that Pretty Lady has ever known which did not have an innate sense of vibrant community are North American Suburbs.

Which is why she can be happy in Paris, or dans l'Midi, or in New York, or Maine, or Mexico. East Austin has its possibilities, even. Whatever some of Pretty Lady's detractors may think, she's not some sort of psychotic, self-defeating masochist; she has merely observed, empirically, that human beings are not meant to be isolated in little cookie-cutter houses. They must rub up against one another. They require annoyance and inconvenience. They need to struggle a bit. Otherwise, they might just as well lie down and play dead.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Jealousy and sabotage

Today's Delancey Place snippet strikes a chord:

Daniel Gilbert speaks to our predisposition to select both friends and facts that reinforce the self-perceptions and opinions we already hold. Gilbert is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and his work is characterized by extensive testing and research:

"... Of course, other people ... are the richest source of information about the wisdom of our decisions, the extent of our abilities, and the effervescence of our personalities. Our tendency to expose ourselves to information that supports our favored conclusions is especially powerful when it comes to choosing the company we keep. ... [W]e spend countless hours carefully arranging our lives to ensure that we are surrounded by people who like us, and people who are like us. It isn't surprising then that when we turn to the folks we know for advice and opinions, they tend to confirm our favored conclusions--either because they share them or because they don't want to hurt our feelings by telling us otherwise. Should people in our lives occasionally fail to tell us what we want to hear, we have some clever ways of helping them.

"For example, studies reveal that people have a penchant for asking questions that are subtly engineered to manipulate the answers they receive. A question such as 'Am I the best lover you've ever had?' is dangerous because it has only one answer that can make us truly happy, but a question such as 'What do you like best about my lovemaking?' is brilliant because it has only one answer that can truly make us miserable. Studies show that people intuitively lean toward asking the questions that are most likely to elicit the answers they want to hear. ... In short, we derive support for our preferred conclusions by listening to the words that we put in the mouths of people who have already been preselected for their willingness to say what we want to hear.

"And it gets worse ... to be considered a great driver, lover or chef ... we simply need to park, kiss, and bake better than most other folks do. How do we know how well most other folks do? Why, we look around, of course--but in order to make sure that we see what we want to see, we look around selectively. For example, volunteers in one study took a test that ostensibly measured their social sensitivity and were told they had flubbed the majority of questions. When these volunteers were then given an opportunity to look over the test results of people who had done better or worse than they had, they ignored the tests of the people who had done better and instead spent their time looking over the tests of the people who had done worse. ...

"And if we can't find people who are doing more poorly than we are, we may go out and create them. Volunteers in one study took a test and were then given the opportunity to provide hints that would either help or hinder a friend's performance on the same test. Although volunteers helped their friends when the test was described as a game, they actively hindered their friends when the test was described as an important measure of intellectual ability. ... Once we've successfully sabotaged their performances and ensured their failure, they become the perfect standard for comparison."

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Knopf, 2006, pp. 165-7.

Hmph. The stories Pretty Lady could tell you.

Pretty Lady prefers, largely, to dwell upon the positive in people. She is not anymore a blithe Pollyanna spirit, but by the main she finds her joys in digging for the gold in other people's souls, no matter how deeply this gold may appear to be buried.

Also, it strikes her as singularly unintelligent to view life as a zero-sum operation. She has always regarded success, brilliance, greatness and happiness in other people as a source of hope and inspiration for herself, rather than as a Dangerous Threat. Thus, no matter how poor, unrecognized, or crossed in love she has been in the past, she has always been the first in line to cheer in exultation when a friend of hers hit the jackpot. Because if you love someone, their happiness is yours, is it not?

Apparently not. Or else a great number of Pretty Lady's ex-friends were very confused little people.

You will all be happy to know that Pretty Lady is not anymore consorting with the female who made determinedly certain, with every Los Angeles social-railroading technique at her disposal, that no high-powered art dealer within her large acquaintance ever got within squinting distance of Pretty Lady's studio. You will be thrilled to discover that the girl who dissolved into agonized whining, whenever Pretty Lady reported that her love life was, uncharacteristically, looking perky, is a distant memory. It was with great unwillingness and regret that Pretty Lady cut ties with the Flaky Heiress, after she made it a condition of friendship that Pretty Lady tie her uncertain finances in with proven Flakiness, but she cut them. The jealous saboteurs in Pretty Lady's life are no more.

So the person who ignorantly informed her recently, "you need to get a new set of friends" can go soak his cranium. Because Pretty Lady has a friend or two who trumps this rot. First among them is the dear, wonderful, blessed lady who not only purchased her a massage for her birthday, but reveled in the blow-by-blow description of the wonderfulness of this massage, on the telephone afterwards.

This friend, truly, makes friendship her profession. Although in the past we may have disagreed on everything from the guilt or innocence of Richard III, to the merits of 'Paint your Wagon,' to certain interpretations of Biblical law, to which Presidential candidate to vote for (Perot! I ask you! The man is a totalitarian lunatic!) we have never, ever had a fight. We have merely had some thoroughly enjoyable long-term discussions.

In fact, the long-term nature of our association may be summed up by an event which took place as long ago, perhaps, as junior high. At one of this friend's frequent slumber parties, the two of us engaged in an all-night Pente tournament. At the conclusion of a particularly hard-fought game, one of the other guests remarked, in awe, "At one point, neither one of you moved for forty-five minutes." It seemed like no time at all.

Over the decades, Pretty Lady has changed her opinions--political, social, spiritual--many times. She has perpetrated many egregious and inadvisable bloopers. She has done an almost infinite number of things which might have been calculated to shock the sensibilities of her more-conservative friend right into orbit. Throughout every one of these adventures, this friend has been there, loving Pretty Lady as herself.

No, there has been no sabotage. There has been no judgment. There has merely been faith, and trust, and consideration, and honesty. When either one of us goes 'splat,' the other one has been there to say, 'You didn't do so badly. I've watched you grow a lot. I'm here.'

Sunday, September 24, 2006

To be missed

is a splendid thing. Pretty Lady hopes you dear friends do not miss her too terribly badly; she has been attending to her clients, who appear to have missed her sorely. The dear people missed her so sorely, in fact, that they are hurling large wads of cash in her direction, in order to ensure that she does not leave The City anytime soon. This is a warm and fuzzy feeling, to say the least.

But never fear, Pretty Lady has not forgotten you. In fact, she has been spending long hours at the Tea Lounge, slaving away over her Book Proposal, fortified by Guinness and panini. She is almost positive that the New York Foundation for the Arts will not be persuaded to fund The Book, non-politically-correct as it is shaping up to be, but she is giving them the benefit of the doubt, before going the capitalistic route.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Scrabbling thru the dumpster


Pretty Lady hates it when a wishy-washy client with no boundaries calls up with a sob story, books an appointment during the time she normally goes to yoga class, then no-shows without a phone call. This client said she was 'having lots of personal problems'; Pretty Lady can guess what some of those personal problems might stem from. Alienating one's healthcare practitioner is a radically efficient way to cut oneself adrift in the world without a safety net.

How nice it is to be self-employed, however. One has an infinite number of employers, and is not tethered by a single rope to a single flake.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Interesting spam

Has anybody else been getting spam e-mails in the form of surrealistic, nonsensical but intriguingly involved fiction? With some of the words run together? As though the ghost of James Joyce were in the machine?

Pretty Lady is still mildly appreciative of creative anonymity, having been in the past the sort of temporary office worker who would write odd little poems and vignettes, and email them to the White House, or scribble them on Post-its and distribute them in odd places around the office, or store them on the hard drive in hidden files. Any spam with no obvious marketing agenda is, at least, a step up. Though she will retract her words if her screen starts spouting gibberish all by itself, next time she boots up.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Alien pheromones

Well, the apartment is still here. The Alpha Cat was, by all reports, a stellar host; the Brat spent the entire month in the ceiling, and had to be coaxed down with a bag of catnip upon Pretty Lady's return. The place is clean, and Pretty Lady has reinstalled the microwave, which was, unaccountably, in the utility closet.

Total damages (minor):

• one-half of the big ficus. (How do you kill one-half of a ficus?)

• blue glass Mason jar full of coconut, fell off top of fridge.

• other wheel of bicycle gone (this was to be expected. Replacement wheels look to be the carte blanche familial birthday gift, this year.)

• something wrong with central air--it runs, but doesn't cool down much, despite filter replacement. Call to Phil forecast for near future.

• habanera helix ivies are toast; bromeliad looks peaky. African violets appear to have been severely over-watered.

• apartment smells like cheap scented candles, plus Other People's pheromones.

This last issue is the one that bothers Pretty Lady the most. The other damages are so minimal that Pretty Lady feels like she's carping unnecessarily; after all, she got to be with a whole forest for a month. Surely this is worth the sacrifice of half a ficus.

But it is strangely disturbing when one's home smells wrong. Before even unloading the 4-wheeler, Pretty Lady lit a fire under her Personal Aromatherapy Formula, which she will now share.

Mix in burner, along with 2 Tbsp. water:

5 drops lavender oil
2 drops patchouli
2 drops ylang ylang

OPTIONAL: 5 drops sweet orange oil

(This formula is equally effective in bath-salt form. Simply mix proportionally with equal parts coarse sea-salt and baking soda.)

Light an unscented tea light under burner, burn all the way down. Light more unscented tea lights around house, particularly in bathroom. Other People's Soap is equally unsettling.

Bolstered spirits

Pretty Lady was none too happy about returning to The City simultaneously with a renewed and specific terror threat. She spent a good deal of the nine-hour drive meditating upon the mechanics and/or futility of bug-out tactics--which pair of boots to pack, how much water to store in the 4-wheeler, spare tank of gasoline, spare gun from little brother, etc. But the truth of the matter is, if a dirty bomb hits Manhattan, the BQE is going to be too jammed for her to get clear of the city limits before receiving a lethal dose of radiation. Period. So why worry?

Conversely, she considered bopping on down to the mosque on Atlantic and starting a friendly conversation, but she's waiting on orders from the Holy Spirit before engaging in that one. Meanwhile, she said a cheerful return hello to the sweet lady in the burqua at the corner store this evening.

Thus, the Sensible Article forwarded by her Sensible Sister came just in time.

What the Terrorists Want

On August 16, two men were escorted off a plane headed for Manchester,
England, because some passengers thought they looked either Asian or
Middle Eastern, might have been talking Arabic, wore leather jackets,
and looked at their watches -- and the passengers refused to fly with
them on board. The men were questioned for several hours and then released.

On August 15, an entire airport terminal was evacuated because someone's
cosmetics triggered a false positive for explosives. The same day, a
Muslim man was removed from an airplane in Denver for reciting prayers.
The Transportation Security Administration decided that the flight crew
overreacted, but he still had to spend the night in Denver before flying
home the next day. The next day, a Port of Seattle terminal was
evacuated because a couple of dogs gave a false alarm for explosives.

On August 19, a plane made an emergency landing in Tampa, Florida, after
the crew became suspicious because two of the lavatory doors were
locked. The plane was searched, but nothing was found. Meanwhile, a man
who tampered with a bathroom smoke detector on a flight to San Antonio
was cleared of terrorism, but only after having his house searched.

On August 16, a woman suffered a panic attack and became violent on a
flight from London to Washington, so the plane was escorted to the
Boston airport by fighter jets. "The woman was carrying hand cream and
matches but was not a terrorist threat," said the TSA spokesman after
the incident.

And on August 18, a plane flying from London to Egypt made an emergency
landing in Italy when someone found a bomb threat scrawled on an air
sickness bag. Nothing was found on the plane, and no one knows how long
the note was on board.

I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a
political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists
kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up
planes, trains, markets, or buses is not the goal; those are just
tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions
of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The
real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects
in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive
attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been
trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists
have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the
suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline
tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the
explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause
terror, and in that they've succeeded.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up ten
planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on
carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures,
political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people
panicked. To a lesser degree, that's basically what's happening right now.

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a
campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories
about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that
fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists'
actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

(I am not saying that the politicians and press are terrorists, or that
they share any of the blame for terrorist attacks. I'm not that stupid.
But the subject of terrorism is more complex than it appears, and
understanding its various causes and effects are vital for understanding
how to best deal with it.)

The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in two ways. Not
only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and
resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and
increasing actual security. I'll bet the terrorists are laughing at us.

Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British
government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the
TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline
security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press
didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the
event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that
way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.

It's time we calm down and fight terror with anti-terror. This does not
mean that we simply roll over and accept terrorism. There are things our
government can and should do to fight terrorism, most of them involving
intelligence and investigation -- and not focusing on specific plots.

But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to
be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand
together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion
Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320
million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not
terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore
the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance
political careers or increase a television show's viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our
job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and
not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those
politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and
promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

There have been many more incidents since I wrote this -- all false
alarms. I've stopped keeping a list.

The chemical unreality of the plot:


This essay also makes the same point that we're overreacting, as well as
describing a 1995 terrorist plot that was remarkably similar in both
materials and modus operandi -- and didn't result in a complete ban on

My previous related writings:

This essay originally appeared in Wired:,71642-0.html

** *** ***** ******* *********** *************

Details on the British Terrorist Arrest

Details are emerging:

* There was some serious cash flow from someone, presumably someone
* There was no imminent threat.
* However, the threat was real. And it seems pretty clear that it
would have bypassed all existing airport security systems.
* The conspirators were radicalized by the war in Iraq, although it is
impossible to say whether they would have been otherwise radicalized
without it.
* They were caught through police work, not through any broad
surveillance, and were under surveillance for more than a year.

What pisses me off most is the second item. By arresting the
conspirators early, the police squandered the chance to learn more about
the network and arrest more of them -- and to present a less flimsy
case. There have been many news reports detailing how the U.S.
pressured the UK government to make the arrests sooner, possibly out of
political motivations. (And then Scotland Yard got annoyed at the U.S.
leaking plot details to the press, hampering their case.)

I still think that all of the new airline security measures are an
overreaction. As I said on a radio interview a couple of weeks ago:
"We ban guns and knives, and the terrorists use box cutters. We ban box
cutters and corkscrews, and they hide explosives in their shoes. We
screen shoes, and the terrorists use liquids. We ban liquids, and the
terrorist will use something else. It's not a fair game, because the
terrorists get to see our security measures before they plan their
attack." And it's not a game we can win. So let's stop playing, and
play a game we actually can win. The real lesson of the London arrests
is that investigation and intelligence work.
The above URL is unavailable in the UK:

My initial comments on the arrests:

** *** ***** ******* *********** *************

More Than 10 Ways to Avoid the Next 9/11

On 10 September 2006, the New York Times published a feature called "Ten
Ways to Avoid the Next 9/11": "The Op-Ed page asked 10 people with
experience in security and counterterrorism to answer the following
question: What is one major reason the United States has not suffered a
major attack since 2001, and what is the one thing you would recommend
the nation do in order to avoid attacks in the future?"

Actually, they asked more than 10, myself included. But some of us were
cut because they didn't have enough space. This was my essay:

Despite what you see in the movies and on television, it's actually very
difficult to execute a major terrorist act. It's hard to organize,
plan, and execute an attack, and it's all too easy to slip up and get
caught. Combine that with our intelligence work tracking terrorist
cells and interdicting terrorist funding, and you have a climate where
major attacks are rare. In many ways, the success of 9/11 was an
anomaly; there were many points where it could have failed. The main
reason we haven't seen another 9/11 is that it isn't as easy as it looks.

Much of our counterterrorist efforts are nothing more than security
theater: ineffectual measures that look good. Forget the war on terror;
the difficulty isn't killing or arresting the terrorists, it's finding
them. Terrorism is a law enforcement problem, and needs to be treated
as such. For example, none of our post-9/11 airline security measures
would have stopped the London shampoo bombers. The lesson of London is
that our best defense is intelligence and investigation. Rather than
spending money on airline security, or sports stadium security --
measures that require us to guess the plot correctly in order to be
effective -- we're better off spending money on measures that are
effective regardless of the plot.

Intelligence and investigation have kept us safe from terrorism in the
past, and will continue to do so in the future. If the CIA and FBI had
done a better job of coordinating and sharing data in 2001, 9/11 would
have been another failed attempt. Coordination has gotten better, and
those agencies are better funded -- but it's still not enough. Whenever
you read about the billions being spent on national ID cards or massive
data mining programs or new airport security measures, think about the
number of intelligence agents that the same money could buy. That's
where we're going to see the greatest return on our security investment.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Remains of the Day

Pretty Lady didn't get much sleep last night. Her departure for The City can no longer be postponed, and the prospect does not thrill her with anticipation and delight.

"Don't think of it as 'going home,'" says her sister. "Think of it as rescuing your cats."

Ah, to what dim horizons have we faded. Indeed, the prospect of cat-rescuing is more compelling than most of the others.

Pretty Lady's 4-wheeler had a good time yesterday, though. The group of us (Pretty Lady, her sister, her brother-in-law, and the doggie) went in the 4-wheeler to examine a prospective homestead; the 4-wheeler now bears honorable marks of having been used for its 4-wheeling purpose. "I am bad-ass," the 4-wheeler will be able to say, upon re-entering The City. "I have traversed muddy ditches that would have neatly extracted the suspension of a lesser vehicle."

The rest of us had a splendid time, too. More research into such things as winter plowing-schechules and power-line extensions will, of course, be required. But failing the exposure of any prohibitive drawbacks, Pretty Lady is ready to bestow her preliminary approval. The prospective homestead has a View, a field, a forest, a gentle slope, a vast tract of wild blueberries, and backs up upon a granite mountain. The silence, moreover, is profound, except for the occasional passing-by of All Terrain Vehicles.

(This last, Pretty Lady disgustedly remarked, is truly an all-American phenomenon. Where else will an entire subculture of humans develop the habit of using loud, gasoline-powered vehicles to ruggedly traverse Nature, becoming intoxicated and obese at the same time? Pretty Lady has never harbored serious regrets about not marrying into the South of France, but occasionally she wishes that her resources allowed her to emigrate, solo.)

Hiking the prospective homestead, incidentally collecting a respectable bucketful of wild blueberries, gave Pretty Lady a flashback. Some of her college professors built small homesteads in the hills, once upon a time, and invited Pretty Lady to visit them there. One of them seduced her.

One of Pretty Lady's early opinions, upon engulfing the great classic, Middlemarch, was that if Dorothea Brooke had gone to college, that whole horrible marriage need never have happened. She would have developed a crush on Mr. Casaubon for perhaps half a semester; by the end of the term she would have discovered him for the humbug he was, and moved on. Certainly this happened to Pretty Lady more than once. Thank goodness most of those fragile gentlemen were already married--although, contrary to appearances, Pretty Lady's taste was never quite so bad as Dorothea's.

Indeed, the genius who eventually attempted to carry her off to his homestead in the hills, immediately upon graduation, was genuinely a genius. Pretty Lady retains her respect and admiration for him to this day. The problem wasn't that he was a humbug; the problem was, simply and entirely, that he was more than twice her age. All the Romantic Hardships in his life had already transpired--growing up orphaned upon the streets of Bangkok, rising through sheer talent and force of will to the position of Chief Sculptor to the King of Thailand, emigrating to become a Modern Western Artist, pumping gas, and eventually obtaining the post of Distinguished Professor, where Pretty Lady fetched up against him.

He was so much the opposite of a humbug that in the course of one semester he managed to reverse a great deal of the damage inflicted upon Pretty Lady's psyche by that twit of a British Sculptress--but that is a different story. Suffice it to say that he and Pretty Lady resonated, on an artistic level, and that Pretty Lady held him in sincere worshipful admiration.

It still surprised her extremely when, as soon as she obtained her diploma, he asked her out to dinner, and pounced before she knew what was happening. She would have been quicker to draw the line, except that he was also the first man she'd ever met who knew what he was doing, from a purely technical perspective. Gracious.

The next few weeks went by for Pretty Lady in a sort of hypnotized astonishment, as her erstwhile professor wined and dined and rubbed her feet, and showed her over every detail of the studio-home he'd designed himself, and the myriad, wondrous Great Works within it. This was no cynical seduction; the poor man was genuinely smitten. Pretty Lady, twenty-three, conscious of her own fledgling ignorance, could not for the life of her see why. Well, no, that is disingenuous. She was conscious that she was young, attractive, gifted, and possessed of an insouciant originality of spirit which was likely to attract the more perceptive man. What she didn't understand was why he thought that the laying of treasure beneath her feet was what she required.

For Pretty Lady, at twenty-three, did not wish to live upon a pedestal, tucked away from everyone. She wished, however foolishly, to go out into the world and get Knocked Down. And oh my goodness, did she ever get her wish.

Pretty Lady has been wondering, during the last month, whether it's time to leave The City. She has come to no conclusions; she feels that any such conclusions would be premature. But increasingly, all of her youthful reasons for wishing to get Knocked Down no longer pertain. All that experiential wisdom that Pretty Lady lacked at twenty-three? Yoo-hoo. She's got it now. Alright already.

Please do not think that Pretty Lady regrets leaving her dear professor. With time, she has come to understand that the gentleman really was less mature, emotionally, than she was, despite being in his fifties. The skills required to attain artistic success from orphaned beginnings bear little relation to those needed to maintain a healthy relationship; Pretty Lady is glad she fled.

It would be ironic, however, if eventually she turned into someone just like that--a mercurial recluse in the mountains. She's not quite ready, but she can see it from here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It is finished

Wow. I think that may have been the best book I ever read. Wow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Somebody just called Pretty Lady "wicked weird." Score!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What is sexy, part the second

Bob is in a fit of literalistic pique over Pretty Lady's cavalier dismissal of his query re: the indefinable appeal of Johnny M.:

So....if I literally read what you wrote...

"Understanding" only comes if your female and lesbian?

Could your response be considered as sexist and sexless at the same time?


Hmph. If you must.

Only straight women and gay men, dear Bob, can truly appreciate the poignant, winsome tension that is John Mayer the man, the artist, and the earnest little boy. Straight men are likely to be left coldly unaffected by the ropy, casual masculinity of John Mayer's forearms and hands as he tweedles his instrument; they will entirely miss the sudden gust of psychic pheromones as he casually tosses a glossy dark lock from his forehead. Perhaps an unusually sensitive specimen of straight man might note the odd, unpremeditated way he rolls his eyes back behind lowered lashes as he sings, as though he is channelling the voices of angels; but this same straight man is likely to be repulsed, rather than otherwise, at the manner in which his sensual lips purr against the microphone, as against the skin of a lover.

No, Bob, your average straight man will not even perceive the wryly humorous way he looks askance while performing the wordless, falsetto bridge, communicating his own innocent surprise at the goofiness of the song which has lighted upon him. He will consider that, even if the candid way he meets his audience's eyes upon occasion indicates a sincerity of spirit and an engaging friendliness of character, that this is nothing remarkable. The subtleties of power restrained, power allowing gentleness to shine through, power with the confidence to be vulnerable, lighthearted, playful and whimsical, will mean nothing to this straight man.

The straight man, in other words, thinks that all the girls and gay men are going bonkers over an inconsequential puppy. This is why we besotted straight women generally keep quiet about it. Unless, of course, we are in the privacy of home or car, where we turn up the volume, blithely twirl in circles, and sing along to 'Clarity' until sated and exhausted.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The pleasures of growing older

Please pardon Pretty Lady's relative reticence, this week. She fears she will not be good for much until she has finished Middlemarch. She attempted Middlemarch sometime around the age of twenty, and gave it up in extreme boredom; now she is so enthralled that she actually plans to add all two pounds of it to the weight of her backpack, climb another mountain, and read on a rock all afternoon.

Fie on all this encouraging of precocious children to snarf down the classics, as soon as they understand the structure of subordinate clauses. Pretty Lady had people throwing Dickens at her head by the time she was eight; notwithstanding, she did not come to love him until twenty. Jane Austen was juicy at eight, and seventeen, and twenty-three, and thirty-two, but for entirely different reasons upon each occasion. George Eliot should be reserved strictly for adults over thirty-five, in the manner of the U.S. presidency.

There is a vast gap between cognitive capacity and experience. The former we are born with; the latter is the only thing which truly limns the mind's dimensions.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Johnny Boy!

The sweetest lil' ol' rock star in the whole world has a new album out, with a free video sample. Sigh. Such a cutie. He's gone all bluesy and falsetto, which is not entirely Pretty Lady's style, but at this point she is uncritically Signed Up for anything this boy's muse inflicts on him.

Pretty Lady has never been the sort to get crushes on rock stars. She hung out around too many of them in her college days, and discovered them to be uniformly self-absorbed and inarticulate. She would roll around on the floor at their gigs, and bum the occasional Camel from one, over a cup of Columbian in the Cactus, but that was about the extent of it.

And now in these limbo years of quasi-maturity, what she feels about John Mayer is mostly that she wishes passionately to be able to pat him on the head. She firmly believes that he is Not a Jerk. He's a sweetie. She wouldn't want to date him, not being a Demi Moore sort, but sometimes it makes her sad that she will probably never have a son like that.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Yet another brilliant idea

At the dinner party this evening, a young lady mentioned that she was getting her master's degree in Social Work--for the money, she alleged. It was suggested that she supplement her income by dealing drugs, in line with the subject of this week's debate; helping people should be undertaken for cheap or free, helping them harm themselves will fund these praiseworthy endeavors. And she can meet both contacts and clients during her day job.

La, la. Such a neverending social whirl, is rural Maine.

Parisian Travel Tip

I am sure you darlings are all intimately familiar with the Marli Café, alongside the Louvre? With the $40 cappuccinos? You must be.

Anyhoo, you know how it is impossible to get service there? Verily, they have the snootiest waiters in Paris, and that is a difficult thing to accomplish. You might wait twenty minutes for a menu, another thirty for your coffee, and as for l'addition, well, let us hope you do not have theatre tickets.

So Pretty Lady's cuñado just informed her of a foolproof way to get rapid service at Café Marli. Furthermore, he bet his friend Clark the price of the meal that he could get a waiter to the table in under a minute. Clark, having lived in Paris for a decade, accepted the bet with confidence and alacrity.

Pretty Lady's cuñado simply whipped out a pack of cards, sat down and gave forth the impression of an individual preparing to entrench himself at Café Marli until the end of time. Waiter, coffee and check appeared with Einsteinian rapiditude.

Of course the dear fellow realized he'd been had. But on your next trip to Paris, a word to the wise.

Civilization 101

Modern Man, Pretty Lady has noticed, often seems to feel that Civilization oppresses him. It cramps his style, he says. It is Unnatural and Constricting. He sees no reason for it. Civilization, thinks the modern man, is an invention of persnickety mother-figures, who must be rebelled against for the sake of, well, freedom.

Pretty Lady will let Modern Man in on a little secret. If he would learn some table manners, he would get laid a lot more often.

Really, boys. Pretty Lady may be a snob. She freely admits to having been raised by one, and some childhood scars are almost impossible to eradicate. But as much as she has sat discreetly by, determinedly failing to recognize loud hallmarks of Poor Upbringing in the fellows around her, the gross-out factor has proven insurmountable. It is programmed into her biology. The gross-out factor precedes Civilization; and indeed, she suspects that this is what gave birth to it in the first place.

So spare me your whining about fork choice. It's simple. Start on the outside and work your way in. The vastly more important rule, which must be kept foremost in the psyche at all times when attempting to impress the ladies, is that once food has entered the mouth, it should never be seen again.

Is there anything unclear about that? A show of hands, please? If you have any arguments about this at all, Pretty Lady does not want to hear them. You are fired. You may eat on the back porch along with the dog.

For those students remaining, we will now move on to the subtleties of utensil grip. Hold it like a pencil, not like a drill. Underhanded, not over. This has two main practical benefits: it forces the elbows toward your side, and away from your neighbor's ribs, and it causes the lady you are dining with to view you as a competent adult, and not as a semi-retarded three-year-old. This can have added benefits when your employer is considering things like promotion and salary range. An employee who cannot be trusted to lunch with important clients has a limited career trajectory.

Faugh! I hear you say. The Europeans don't do it like that. And everyone knows that Europeans are the very pinnacle of Civilization.

Which brings us to Rule #3: One adopts the table manners of the country and the household in which one is currently dining, and no other.

In China, Pretty Lady hears tell, it is the custom to pick up one's plate, plunge one's nose into it and make loud smacking sounds, while vacuuming in the food by force of air suction. Pretty Lady knows this because her sister's roommate learned his table manners in China. Pretty Lady can attest that this gentlemen remained date-free until he altered his table-manner paradigm of choice.

Thus, while in Japan one may slurp one's soup. One may not slurp at a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, no matter how authentically decorated. However, if one is dining with a lovely Pakistani lady in Austin, Texas, and she hands you a plate, a napkin, and no eating utensils whatsoever, you 1) wash your hands; 2) observe; 3) consume your meal in precisely the same way she does; and 4) wash your hands again.

In fact, Observation is Key. Why do people have such trouble with this?

You see, boys, ladies place inordinate significance upon seemingly tiny clues. A man who holds his fork incorrectly is presumed uneducated, boorish, unstable, and improvident, by any lady who is considering the advisability of a second date with him. On the contrary, the cad who dresses sharply, holds his fork impeccably and carries on dinner-table conversation without spraying half-chewed food on his partner has a monstrously unfair advantage. A correctly placed dinner-table elbow can stand in for hours of boasting about Harvard this and M.I.T. that.

Pretty Lady is not claiming that this is fair. But it has the advantage of being easy and free; so why not relax your standards of rigorous liberty for a single evening, observe the results, and proceed from there? This is nothing if not scientific.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Summit view

The reason Pretty Lady has not posted more vacation photos is that Maine is so ridiculously pretty that the photographs she takes all look as though she purchased them from a cheesy roadside gift shop. Something in the depths of her soul rebels against the manufacture of such photos. However she will endeavor to overcome her resistance, as soon as she finds a spare moment to crop and Photoshop and en-story them into something approaching an interesting display.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Serious words

Pretty Lady has had the great good fortune to hear from a talented young lady whom she addressed back in January:
When it came time for Ms. Reichlen, the Dewdrop, to take the stage, Ms. Iliesiu mimicked her elegant movements, rising on her toes and slowly slicing the air with her arms.
Mr. Martins, who also likes to watch from the wings, turned to give her an icy stare.
“He just gave me this stare, like: ‘It’s nice you’re learning it, but …. ’” Her voice trailed off. “Whenever I see him, I get chills.
“I hope he’s my director one day.”

Sweetheart, no! Never work with a man who squelches your ambitions.
Haha that is me... I am not kidding. But I have had the dream to be in NYCB my whoel life and I am determined to sucess. But thank you for the advice.

Cecilia I.

Cecilia. My dear. Now that I have your attention.

You are too young to remember Mr. B. But to you I am sure that Mr. B. is more than a legend; I am absolutely positive, dear Cecilia, that Mr. B. is God. Unless of course Peter has usurped that position, as he has so much else. But no matter.

The fact is, Cecilia, that George Balanchine was God. But he was a lesser demigod; a demigod of human creativity. An artist, in other words. And like most artists, he had his blind spots.

I will go so far as to say that he had more than a few blind spots. I will go so far as to say that as regards matters of fundamental human decency, the man was a monster.

You see, Cecilia, to George Balanchine the artist, his dancers, those ephemeral athletes, those dedicated acolytes, those monastic slaves, were nothing more than art supplies. They were not the point; they were the medium. And mediums are there to be ruthlessly used up. The pencil gets sharpened until it is a nub and then discarded; the paint tube is grabbed with a dirty hand and squeezed to disgorge its guts; the brush is left standing in turpentine until it disintegrates. It is not comfortable to be a paintbrush, Cecilia.

I am sure that you know this. I am sure that you revel in it. I am sure that you have undergone three hours of class and four hours of rehearsal in one day with no more sustenance than a diet Coke and an apple. I am positive that you have experienced the sensation of skin slowly peeling off the outsides of your toes, and have developed ingenious methodologies for bolstering toenails in various stages of blackening and falling off. Moreover I am sure that you are proud of the serene, joyful expression on your face that you stoically maintain whilst enduring these sensations. And I am proud of you, too.

I merely feel the overwhelming urge to caution you that the spirit of George Balanchine does not give a rat's ass how much you are suffering on behalf of his art, and neither does Peter Martins.

If I tell you, lovely Cecilia, that both George and Peter are pure egotists, this will mean very little to you. It may very well mean something positive in your mind; it may symbolize Discipline, and Dedication to Higher Things. The dance world regards narcissism as an unqualified virtue; interest in anything at all besides one's own reflection in the mirror is an unforgiveable lapse.

And that reflection, if it is pure of line and movement, may take you to some glorious places. Places which I have no need to describe to you, because you have been there, as have I.

But I am telling you very seriously that if you place the whole of your identity and sense of self-worth into that mirror, Cecilia, the torments of the damned will be yours for ever and ever. And it will not be worth it. Moreover, there is no need for it. You may, Cecilia, become a principle dancer with the NYCB without losing your soul. But if there is ever a choice between one and the other, I devoutly hope that you will choose the latter.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pretty Lady's Friends

...rock. Each and every one of you. Pretty Lady is rather sunburnt, and droopy-eyed from doing quadruple duty as hostess, tour guide, chef and nurse this evening (very long story) but she loves and adores and thanks you very much, and will be Back Soon.