Monday, January 28, 2008

That Kennedy Thing

You grow up Irish in New England and it can't be avoided.

Now, I know every baby boomer or pre-boomer can tell you exactly where they were when John F Kennedy was shot. But it was different if they were an Irish and grew up in Massachusetts.

It's like the whole Challenger disaster ~ every kid who was old enough to be in school that day can tell you where they were when the space shuttle exploded, but it was a whole different story if you were in a New Hampshire school, like the one Christa McAulliffe came from.

But back to the Kennedys. I didn't really get it at first. On our first trip to Washington, DC, my mother and aunt both cried at JFK's tomb and my mother never cries.

As I grew older and read more about "the Kennedy Curse," they became more mythical. The eldest and best son killed in the war. The beautiful eldest daughter marries into British royalty, but dies in a plane crash. The daughter who was never quite right and despite pleas from her mother, the father decides then allow doctors to attempt a new procedure on her ~ a lobotomy ~ is she is locked away for life. The two middle brothers who seek political glory and gain it, but lose their lives in the process. It was like a cross between Emily Bronte and Danielle Steele.

And then there were all the Kennedy children. You'd see pictures of them looking like a J.Crew add playing touch football on the waterfront family compound in Hyannisport. The ferry from Hyannis to Martha's Vineyard gave you a spectacular view of the sprawling white house and porches and large grass lawn pierced with an enormous white flagpole bearing the US flag. It was impossible to keep track of all the kids ~ well, except for JFKjr. His every move was publicized. But the rest, you only heard about them when they were getting married, running for office or going on trial, each of which happened with equal frequency.

In New England, it wasn't uncommon to hear one of the children referred to as not even being the child of one of the "good" Kennedys. I believe Patrick (son of Ted) took the brunt of that joke when he first ran for congress in Rhode Island.

The Kennedys have since lost their mythical aura for me. I understand why they were so revered by the Irish Catholics as they proved that "no Irish need apply" was truly a thing of the past. They broke every glass ceiling that stood in the way of every member of my family and provided them with more hope for the future than anything else could. In the culture of Ireland, where emigration is such a strongly entrenched part of their history and their present, there's a reason that even still you find two pictures on the wall of every home: the pope and JFK.

I met Ted about 10 years ago, when my mothers' college presented him with an award for his work in improving the health and well being of the citizens of Massachusetts. He was all red and bloated back then. I saw Joe (one of RFK's sons) speak about 15 years ago and have never seen someone with as much charisma just pouring out of them since. I've also sat beside a unknown Kennedy at the Hyannis airport ~ no one else on earth has that many teeth and dresses casually out of Ralph Lauren's latest collection.

Caroline (JFK's daughter) wrote an OpEd in the NYT yesterday comparing Barack Obama to her father. (see link in title) She provides a rather persuasive argument, enough so that her uncle Ted Kennedy (Edward, not Theodore)has decided to endorse him as well and join him on the campaign trail.

The Clintons are rather miffed and have released that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (daughter of RFK)is supporting them. She has made a statement that not only is she supporting Hillary, but so are her siblings, Bobby* and Kerry. The irony being that their mother, Ethel, has repeatedly introduced Senator Obama as "the next President of the United States" at events including Kennedy family events.

* Bobby is someone we would refer to as a "bad" Kennedy as he was arrested for heroine possession in 1983 and if that weren't enough, he's using his name to keep the whole vaccinations-cause-autism movement alive, despite the fact that no scientific study has found ANY proof of this, and despite the fact that the "toxin" in vaccines thiomersol has been removed from childhood vaccines since 2001, the incidence of autism has only increased.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My fondest wish....

As if network television hadn't gotten bad enough ~ American Gladiators, Don't Forget the Lyrics, Celebrity Apprentice, Dance Wars, and TWO HOURS of the Biggest Loser, I'm talkin' to you ~ we have to endure yet another State of the Union address next week.

Like we're not all aware of the state of the Union? It sucks! We're headed into a major recession. (If I click my heels three times might Alan Greenspan come back?) We entered a poorly thought out war with no exit plan and, guess what?, we can't get out!! We seemed to have misplaced the middle class. Our health care system is broken; overtaxed by some, underutilized by others and still our population is ridiculously unhealthy. Who's to blame? Well, we're getting screwed from about 8 different directions by the insurance industry with increasing health insurance premiums and medical liability premiums. And if the pharmaceutical industry was spending a fraction of their marketing and advertising budget on research, we'd all be doing much better and not be so concerned about health coverage. AND, don't even get me started about education.....

Let's get back on topic. While I realize that the writers of the State of the Union are not members of the WGA ~ how? Because the best State of the Union addresses ever televised were given by a fictional president (Jed Bartlett) and written by a fictional writer (Sam Seaborn) ~ Wouldn't it be refreshing to see the WGA-East picket the State of the Union? At the very least, some members of the news media would not be able to cross the picket line and members of Congress who receive strong support from the Teamsters (heavily involved in film and television) and other large unions couldn't be seen crossing picket lines.

So this is how I imagine it.... George W. giving his speech to a partially filled House chamber while Dick Cheney tapes the event on his camcorder.

It's probably too much to ask for, but I can still dream...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

If this is the new face of mental illness...

... then I need a closet, STAT!

Seriously, though, why is it that whenever someone does something crazy, it gets equated with mental illness?

Why is it so difficult to accept that some people are just NUTS and it has nothing to do with an illness or process in their brain? Sometimes it's completely behavioral and all the antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti psychotics and anticonvulsives in the world aren't going to fix that.

People magazine thinks that Britney is bipolar... So that would mean she's been manic for what, 8, 10 years now? Sorry, guys. Affective disorders, like manic depression, are cyclical and have periods of normalcy between episodes. One of your people on the editorial board should have gotten a psychiatry degree, or at least a copy of DSM IV!

How about this for a try? Maybe she's just a narcissistic personality type on drugs.

I hate to have to be present for those ridiculous conversations about this murderer or that evil soulless criminal ~ They must be sick! And by sick, we're not talking about a particularly bad case of the chicken pox, although a very far gone case of syphilis could cause some pretty insane behaviors.

But to suggest that serial killers, drug lords and pedophiles fall into the same category as the mentally ill is ignorant, hateful and promotes the stigma that keeps so many amazing talented and accomplished individuals with mental illnesses from ever letting on.

Society needs to learn the difference between sick and sick. They need to understand that diseases of the brain are no different than diseases of the heart or lungs or kidneys except that because the brain is so intricately involved in so much of EVERYTHING we do, when it breaks down, we simply drop with it.

Kay Redfield Jamison, (who I shudder to think I am mentioning in the same blog post as Britney Spears) both the coauthor of the medical text on bipolar disorder and a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, is also one of the sick. In speaking of her own experiences, she has sad of manic depression, "It is not a gentle or easy disease." And it is not. 15% mortality rate. No cure. For those whom the treatment works, the side effects can be horrid. And the disease still returns in its own due time, completely unconcerned with your schedule or current intentions. It tears through your life with hurricane force winds destroying everything in it's path and leaving you buried beneath, clawing your way out to see what remains among the rubble.

I have several times been privy to the conversation about how selfish suicide is: the many variations of how much more we have in America than other places; the backward logic of how it could make anything better; the narcissism that could drive it. I ignore these conversations. I am not about to admit that I have spent years of my life plotting its demise.

So let me pose my question here instead: Imagine how much pain you need to be in and how hopeless you need to feel and how long you need to be trapped in that place for suicide to become the most rational action you could take...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Don't look at me, I'm from Vermont....

I'm renouncing my status as a native of NH. I refuse to claim it.

Doesn't anyone remember Edwin S. Muskie? He was the favorite to win the 1972 Democratic Primary in New Hampshire, that is until one of the Manchester Union Leader published two articles, one letter that proved to be a hoax (casting the former Maine governor as a racist moron) and the other attacking his wife. William Loeb, while he was still alive, was one of the really ugly men in American political history, he was survived by his wife, Whacky Nackie (whose real name I honestly don't know), as the publisher of the Useless Leader (as it is affectionately known by those in NH, I'm told, being as how I'm from VT and all.)

As a child, it always seemed odd to me that the editorial was published on the front page, above the fold ~ basically saying "my opinion is the most important news of the day!" We never subscribed to that paper, we read the Boston Globe in my house, but that's another story entirely.

Back to Loeb and Muskie... The letter was eventually proven to be a fraud ~ someone in the Nioxn administration actually took credit for it ~ but Loeb's attack on Muskie's wife crossed the line in the candidate's opinion. He held a press conference on the front steps of the Union Leader offices to defend his wife. Now, it was a snowy day, as it often is in NH in February, and Muskie was rather seething with rage as he made his remarks. There were no televisions to record the events, only print reporters and a single photograph. It's hard to say what actually happened, if it was melting snow or an angry and frustrated man pushed to his limit, but the story that came out was that Muskie had cried.

And that was the end of his Presidential candidacy.


Now fast forward 35 years and we have a female candidate for President and she happens to tear up about how exhausting it is to get up look her campaign best every day (like she doesn't have staff) and NH is suddenly drawn to how "human" she is and votes for her in droves.

Keep in mind. It's not like she was talking about the millions of children that go without needed health care because they have no insurance. It's not like she was talking about the problem of women and girls being kidnapped trafficked as part of the sex trade. It's not even like she was talking about our own troops still stuck in Iraq and their worried families back home and the condition they are returning in and the poor care they're receiving after the sacrifices they've made.

I could be touched by someone tearing up over any one of those things, in fact, I'm having a tough time not tearing up just writing about them.

So, sorry guys. Mother nature isn't the only who's snowed you this year.

For the time being, I claiming to be from the upside down triangle...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

WHAT have I been tellin' y'all???

What if Iowa Settles Nothing for Democrats?

That's the headline from the political memo in this morning's New York Times.

It would seem that they're finally figuring out that all these early primaries are going to mess with the usual culling of the field and we're going to wind up with entirely too many candidates for entirely too long.

Who woulda seen that one coming.

Yeah, I know, but I don't need to brag about it.

I think there may be some charm to having the national conventions without having selected a nominee first. It would at least give people a reason to watch. There would be an air of anticipation, viewers sitting on the edge of their seats awaiting the completion of the national roll call. Never would Vermont and Wyoming garner so much of the Nation's attention. Will there be back room deals? Delegates gone renegade? Who knows?

We could at least have Michael Kors there to critique their wardrobe and Heidi Klum to say Auf Wiedersehen to the losers. And you KNOW you want to see Tim Gunn back stage going over stump speeches saying things like: This really screams 1984 to me; You have an awful lot of work to do here and not a lot of time; Is this how you intended it to be?; and, of course, Make it work!