Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dangers of Online Flirting

It's innocent, right? You wonder what happened to the "one that got away," that old flame. Where does he (or she) live? Is he married, divorced, single? What's his occupation. And you're only looking out of curiosity, nothing more, right?

We all wonder about the people from our past, and many times it is indeed human nature and completely innocent. Usually. The cyber age has changed everything. A few decades ago, you would call ATT information and get someone's phone number. You'd then dial the number, and if she answered, you would listen to the "Hello ... hello?" and then hang up. But the Internet makes it far easier to find others, and in an age in which divorce rates continue to soar, observing boundaries is becoming difficult. People decide to just take a peek at the old girlfriend or boyfriend.

Recent studies show that Googling old flames ranks fifth in who or what we search for on the Net. Many psychologists conclude that online flirtation aside, merely searching for an old lover can be dangerous since 1) so many marriages are shaky, and 2) the distance imposed by the Internet increases the chance that contact will eventually be made.

"Once someone is located," says Yale researcher Dr. Paul Lochner, "it seems perfectly natural to say a quick 'hello.' But all too often, this leads to email exchanges and photo swaps. Then cell numbers are exchanged. Finally, after a pattern of flirtation has been established, a meeting is planned if geographically feasible--or even if it's not."

Lochner believes that couples should have no secrets when it comes to online activity. Anything you don't want your partner to see is a red flag.

Looking up old flames (or actual, aggressive flirting) can become addictive. There is an adrenaline rush. We experience feelings that we haven't felt for years, or even decades. That person sitting across the country at a keyboard is providing stimulus in a relationship that may be suffering from obvious neglect.

But do we have the self-control to log off and do something in the real world, like buy our significant other a rose, or give him or her a spontaneous kiss? We all know that the PC is an an integral part of our everyday lives, but on the down-low, are we willing to admit that it's robbing us of healthy activities, including our relationships?

The next time your mind starts to wander, take a walk in the sunshine and realize that sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss. As Alexander Pope said, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Years of tragedy can be averted by just walking away from the computer.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering John Lennon

I wasn't born when the Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. But I was a little girl by the time he'd gone solo and was living in New York with Yoko . . . and recording Double Fantasy. My father was watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cossell informed viewers that Lennon had been assassinated in front of the Dakota Building bordering Central Park. My dad, not a big Beatles fan, nevertheless fell silent, his skin turning pale.

When we recall Lennon, we are remembering several people, for he was a complex figure, always evolving. He was musician, clown, alcoholic, actor, political activist, and the voice of an entire generation. The down-low aspect of Lennon's life is that the feds tried so long to have him departed because Nixon and several powerful congressmen and senators, such as Strom Thurmond, thought he was a danger to American youth. Nixon especially wanted him gone because he saw Lennon as a threat to his re-election campaign in 1972.

The FBI followed him relentlessly and bugged his phone. It seems the government is still doing this to citizens in 2010. When we remember Lennon today as a man of peace and hope, let's also remember that there is a lot of work to be done in standing up for our civil liberties. Lennon never gave up, and neither should we.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love: A Literary Scam

Here's a story that is definitely on the down-low. The movie Eat, Pray, Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of the same name, has just been released on DVD. Gilbert has appeared on Oprah twice, and the world is currently gushing about the author's profound spiritual, life-changing experiences. It is this year's "must read" for every user on Match.com. It is the guide for unhappy wives who need to get the kinks out of their troubled marriages and lives. There's only one problem. The memoir is a scam.

A few years ago, Gilbert found herself in an unhappy marriage and had a fling, only to be dumped by her boyfriend. The husband contested their divorce. But the light bulb went off in Gilbert's head. She sent a proposal to a New York publisher and asked for $200,000 to execute the following plan: Go to Italy and indulge her carnal passions, then move to India and meditate when all that eating and drinking and lusting didn't satisfy her quest. When the rigors of meditation became too demanding, she would then move on to a third country, where she would find true love. (No wonder every woman on Match.com loves this mess.) She did indeed find that "true love" a few years ago, only Mr. Right is still somewhere in Indonesia, unable to gain admittance to the United States while his New Jersey wife collects one check after another. It is rumored that she is writing another book on the immigration issue. How convenient.

This is literary prostitution. Gilbert wrote a memoir in which the outcomes had already been chronologically manipulated for the literary marketplace. Unfortunately, the average person seeking enlightenment doesn't have an extra two hundred grand to eat, drink, pray, and get boinked "on schedule."

America is trying to find its soul right now. No one needs Ms. Gilbert's connect-the-dots memoir to help them along the road to enlightenment. The spiritual journey was nothing more than a nonfiction book proposal and should have been marketed as fiction. How many marriages has Gilbert wrecked by planting the seed that escape is the path of wisdom?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Political Wind

I'm a liberal by nature, although I like to think I'm bipartisan. Not interested in tea parties, thank you very much. During the '08 presidential shootout, I heard a lot of jabber about alternative energy sources. I heard the mantra "Drill, baby, drill," although this lamentable phrase was quickly shot down by the Dems.

And rightly so. The BP oil spill now indicates that drilling is not without hazards, and fossil fuels cannot sustain earth's energy needs for more than another hundred years by most estimates. What I clearly heard was a lot of talk about wind farms and fields chock-full of solar panels, row after row of solar cells soaking up the yellow rays of Sol.

But Cat isn't hearing a lot of talk anymore about energy from the wind or the sun. These technologies are already in existence, although what is lacking is the cost efficiency to make them viable on a large scale. When, Mr. President, would be a good time to start implementing your campaign promises to use these alternative sources? I remain a loyal supporter . . . for now.

It's time to bring in the entrepreneurs from the private sector to palaver with the Department of Energy, time to re-tool the factories in the rust belt and start an energy revolution that puts people back to work manufacturing the equipment to make solar and wind farms a reality.

For now, the story has fallen out of sight. It's on the down-low.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Pleasures of Long Convalescence

Sorry for the absence, chickadees and chick-a-dumplings. A skiing accident in Colorado laid Cat up for several months. I fractured my right leg in three places. But it wasn't all bad.

I weaned myself from multitasking. I had a PC, a TV remote, and a cell phone, and I'm not talking the smart variety that shows movies or plans your retirement. It makes telephone calls.

I continued working on several articles and books, usually opting for a legal pad and pen over the PC. The physical act of writing connected me to the language in a new way. When the Percocet wore off, I drifted to sleep while watching a soap. If the cell rang too much, I turned it off. That simple. Felt like one of the Amish . . . and maybe that's not a bad way too live. I have not felt so much peace in years.

I'm not going to go break another leg in order to find such tranquility, but I did have time to read Walden by Thoreau. For a few months, I lived his life--a "deliberate life"--doing only what was necessary. No tweets or nights out with the girls. No blogging or running up credit card bills.

Try it sometime, minus the broken bones. You'd be surprised where technology has taken us, and, contrary to the new phrase in our vernacular, it's not all good.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Finding Hope

It seems that our nation, in its great divisions over the economy and healthcare, has lost hope. People are depressed. They see themselves as merely scraping by, and they’re not sure that the nation is going to pull itself out of the quagmire anytime soon. It’s no accident that The History Channel is capitalizing on fear through all of its apocalyptic shows on the end times. So where do we find hope? Under what rock is the secret hiding that will take us out of our misery?

Ten years ago, two close friends were killed. My boyfriend dumped me the following month, and I had no job or money at the time. I went to the mall and looked at the coin fountain, wishing I could scoop up all the loose change without the mall cop arresting me. I was hoping to be abducted by aliens.

I went home and did the only thing I knew how to do: write. Then I prayed, cried, beat my fists against the wall, and wrote some more. I did this every day for a week. When I couldn’t write anymore, I went to a small town newspaper and asked for a job.

“Got any writing samples?” the editor asked.

I pulled out my steno pads full of scribbled angst and bitterness and handed them to the editor.

“You can start tomorrow if you don’t mind writing obituaries,” he told me. “You’ve got a knack for chronicling the morbid. Just try to lighten up a bit, okay? Remember, you’ll be writing about people’s relatives.”

Desperate, I took the job. A year later, I was covering dog shows and county fairs. After that, I changed papers and started to cover human-interest stories.

Here’s my point. The way to find hope is not to keep sitting around waiting for a result. Hope is a process, not an end-product. When I wrote those obits, I connected with people and was able to show real sympathy to individuals mired in grief. In covering other people’s losses, I shook off my own. My work, my skills, my talent—they were all parts of a process by which I connected to other people, and ultimately, bigger stories. Many years later, however, I’m still writing about people. Finding hope is a process of focusing on others and affirming them to the best of our abilities. Remember, they’re looking for hope, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Vicarious Pleasures of Voyeurism

I'm disappointed with David Letterman, but not shocked. He's human, but he stepped up to the plate and told the truth without mincing words. No rationalizations, no stalling, so spin.

But why are we so fascinated with celebrity affairs (or with celebrities in general, for that matter)? I'll answer the second question first. The reason is because we don't feel we've accomplished very much and we're bored out of our minds.

The answer to the second question is a no-brainer and related to the first. We're jealous. We wish that we could land in so much trouble as long as it involved the pleasures of forbidden sex. We self-righteously shake our heads while inwardly we're jealous that we weren't the ones caught in bed with the actress or the leading man.Why do they get to have all the fun while we're stuck in our routines? We become voyeurs through the medium of television, simultaneously condemning and relishing the plight of Letterman and others.

Temptation comes easily in an age when role models from all walks of life break the rules. We don't know how to live comfortably in our own skins. We live vicariously instead of making something of our own lives. But here's the good news. Every one of us, if we would sit down and think a little and use some imagination, could enhance our lives tenfold. We could start a new business, volunteer at a homeless shelter, mentor a fatherless child, discover a comet, or fall in love with the pretty single woman at the supermarket. We all have unlimited potential, and we might actually accomplish these goals if we stopped watching shows about Jacko, Jon and Kate, and who's doing who. Dare to be the hero of your own life. Wear the white hat and make people envious of you.

You heard it from Cat.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cell Phones, Hell Phones

Cell phones are here to stay. I guess that's a good thing for the most part, but I recall George Carlin's theory as to why we call each other on the phone: to make sure the other person is there. In public places, however, I think it might be the better part of courtesy for people to momentarily assume the other person is indeed "there" and spare the rest of us from the mundane details of their lives.

I was in a doctor's outer waiting room the other day when a woman in her late fifties unfolded her cell and began talking to her friend Agnes. "I'm just sitting here, Agnes. Nothing to do. You know the way it is in doctors' waiting rooms. I think I'll turn into a potted plant before they call me." Never mind that nine other people were trying to read magazines or make appointments and discuss insurance coverage with the receptionist. We had to listen to the woman's life history for twenty-five minutes. In that span of time, I found out that she had a corn on her big toe, varicose veins, was a grandmother, planned on cooking meatloaf that night, and that her husband couldn't find a pair of dress shoes that fit him to save his life, which was a pity since he had to attend his sister-in-law's third wedding in two months. Wedding details then spilled into the waiting room, from the flavor of the wedding cake to the color of the bridesmaids' dresses. The honeymoon would take place in Cancun. So much for trying to read about the U. S. Open tennis tournament. Unfortunately, the woman didn't turn into a potted plant.

This kind of aggravation is multiplying. No one goes anywhere without their cells, and we must listen to the prattling of rude people in restaurants, stores, malls, and on public transportation. People using bluetooth technology walk about in public, appearing to talk to themselves. We don't give the slightest thought that others may not want to here chapter and verse from the narratives of our lives.

We're bored. We can't stand to be by ourselves. George Carlin was right. We call people because we don't want to be alone. We want to know that someone else is there.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rolling Up the Red Carpet on the Emmys

I'm not a TV addict (House, Monk, Medium and a few others are enough for Cat), but I enjoy watching the Emmy Awards every year. It's, well . . . something different. In the moments leading up to the show this year, however, I was channel surfing and came across a program on hunger in the third world.

Before me were images of small children sitting in homes made of plywood, cardboard, or corrugated tin. They wore dirty T-shirts or nothing at all. Many were cared for by older siblings since their parents were deceased. There were no schools or hospitals, and clean water and sanitation were absent. I could go on, but you get the picture. This is the way billions in the third world live, if you can call it "living."

I turned back to CBS in time to see the celebs strutting up the red carpet, bejewelled and dressed in gowns costing a hundred grand after emerging from the stretch limos. The contrast with the show on world hunger hit me in the gut.

Ironically, actors and actresses are fairly liberal and do more than most in championing the cause of the needy. Brad Pitt's work in New Orleans post-Katrina has been exemplary, and he's not alone in his philanthropic efforts. But I decided not to watch the Emmys last Sunday night, not because there was enything inherently evil about the broadcast, but because we tend to get caught up in the glitz and the glamour. We sympathize with the plight of the third world, but we just don't think about it that much. Out of sight, out of mind. I'm as guilty as anybody.

So I passed on the telecast for personal reasons. It was a way of making my subconscious a bit uncomfortable, a way of making my subconscious bubble to the surface and sit in a dark little hut for a few hours. It was my way to keep remembering after the show on hunger was over.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rudeness Reigns

Forget the swine flu; bad manners seems to be quite infectious. Rep. Jim Wilson called President Obama a liar during a joint session of Congress; Serena Williams cursed a linesman with the foulest language I've ever heard on court; and Kanye West decided that his limited intelligence and lack of articulation gave him the right to not only interrupt the speaker at the VMA Awards but to dispute the choice of winner.

The discourse in American society grew mean and nasty during the '08 presidential campaign. Most pundits said that the GOP would have to moderate and become centrist in order to become a viable party again. Thus far, it hasn't happened. It seems as if the shouting at campaign rallies and, more recently, town hall meetings, has become the template for public behavior.

From a wider perspective, however, such rudeness indicates a far more dangerous and pervasive trend: the mindset that it's all about "me." There are no verbal rules of engagement. Anyone can be interrupted or shouted down--and for any reason. There is a sense of entitlement that has infected our very souls. According to West, Beyonce was entitled to win the award. According to Williams, she was entitled to win the U. S. Open. According to Rep. Jim Wilson, the nation is entitled to scream at the president as the GOP, bad loser that it is, sulks because Karl Rove led everyone to believe that one-party rule was okay ... as long as it was the Republican Party.

Things are getting out of hand. As Bob Dylan said long ago, "a hard rain's gonna fall." You heard it from Cat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jay Leno Redux?

Jay Leno is a talented comedian and did an admirable job with The Tonight Show for many years. I don't think his style for guest interviews is as strong as Conan O'Brian's or David Letterman's, but Jay "done good," as the saying goes. He deserves credit.

Last night Leno debuted his new 10 pm (Eastern) show on NBC. He came out, shook hands with the front row as he always does, and did a monologue. He did some shtick and had Jerry Seinfeld as his first guest. Kevin Eubanks was there with the old Tonight Show Band, and the show concluded with Jay's trademark Headlines. Sure looked like The Tonight Show to me, except that Jay sat in a comfy arm chair to do the interviews. I saw no appreciable difference between this show and The Tonight Show format. The only sour moment was when Leno allowed Kanye West to sit next to him and whimper an apology for his rudeness to Taylor Swift at the VMA Awards..

Here's the ten million dollar question: does America want four hours of talk shows in a row on NBC's weeknight line-up? Normally I'd say the answer is a resounding "no." Too much of a good thing. Essentially, we now have two Tonight Shows back to back, with only thirty-five minutes of local news to separate them. But I may be dead wrong. If anyone would have told me that eight networks could successfully air approximately forty prime time crime dramas over the past five years, I would have said they were nuts. Crime is king on TV, and the trend shows no signs of abating. For Jay Leno, maybe there is indeed life after The Tonight Show . . . unless viewers miss a 10 pm slot that could host a few more crime dramas.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kindle Me Not

Kindle? Thanks, but no thanks. I'm sure electronic readers like Kindle are fine and dandy and will ultimately be successful. Even Amazon, however, predicts that their device will never replace old-fashioned paper and ink, which is good. I have no desire to read books on a platform. Ugh. Even the phrase is odious. Reading on a platform? Am I standing at the subway or at a train station? If I read Dickens, then it should have a different feel than when I read Dan Brown, and I don't want the text surrounded by white plastic. It makes the experience of reading . . . cold, for lack of a better term.

Books should have a certain identity. The texture of the paper is important. Is it smooth or grainy. And the font--is it large or small, and what style and pitch has the publisher used? Is the book hardcover or paperback? And what does it smell like? That's important. And the cover art? Good book covers are an invitation to step into a world of mystery, wonder, discovery, or adventure.

Some of my most favorite editions are old books I bought when I was much younger or that were given to me as a child. They are a bit worn, and some of the pages have yellowed a bit. The books are all the more treasured for their age and used condition.

Print that scrolls through white plastic isn't for me. A book should be opened and savored. You may feel differently, but cats don't change their habits very easily.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serena Williams: Take Time Out with the Other First Graders

Serena Williams displayed what the nefarious Captain Hook might labeled bad form. After being called for a foot-fault last night in the Women's semi-final match of the U.S. Open, Ms. Williams screamed at the linesman for a full minute in the foulest of language. Bad form indeed.

There's an old adage in tennis called "play the call." Move on. Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver did it, as did many other greats of the game. Connors and McEnroe didn't, although they stopped short of outright and prolonged profanity and came to be regarded as comic relief more than anything else when it came to their on-court histrionics.

Ms. Williams lost the match after being penalized for her unsportsmanlike behavior. Good. Sports figures in the highest tiers of their sports are no longer role models for kids. They're endorsement machines who use steroids to cheat. There's no excuse for what Serena Williams did last night. She could have kept it together and moved on to the next point. Is it any wonder that children see such behavior and then throw tantrums at home or become schoolyard bullies?

And here's' the down-low part of the story. Ms. Williams: you reap what you sow. It will come back to you in some way, shape, or form. The universe keeps its karma ledger with the precision of a bachelor accountant. You heard it from Cat.

Twitter: Haiku for the Masses

The world is all a-twitter these days, with Twitter rivaling Facebook for popularity. The difference, of course, is that Twitter exists for more than just social networking. It exists for news, product promotion, conversation, political campaigning and candidate updates, and (unfortunately) spam. One may easily keep track of certain social trends on Twitter since the service is mobile in nature, with most users using using cell phones--Blackberries or iPhones--as the platform interface. Demographically, use is skewed toward those under thirty, although, as with Facebook, those over thirty can be seen pounding their thumbs in public on miniature keypads. Boomers ushered in the computer revolution, and they are doing an admirable job at keeping up with new permutations of technology.

Twitter was started in 2006 by Jack Dorsey as an SMS, or short message service, that allowed only 140 characters per message. It is rated as one of the top 50 websites by Alexa's Web Traffic Analysis.

But what can we really say in 140 characters, which translates into one or twp brief sentences? Not much. Marketing firms love the service because they can send messages, called "tweets," such as "Drink Slush Cola, regular or diet." But who wants to receive ads in a world inundated with commercials that we already try to avoid like the plague. Authors now use Twitter to keep fans apprised of their book signing schedule or work on the latest chapter of their new book. For the life of me, I can't imagine anyone who would want to receive the message "Cat in Philly Tuesday at B&N and starting ch. 33."

Many messages are idle chatter:

Going home now.

Tell the Spunker and the Moocher it didn't work.

Kiki got dumped. Men r bad.

Damn this socialism!

At their worst, tweets are bits of cyber graffiti that, thankfully, most of us of are not exposed to. At its best, tweets are similar to haiku, a few lines of beauty that might brighten someone's day if only for a few seconds even if the brief message doesn't confrom to meter or poetic form..

Consider:

Saw a girl in the subway. Such lovely red hair.

So thirsty. Water fountain in lobby on Broadway.

Sun brutal. Need soda and umbrella. Love, Neil.

As with all aspects of computers and the Internet, cyber technology is what we make of it. Cat's tip for the day: whatever you do, in word or text, think first. Make every word count. Life goes by quickly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The New Journalists

Few documentaries in the past years have examined a new trend in journalism: the layman as reporter, the pedestrian with a cell phone camera and texting ability. A major story breaks, and within minutes, the average joe or jane on the street has uploaded text or images to CNN. Frankly, this has Cat worried, and not just because her parents shelled out a lot of money on journalism school.

The problem is that in the age of Twitter and camera phones, which send text or pics to news organizations instantly, there is no guarantee that the info will be accurate or, even more importantly, have any context. Yesterday, CNN itself grabbed a radio transmission from a Coast Guard training exercise on the Potomac River and believed it had intercepted evidence of terrorist activity. Flights in and out of D.C. were temporarily shut down on the anniversary of 9/11. CNN's failure to adequately check out the story caused a lot of grief and was unprofessional. If a major news network commits this error, how much more are everyday "citizen journalists" likely to make even worse errors?

PBS's Frontline did a series on the new age of journalism, and much of it was rather sobering. The trend is apparently a fait accompli, and yet too many people do not have the slightest knowledge of journalistic standards. Information is obtained, but there is no thought given to the who, what, where, when, and why that gives a story legs.

Professional journalists are trained in writing, ethics, sources, corroboration, legalities, the history of the craft, and much more. Therein lies the heart of the problem: journalism is a craft that takes years to learn and master. In the early years of the twenty-first century, however, journalism has become the province of people with blogs and iPhones. Online news services are especially open to receiving info from the average citizen, although such services--AOL, Yahoo, and the rest--are sometimes prone to throwing out random information like someone throwing objects against a wall to see what sticks.

How we gather and process information is critical in a new age of technology in which paradigm shifts in culture, social mores, and politics seem to change with every twenty-four hour news cycle. You have a great pic taken with your phone? Great, but here's the conundrum. Is the photo of a man falling through the air, arms flung wide, a picture of a man jumping from a building or jumping on a trampoline. The angle of the shot means everything since the man's facial expression may be quite deceptive.

We live in an age where we believe what we see and are told without question. If it's "out there," it must be true. Now more than ever, however, we need to engage in analysis of the information we're fed. And that, my friends, is the job of the journalist. Blog discussion is healthy, but it's not necessarily news. You heard it from Cat.