Archive for May, 2007

Just Shoot Me

Posted in divorce, Law, Law and Justice, marriage, media, medicine, relationships on May 21, 2007 by castagnera

The Associated Press reported last week that the U.S. divorce rate is at its lowest point since 1970. That happens to be the year I got married. According to the AP, the rate has been declining more or less steadily since 1981. In ’81 5.3 divorces occurred for every 1,000 Americans. Last year 3.6 was the figure.
If you’re pro-marriage and pro-family, don’t stand up and cheer just yet. One demographic fact driving down the rate, experts told AP, is that ten times as many couples choose to live together sans wedding bands than was the case in 1970. The marriage rate has dropped 30 percent in the past quarter century. Couples who do tie the knot typically hold off an extra five years.
Some folks, I’m sure, stay married because a divorce is a luxury they can’t afford. Rich celebrities have paid spectacular amounts to escape soured relationships. Kevin Costner’s first divorce settlement reportedly weighed in at $80 million. Bruce Springsteen is said to have paid model-actress Julianne Phillips $20 million to split up in 1989. I’m impressed that these guys were capable of shelling out more money than I will probably ever earn. One more movie or concert tour and the coffers were filled to overflowing again, I guess. For most of us, the break-up is a huge financial setback.
Just affording a good divorce lawyer is a challenge. A colleague whose wife left him last year journeyed to Doylestown, Bucks County’s seat, in search of legal counsel. Interviewing several “family practice” attorneys, he was quoted hourly rates in the range of $350.
Then there’s all the sentimental stuff. Once the big bucks, such as they are in our debt-burdened society, are out of the way, the real blood gets shed over the CD collection, the Lazy-Boy, and the kitchen furniture. Last, but far from least, are custody and visitation rights with the kids. As Paul Simon said in one of his songs, “This will cost a year of my life. And then there’s all that weight to be lost.”
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot the weight-loss part. Have you ever noticed how many divorcees look ten times better six months after the divorce is final than they looked before the proceedings started? Well and good… but you have to wonder whether the mess might have been avoided had they lost that 75 pounds before their spouses lost interest in them.
An old joke has a ninety-something couple coming into court and petitioning for a divorce. “Sure,” says the judge, “I can grant you a divorce. But may I ask why it’s taken you so long to split up.”
Replies the wife, “We were waiting for the kids to die.”
I don’t know anyone who waited that long. I do know quite a few former couples who held off until the kids were out of college and completely on their own. Some of these break-ups proceeded pretty amicably, I must admit. The scary part for some of these folks came after the split, when they decided to start dating. Not having had a “date” in the pristine sense of the term for nearly four decades, I feel for them.
Bars and clubs were once the venues of choice for meeting similarly situated people of the opposite (or in some cases, same) sex. Today, the Internet is the favored route to a new relationship. On some sites, I’m told, you review the profiles and “wink” at the guy or girl who captures your fancy. This seems a little bit scary to me. As Diane Keeton’s old movie, “Looking for Mr. Good Bar,” demonstrated decades ago, picking up people in saloons is a dangerous game. How much more dangerous is Internet dating, I wonder. People can create completely fictional personas to attract that first wink.
Then there’s the date itself. As a teenager, on a first date I groped my way to first base in the back seat of the old man’s car… if I was lucky. Now, here are these thirty- or forty- something folks, going back to one or another’s home after dinner and a movie. What’s called for… a kiss good night… or a whole lot more? Do you discuss this candidly as consenting adults or grope your way to the answer like awkward teens?
This is more than I can stretch my mind around. That’s why I’ve told my better half, “If you ever get sick and tired of me, just shoot me.”

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Can Anything Be Learned from Earlier Campus Shootings?

Posted in Crime, gun control, Higher Education, history, Law, Law and Justice, media, Politics, second amendment, technology, Violence, VTU on May 15, 2007 by castagnera

See my series — covering Kent State, the University of Texas tower-sniper, and Dawson College — at the Greentree Gazette on Line: http://www.greentreegazette.com/

Tuning in on Terrorism

Posted in gun control, history, Law, Law and Justice, media, Politics, second amendment, Uncategorized on May 5, 2007 by castagnera

I’m a coward. And I’m not afraid to admit it. In Catholic grade school I was one of the weenies the class bully picked on. My high school letter is in “newspaper.” You jocks out there didn’t know a guy could letter in something as wimpy as that, did you? When my 2-S (college-student) deferment ran out, I enlisted in the Coast Guard, correctly concluding I’d never come closer to Southeast Asia than Hawaii. In the event, I never got any farther west than Duluth, Minnesota, while some classmates sweated out their tours as grunts in Vietnam.
All of the above is in the interest of full disclosure. So when I tell you that later this month I’m off to Israel on an Academic Fellowship on Terrorism, you’ll know that I’ll be looking over my shoulder the whole time. Some 45 faculty from universities across the country were picked for this fifth-annual fellowship by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [www.defenddemocracy.com]. FDD was founded by Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick and other, mostly conservative, philanthropists and politicians, shortly after Nine/Eleven to help support democracies and confront terrorists around the world.
My own interest in terrorism predates September 11, 2001, by a couple of decades. In 1968, when my 2-S deferment was still solid, Paramount Pictures came to my hometown of Jim Thorpe to film “The Molly Maguires,” starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris. With many other locals, I briefly worked on the film’s set. Ten years later, I devoted the central chapter of my doctoral dissertation to a discussion of whether the Mollies really were a 19th century Irish terrorist organization in the Pennsylvania anthracite fields. Or were they neophyte labor organizers, branded “terrorists” in order to hang them and ‘bust’ their union?
Whatever the answer to that question (still controversial), the U.S. is no stranger to terrorism. An anarchist killed President McKinley shortly after he was elected at the turn of the last century, ironically enabling his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, to become one of our great national chief executives. During the Roaring Twenties, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed as much because they were Italian immigrant-anarchists as because they may have committed an armed robbery and murder. A bomb set off on Wall Street by a fellow anarchist sealed their fate, even though the evidence of their involvement in a payroll heist left lots of reasonable doubts.
The Sixties were a decade of domestic terror, carried out in the context of the unpopular war I joined the Coast Guard to avoid. The assassinations of John, Bobby and Martin; the bombings, arsons, and violent marches orchestrated by the Yippies, Weathermen, and Students for a Democratic Society; and the war between the Black Panthers and the nation’s police all contributed to the atmosphere of terror. Why some Baby Boomers of my generation now romanticize and even glorify the Sixties is a mystery to me. To quote from novelist-newspaperman Philip Caputo’s recent reminiscence on the 1970 Kent State shootings, which were precipitated in part by the fire bombing of KSU’s ROTC barracks, “It was a dreadful time.”
The Nineties were no pastoral period in the U.S. either. The first Islamic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center early in the decade prefigured the horror in store for us in the first year of the new millennium. So did the Oklahoma City bombing at mid-decade.
Like most Americans, I’ve tried to keep my head down and myself out of trouble across the six decades of Cold War, hot war, civil unrest, and terrorism that have disturbed the peace during my life. Consequently, friends and colleagues have wondered why apply for a fellowship on terrorism that will take me to the roiling Middle East to study the topic on its home turf.
Maybe it’s because Nine/Eleven seems somehow different from all the other acts of terror I’ve recounted in this column. From the Mollies to Sacco and Vanzetti, down to Lee Oswald and Tim McVeigh, my studies of terrorism in America never led me to conclude that the Republic was in mortal danger from these wild-eyed radicals.
In 2007, when radical Islam is locked in mortal combat with Western democracy, and the potential weapons could include biological plagues and dirty nukes, this old coward isn’t so sanguine about our prospects. So, head down and eyes over my shoulder, I’m off to get better informed about what a “War on Terror” really means.