TV

How many more murders?

220px-CIRT_OfficerFrom time to time, I am sucked into a black hole where I find myself binge-watching shows I have no business enjoying. A few days ago, for instance, I finished watching the fourth and final season of Rush — a popular Australian TV police drama focused around Melbourne’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT). Right after, I began counting the life-hours I had lost.

While “far-fetched” and “dopey” don’t begin to describe this series, I realized that what captivated me most about the show was its noticeable lack of violence, at least of the sort to which we Americans have become accustomed.

Sure. There were the requisite carjackings, explosions, knifings, dirty bombings, and more — you know, the kind of fare that no longer makes you flinch when you watch these barbarisms on American TV.

Still, I was struck by how peaceable and gun-averse the Australian police in this show were — even when in the gravest of dangers. I was struck, too, by how they did everything they could to de-escalate a situation and to subdue a criminal by using such non-lethal weapons as tasers, bean bag rounds, and pepper spray before they resorted to using guns with real bullets.

The pacifism reflected in this TV series is no surprise, though, when you consider the strict national gun control laws passed by former Prime Minister John Howard after the 1996 Tasmania massacre that left 35 people dead and 23 wounded. Such laws seem unlikely in this country, however, given the power of the NRA and the strength of its influence over Republicans in Congress. Why, we can’t even get Congress to ban terrorists on law enforcement watch lists from buying guns despite this weekend’s Orlando killing spree, in which a known IS sympathizer who had been questioned several times by the FBI murdered 49 beautiful souls and wounded 53 others.

Children now being raised in Australia will not even have a frame of reference for the kind of violence we in the United States have come to accept as a given: Since the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy, where 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 as well as 6 school staff members were murdered, there have been 998 mass shootings. What more has to happen, I wonder, before we can remove from power those who condone gun violence and who do everything they can to block commonsensical gun control laws?

Deadliest mass shootings in the U.S.

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Flight 370

on the lookout

“It’s been more than a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 seemingly vanished into thin air,” writes CNN reporter Dana Ford. “Yet we remain glued to the story—hungry, some almost desperate, for any tidbit of news. Why?”

This is a question that seems well worth asking, as some 26 countries—and counting—along with “thousands of good Samaritans” online join forces to try and find a Boeing 777 that went missing on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

If the truth be known, I, myself, have been able to think of little else since the crisis began and have spent the better part of my days and nights scouring the Internet for news articles and video reports that will give me minute-by-minute updates on the status of the search.

The crisis is riveting for a number of reasons, not least that we can easily put ourselves in the place of grief-stricken family members who have been made to endure an agonizing wait. Were I awaiting word about the fate of my own child, I would likely not survive news that confirmed the worst.

I’ve been thinking, though, that, for all the negative press about social networking and the impact it has on human connection, there is something very hopeful to be found in this unprecedented collective coming together across the globe, something that has us climbing down into both our deepest humanity and our fundamental animal natures.

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On body odor and forrest surpassed

karl pilkington

I wasn’t sure what to make of Karl Pilkington when I first encountered him on the Ricky Gervais Show. As sidekick to the giggly, unapologetically mean Gervais, Pilkington (or his persona) seemed too much of a whiny ruminator—even for me. But, having watched him evolve through his travel documentary An Idiot Abroad, which aired last year on Science, and now through his The Moaning of Life, which aired this month on the same channel, I’ve warmed to his deadpan crankiness.

In his new series, Pilkington globe-trots once again, this time to see how different cultures approach what he calls “life’s major events.” In the first episode, he attempts to understand why people have children; in the second, he sets out to determine how people achieve happiness; in the third, he tries to discover more about how—and why—people marry.

In this most recent episode on marriage, Pilkington travels to Los Angeles, among other places, where he attends a “Pheromone Party” and meets up with young singles intent on finding partners who pass the sniff test. The idea for the gathering is goofy-seeming: sleep in the same t-shirt for three nights; place it in a plastic bag and freeze it; bring it to the get-together, where it will be numbered as well as coded for the wearer’s sex (pink or blue); and let prospective mates stick their noses in the baggies, inhaling deeply as they do. When they hit on an odor they like, participants stand in front of a projector and hold up the marked baggie in the hope its owner will claim it.

Then I thought that perhaps it wasn’t so wacky after all since, to survive, humans, like other animals, live by their wits and follow their noses. I thought, too, about how my own sense of smell drives my life—and always has done. How many times have I run from a public place, for example, because I was overwhelmed by smoke or perfume or smells of rancid food? And, how many men have I welcomed into my life, or turned out, because of a sweat or a cologne that made me swoon, or gag.

And, just a few words about the movie Captain Phillips, which has received several Academy Award nominations this year, including one for best picture and one for best supporting actor. I didn’t have very high expectations, thinking wrongly that it would be a Hollywood blockbuster bent on exploiting the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. But, in fact, it was an extraordinary film. Barkhad Adbi’s nuanced performance as the pirates’ leader managed to inspire in me both terror and compassion. And, though he wasn’t nominated for the best actor award (but should have been), Tom Hanks, as the captain, gives a performance that transcends anything he has done to date. You won’t want to miss it.

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Two years!

Two years ago today, I wrote my first Ruminationville piece, “Underthinking is Overrated.” Typically not one to stick out difficult commitments for the long term—except, of course, the commitment of motherhood—I am amazed that I have managed to keep something going here. I can only attribute it to the quiet support of those who have been following me over these many months. Each time I sit down to write, I think of you…and of never wanting to disappoint. Here’s to another year, or two, or four!

Sergio and Carolina

sergioLast week marked the ten-year anniversary of the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Iraq.

At the request of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, and Kofi Annan, De Mello—the “go-to guy” for overseeing some of the world’s most difficult peacekeeping missions in Cambodia, Bosnia, Congo, and East Timor—went to Iraq on June 2, 2003, with a team of other UN experts. The goal, it appears, was for them to come away with recommendations about how to end the US occupation of the country expeditiously.

On August 19, a suicide bomber ran a truck packed with explosives into a Baghdad hotel where the UN offices were housed. Twenty-two people were murdered, De Mello among them, and hundreds more were injured. To this day, little is known about the perpetrators of this heinous act.

Writes his colleague and partner, Carolina Larriera, currently a Harvard University fellow, “And now, ten years later, victims, survivors, family, friends and thousands of  ‘in house’ officials still do not know the exact circumstances of the attack, the motives of the perpetrators and the criminal and moral responsibility of those who allowed and enabled the attack, a critical starting point in the healing process of the terrible wounds generated by this bombing. Instead of medals, we would have preferred the truth; we do not want the facts to be buried under the weight of institutional bureaucracy.”

At a time of growing outrage over secret government surveillance programs that capture the private data of ordinary Americans in the name of national security, it would seem that we have an opportunity to be honest about and to “shed light on the context and aftermath of the Baghdad bombing.”

We owe Sergio, Carolina, and all of the others affected by this tragedy that much.

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Erica’s terrible horrible no good very bad day

untitledOur hearts go out to Erica, who, according to a Citi Simplicity TV commercial, had a really crappy day. Poor girl spilled coffee all over her keyboard, got gum on the bottom of her pink stilettos, found a parking ticket on her windshield, AND forgot to pay her credit card on time. Good thing she has kickboxing to help channel her frustrations. An even better good thing is that Citi, merchant of kindness and good will, doesn’t charge late fees or a penalty rate for its Simplicity card — EVER (“as in NEVER ever,” says the voiceover).

Maybe we can petition Citi to export a similar credit card program to, say, Syria, where Iman, who is eight months pregnant, has no end of bad days: Yesterday, her house was blown apart, her son was shot in the face, and her husband fled with his brother. Just imagine how much a no-fee card would perk things up in her life.