Elise Sereni
Thursday, August 02, 2007

My mother raised me to believe that some things were private and should always stay that way.  Maybe this is why the current trend in America to make everything public, or at least accessible to the government, troubles me so much. Or maybe it’s because I’ve just lived in Alaska way too long and that ornery streak of independence I was born with has hardened into armor on my soul.

It seems that each day another piece of our lives becomes either government or public property. If we object, we’re told it’s to fight terrorism or for our own good.  No matter what part of your life the government is trying to pry into on any given day, the reason for it is only scant steps short of mom and apple pie so that you feel like a mean, nasty traitor to even question it.  More and more though, I find myself not only questioning it, but resenting it.
There was a story recently in the news about how efforts are being made to create some sort of data base from telephone records that the government would have access to if needed for - what else - the war on terror.  Object to this invasion of privacy and you obviously want jihad in your hometown.  The government spokesman who was discussing the project said that the feds would still need a subpoena or letter indicating it was needed for the war on terror to get access. Hmmm, why does that not provide me any comfort?
It’s bad enough that when I log on to the Internet, something called cookies track my every step so that they (whoever they may be in this context) end up knowing me better than I know myself. But to know that the government can use my tax return to find out exactly what charities receive my donations greatly disturbs me.
And do we even want to get into what a joy flying has now become thanks to the war on terror?  Short of requesting that we all fly naked, could the government be any more intrusive?  But again, to complain is to be unpatriotic because this is all being done for our own good.  The nanny state has arrived in America and it doesn’t even have the courtesy to sing to us to make the medicine go down.
Our government now invokes the public good or the need for safety during the war on terror for each piece of privacy taken from us. The question that keeps recurring to me is exactly when will I be safe enough?  Every time I raise that question, of course, I am told I’m being silly, that the government is only taking a little piece here or a little piece there.  But I look around and the cumulative effect of what they’ve taken from me in the way of privacy is pretty frightening.
I don’t want jihadists dancing in the streets of Anchorage.  But I also don’t want Big Brother breathing so heavily down my neck that it feels like foreplay. I don’t want government in my bed, in my house, in my computer...in every part and parcel of my life so that it has become more omnipresent than god.
If we continue down this primrose path, so much will have been lost to the war on terror that the terrorists will have won without firing a shot within our borders.  We will allow our fear to rule us to the point where we hand over everything to the government in the name of safety and end up with the kind of safety that the Soviets enjoyed for so many years under communism. Their government denied them their most basic right to privacy in the name of state security.  Why is what’s happening in America today all that different?
I have a dear friend who is an ardent member of the NRA. Being raised in New Jersey, the only people I knew with guns were people my mother didn’t want me to hang out with.  So I never developed a deep attachment to my Second Amendment rights. My friend used to insist that when jackbooted government thugs were marching in the streets to take my rights from me, I’d be glad that people like him had fought for their right to stay armed. I used to find that argument specious.  Now, I’m not so sure. There may not be jackbooted thugs marching in the name of our government down Minnesota Drive, but thanks to computers, they no longer have to. They’re marching down my computer’s paths.  Either way, my government is starting to really scare me.

Elise Patkotak • 06:11 AM •
Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Just so there’s no mistake. That mealy mouthed little twerp who looks like kids took turns beating him up in grade school, by the name of Alberto Gonzales, is supposed to embody the rule of law in our country today? Yep, in view of this administration’s total disdain for the law and the constitution, that would be about right.  I don’t know about you, but if I were Hispanic, I’d be way pissed that this is what became the first Hispanic United States Attorney General. It’s not unlike John Gotti becoming the first Italian president...except, of course, no one beat John Gotti up in school or anywhere else without highly regretting it very soon thereafter.

Elise Patkotak • 06:12 AM • (1)
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

If Alaska’s entire congressional delegation ends up indicted, will we be represented by the guy who represents DC?  You know, the one with no voting power or muscle? And if that happens, will Bush be able to nationalize our Permanent Fund for the fight against terror without any opposition?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Elise Patkotak • 06:03 AM •
Monday, July 30, 2007

I know. I know. I’m only the godmother so I really had little to do with this beautiful mom and her son. But damn it, I changed her diapers too so I helped a little. And I’ve changed his diapers, even though it is now exponentially harder for me to get down on the floor for the task. So I should have some bragging rights. And if this isn’t one of the most beautiful mother/child combinations ever in the history of this whole, wide world, then you don’t know squat...because it is.
Emily and Rhodes Vann Pruett.  What a gorgeous duo.  I know dad can’t wait to get back from Iraq so he can complete the picture. He’s all that’s missing to make it perfect. Hurry home, Greg. We all miss you.

Elise Patkotak • 06:45 AM •
Sunday, July 29, 2007

So I’m wandering around my flower bed pulling out handfuls of what may or may not be stuff that shouldn’t be there when my neighbor from across the circle stops by to ask me if I want some Kenai River reds.  Anyone in Alaska immediately knows he’s talking about fresh salmon. I eagerly accept and have two fresh, never frozen fillets waiting for me and my company tonight. And that’s how to be a good neighbor.

Elise Patkotak • 06:27 AM •
Saturday, July 28, 2007

Could there be much that is more reprehensible than torturing dogs so that they become mean and want to fight? What horrible impulse drives that behavior in humans?  It scares the hell out of me.

Elise Patkotak • 06:06 AM •
Friday, July 27, 2007

Reading about all the US cash missing in Iraq that seems to have mysteriously found its way into politicians’ pockets, it occurs to me that we have quite successfully exported political corruption there. If only democracy could actually flouish as well. But I don’t suppose Halliburton is as anxious to teach that.

Elise Patkotak • 06:03 AM •
Thursday, July 26, 2007

I grew up on the Jersey shore. Spending summers on the beach down the block from dad’s store was the only way to keep cool in a world without air conditioning.  When I was in 8th grade, I was down the beach with friends. A boy I’d been in school with since kindergarten made an unflattering comparison of me in a bathing suit to a large boat. I went home, took my bathing suit off and essentially never put one on again. I announced that I was allergic to the sun and sand and just didn’t want to go there anymore.

My mother first started me on diet pills when I was about ten years old. In those days, it was apparently considered appropriate to treat childhood weight problems with uppers during the day and downers at night.  While I may never have managed to successfully keep the weight off that I kept losing and re-losing, I did quickly discover that if I faked taking the nighttime pill, I never got sleepy.  That was the origin of the voracious reading habit I have maintained even now in the twilight years of my middle age. In fact, my greatest athletic feat as a child was to read Gone With The Wind in one sitting.  You gotta love those uppers!
Aside from that achievement, very little positive results came of my mother marching me from one doctor to the next looking for the magic cure for my obesity.  I grew extremely self-conscious about my body and developed a bizarre relationship with food that continues even now. I never exercised because it was too hard and I felt like everyone was laughing at the fat girl who couldn’t catch her breath. In grade school, my mother shopped for me at a lovely store called Chubettes.  In high school, I graduated to Lane Bryant before they discovered that even fat people want to look stylish.
My weight problem caused tension between my mother and me that was never successfully resolved. It stayed between us like the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. We talked around it, above it, below it and sidewise to it but we never really confronted it and what it did to both of us.  I think back on it now and can understand that my mother didn’t know what to do with a fat kid. She weighed 99 pounds when she was married and took enormous pride in being beautiful, which she was, and dressing well. She always looked like she could have stepped out of a fashion magazine.  I didn’t because no matter what I had on, it had been designed for a fat person and in those days that precluded style.
Unfortunately, my childhood weight problem ultimately led to all the health issues that we are now warned will result unless we do something about it early on.  Hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol...I have the triumvirate and then some.  So when I read articles about how doctors need to be more honest with parents about their child’s weight problem; when I read articles that say when an obviously obese child is standing in your office you need to call that child obese when talking with the parents and not try to sugar coat it by saying the child is at risk for obesity; when I read these things I cringe at the memory of childhood humiliations that still affect how I view myself.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America today. Dealing with this problem is something that needs to be done and needs to be done immediately. I just hope that as parents try to address it, they don’t swing the pendulum from total denial to brutal acknowledgement.  Because for all the bad things obesity can do for your body, it’s nothing compared to what it can do to your soul when people treat you like a problem instead of a person. Study after study shows that along with health problems, being overweight can also cause significant social problems from a dearth of dates to a dearth of promotions at work.
My schoolmate on the beach that day probably didn’t have the faintest idea of how cruel his words really were. He was about 13, full of testosterone and showing off for the pretty thin girls sitting next to me.  But words can cut deeper than the sharpest scalpel. And there isn’t an overweight kid out there who doesn’t know he or she is overweight and therefore viewed more negatively than his or her peers. Mental health, social well being, career advancement, marriages...all are at risk for unhappy results if you are a fat person in a world that has determined a size 3 is a tad too big. 
Being overweight can lead to a lifetime of scars. Sometimes it’s the invisible ones on the soul that are the most damaging.

Elise Patkotak • 06:29 AM •
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My friend Rob was here today. He met Blue and Blondie for the first time. He took one look at Blue and exclaimed, “Lovey”. And in an instant I realized how right he was. Blue looks a lot like Lovey, my faithful companion for seventeen years in Barrow. In fact, Rob was the one who named her when she was just a puppy.  I wonder now if that’s what attracted me to her when I saw her picture on the Friends of Pets website. Did I instinctively react to the resemblance? And then, of course, I got her home and found out she is a complete food whore....just like Lovey.  Blondie is a slut puppy and Blue is a food whore. And somewhere in heaven, Lovey is looking down and laughing...and that should probably scare me on a lot of levels because she was always good at the vengeance game. I expect Blue will start putting out farts that will clear the house out any day now.

Elise Patkotak • 06:01 AM •
Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It rained in Anchorage all day Sunday which meant I could curl up in my chair and read Harry Potter without feeling any guilt at all...all right, a little guilt because my dogs looked stricken when they realized that they weren’t going to get a walk. But it was raining hard enough that I didn’t care. And so I finished it before anyone managed to blow the ending for me.  I happy about the ending in some ways and disappointed in others. I won’t say much more because I don’t want to blow it for anyone who hasn’t finished.  But there is a part of me that thinks she wimped out in the end and didn’t finish it as boldly as it seemed she might from the rest of the story.  It’s almost as though she decided at the last minute to make it a happy fairy tale hearing and I was expecting something else.

Elise Patkotak • 06:59 AM •
Monday, July 23, 2007

My summer roommate is gone for the week and my company left a few days ago. The first night I was alone I spent wandering around in my underwear talking outloud and thrilling at the fact that there was no one here to hear me or think me odd.  OK, maybe the dogs did look at me strangely but once I pretended I was actually talking to the birds, they went back to their evening naps.  Wouldn’t want to keep them awake too long in the evening or they won’t have the strength to sleep all night.

Elise Patkotak • 06:05 AM •
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lest there be any doubt, I am holed up in my house with Harry and will communicate with no one till I have finished the book for fear the ending will be accidentally revealed to me.  Oh Harry, we hardly knew ye!

Elise Patkotak • 06:11 AM •
Saturday, July 21, 2007

Every once in a while I give in to the temptation to see if I can outsmart my dogs. This time I tried to fix the side of a bird cage to the back seat of my car so they would be confined to the very back and not get dog hair all over the car...to say nothing of the safety factor when Blue feels it necessary to lean into me every time I start breaking and, in doing so, pins my right arm to my side.  Needless to say, the score is still Dogs: 1million and one. Human: nothing.
And yes, I know now that they make something that specifically fits over the back seat to keep the dogs in the back. I would have had a much nicer Saturday had I known that BEFORE I started the two hour drive to Seward last week.

Elise Patkotak • 06:30 AM •
Friday, July 20, 2007

Am I the only one who thinks that the person who thought up the intermittant speed for windshields wipers is a genius?  Or is that a product of my soggy brain due to one too many days of rain this month?

Elise Patkotak • 06:34 AM •
Thursday, July 19, 2007

I realize that Alaska has a credibility gap when it comes to science and technology in politics.  I mean, seriously, will Comedy Central never tire of showing that clip of Uncle Ted’s tube explanation of the Internet. Does no one in the lower 48 get that to an Alaskan, everything good comes from a tube, which is just another word for pipe?  Can you say oil pipeline? Can you say gas pipeline?  It was a natural metaphor for an Alaskan to use.

Don Young is a bit harder to explain what with his “there is no scientific proof of global warming” position uttered while the permafrost under his Ft. Yukon house melts away. But Don has always been hard to explain to the rest of the world.
We seem to be a bit luckier with Lisa Murkowski who actually grew up after Bunsen burners were invented and has a modicum of faith in the scientific method. Alas, Lisa has not yet become colorful enough to evoke Alaska for most people so we are stuck with endless reruns of Uncle Ted explaining the Internet to the MTV generation.
Thankfully, the current administration in Washington actually makes Alaska look downright progressive when it comes to science and public policy.  For instance, take former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s testimony to a congressional panel detailing just how much the current administration in Washington puts politics above everything, including health and science.
BushCheney apparently view science as a mere fly in their soup of life. They have not found anything sacred enough or true enough to not taint with political purpose. In fact, if Carmona’s testimony is to be believed, even the handicapped are to be ignored if they consort with people of the wrong political persuasion.
According to Carmona, the administration not only pressured him to not speak out about stem cell research, emergency contraception, or sex education, but also ordered him to “water down” the results of a report on secondhand smoke. He was also given a minimum for the number of times he had to evoke his god...er, I mean president, on every page of every speech he made.
But the truly scary moment in his testimony, the moment that told me for sure we were not in Kansas anymore, was when he said that he was pressured to not attend the Special Olympics because of the organization’s ties to a “prominent family”.
So if I follow that thinking correctly, this administration will not support the handicapped unless the handicapped support them.  Isn’t it wonderful what BushCheney has done for the moral tone and civic spirit of this country?  In Iraq we disbanded their whole government and army to get rid of the Baathists, the party Saddam Hussein insisted you had to belong to if you wanted to work.  Here in America, BushCheney is apparently trying to re-create what we just destroyed in Iraq. Either you are a Republican who supports the BushCheney monolith, or you are marginalized until you understand what’s expected. It’s just Baathism under a different name.
I’ve been to Special Olympics events here in Anchorage and I’ve got to tell you that I don’t think the participants and their families really care if you are Republican or Democrat, Independent or Green, yellow, black, white or any color in between. I think they mostly care that you care enough to show your support for them and their efforts.  This is apparently a concept that the BushCheney monolith cannot grasp. Political purity trumps all else, even people with special needs who just want a chance to participate in life to the fullest. The Special Olympics will, of course, continue without BushCheney’s support because the power and heart behind it is no one person or family, even if that family is named Kennedy.
Ultimately, BushCheney’s attempt to create a monolithic society in America will be defeated.  Anyone who thinks this polyglot nation of innumerable nationalities, beliefs and customs can be forced into one mold for all is crazier than...well, than BushCheney withholding support from Special O until the people there get tight with the right last names.
Until then, all scientists raise your right hand and repeat after me, “I, insert your name here, do pledge allegiance to the united monolith of BushCheney and vow to never let scientific truth trump the preconceived truths seen through their political prism.”
Now you’re eligible for federal grants again.

Elise Patkotak • 01:18 PM •

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