Hanging On By Our Fingernails…

By now the images from Paris have permeated our consciousness and burrowed deep in to the valley of our soul. Close our eyes and we see thousands huddled together on a soccer field, bloody bodies on sidewalks, bullet holes in café windows, the moment of recognition by the band on stage.

Fleeing the horror of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert venue, a pregnant woman clings perilously to a window ledge.
Fleeing the horror of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert venue, a pregnant woman clings perilously to a window ledge.

Of all the horror we’ve seen these past three days, for me the most haunting of all is the desperate concert goers hanging, literally by their fingernails from the windows of the Bataclan venue; dangling two and three stories above the street. In one frame we can see someone rush to a window and grab the wrist of a pregnant woman who appears to be slipping. The video ends without our knowing whether those people were rescued or whether they fell to the alley below.

It is an image of total panic and desperation, reminiscent of the last time evil came to call on this scale. None of us will ever forget the photos from 9-11 of people facing such horror that jumping from a window was the best option.

I hate to admit it, but on some level the terrorists are succeeding: One need only to see the news footage from two days after the  Paris attacks, where a crowd who had gathered to hold a vigil was sent in to a screaming, rampaging panic by a random noise, to acknowledge that underneath the facade of resistance is a deep seated fear.

Heavily armed police and military patrols are a common and reassuring sight on our city streets, yet we know they cannot be everywhere. Gatherings of sport and entertainment will go on, but underneath is a wariness not present before.

Paris has changed us in some ways even more than 9-11, because after all these years, we have been shown that carnage can still happen on a mass scale.

One thing I’m changing: I won’t be using the expression, “Hanging by my fingernails” ever again.

What I’m not changing is my fervent hope and prayer that good will ultimately prevail over evil.

Fiorina and Clinton book covers

Rising Toward the Last Glass Ceiling…

Will the 2016 election be historic? The odds are looking better and better…

Fiorina and Clinton book covers
According to their book covers, Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton have had to make tough & hard choices along the way.

While many women continue to bump up against the glass ceiling in their respective fields, the country watches as two women, one Democrat, one Republican, move toward the highest glass ceiling in the land; the Presidency of the United States.

Hillary Clinton came close eight years ago. One can only imagine how hard it was for her to see what many believe has been a long held goal, to be America’s first woman President, slip from her grasp.

She handled the loss with grace and team spirit, supporting her opponent in the general election and accepting the consolation prize of Secretary of State. And now she’s back, to try at age 67, for what is likely the last time.

Her decades of government and political experience leave little doubt of her ability to do the job. But she is once again in a tough fight, this time of her own making, due to her use of a private email server while at the State Department.

On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina has had a near meteoric rise in the polls since her two outstanding debate performances. If and when Donald Trump is out of the race, (Private editorial comment inserted here: That time can not come soon enough.) Fiorina could emerge as a/the top candidate.

There has been no lifetime in politics for Fiorina: A college dropout who started at Hewlett Packard as a receptionist, she’s worked hard to have what should have been a fairy tale ending…becoming CEO of the company.

Instead the ending was a nightmare: Fiorina was unceremoniously let go by the board of HP who accused her of running the company in to the ground. She next surfaced publicly when she ran for the U.S. Senate in California, losing to incumbent Barbara Boxer, a race many had thought was winnable.

Like Hillary, Carly has proven her courage and toughness through numerous challenges including battling breast cancer, burying a stepdaughter who died of a drug overdose, and holding her own in a Republican field of sixteen men.

No matter what party or candidate you support, if you’re a woman, please get involved. The political process needs you! And you might even help make history!!

Commemorating The Memories…

The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act taking place this week at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, reminds me of my own somewhat distant history with President Johnson, my first big professional break, and of the excitement that comes with having your whole life ahead of you and thinking anything is possible.

My first professional "head shot". Can you tell I was trying to look older. Note prim chignon.
My first professional “head shot”. Can you tell I was trying to look older. Note prim chignon.

While visiting my parents, a friend who worked as a copywriter at ABC News in New York told me that the network needed to staff up for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. He knew I wanted to be a journalist but he also knew how old I was so I’m sure he was teasing me. Without telling anyone, a few days later I got on a bus and showed up at ABC’s employment office in New York…they didn’t have “HR Dept’s” yet.

I told just a teensy tiny little white lie to get hired…that I was about to graduate from college with a degree in journalism. Actually I was still a teenager. Before the internet it was much easier to get away with that kind of thing. I dropped the name of my parent’s friend, saying he had referred me for a position, again, no one checked, and I was hired right on the spot. The job description was a little vague, something about “assisting as needed”, but nothing could have mattered less…I floated home.

I'm so glad I still have this; found it in the bottom of a drawer not long ago... My official name badge I wore to gain access to the Convention Hall.
I’m so glad I still have this; found it in the bottom of a drawer not long ago… My official name badge I wore to gain access to the Convention Hall.

My parents were more supportive than I expected. Of course, I was once again stretching the truth a bit, like how all the girls who were hired to assist at the convention would sleep in a dormitory and be chaperoned.

I had my first professional head shot taken and off to AC I went in my father’s “quarry car” a beat up Plymouth with big fins. I found a room for $20 a day at a boarding house near the convention center. I was so naïve that it never occurred to me I could be in any kind of danger or that anyone might be dishonest. The first night I got in from work, all my jewelry had been stolen from the room.

Even that reality check could not take the glow off what turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I’ve never worked harder, had less sleep, or felt more exhilarated. We were making a difference; keeping the American public informed. Everyone, even rival networks, had a spirit of camaraderie. The ABC anchor booth was near NBC, and one day, when nothing was happening on the floor, the famous Chet Huntley of Huntley and Brinkley, invited me in for a cup of coffee. They seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing, how I felt about being there, and what kind of career path I was planning. Not sure a leading network anchor would do that today…

It was my first taste of power and success. I’ve never forgotten it. When Johnson walked in to the Hall, his presence changed the air…it was thicker, heavier, carried more weight. So as we honor Lyndon Baines Johnson and his momentous accomplishment for this country, I’m also enjoying honoring the adventurous spirit of a young woman I used to know.


A Little Piece of World Peace…

Lehigh name tag
My Global Village name tag… A memento of another wonderful year with some of the world’s best and brightest.

This past week has refocused my thoughts on the importance of “international relations”, how important it is for humanity to get along and live together on this planet without killing each other. Every tiny step toward that goal is reassuring even though it often feels like one step forward and two steps back.

For the past eleven years I’ve participated as a “Visiting Executive” in Lehigh University’s Global Village for Future Leaders. Each summer Global Village brings together over one hundred mostly 20 somethings from around the world for an intensive month or so of international leadership training. These are truly some of the best and brightest from nearly fifty countries. Following an afternoon of my lecturing on  “Modern Leadership”, their asking questions and challenging my assertions, and one-on-one interactions about their hopes and dreams, I came away, as I do every year, with the same belief…and prayer, that by the time their generation assumes the world’s leadership roles running governments and international conglomerates, they won’t want to blow each other up. I remain hopeful that such a new global attitude is possible.

One of the reasons I remain hopeful about the big picture is because in my work and travels I have witnessed many small victories taking place all the time, seen what good people can accomplish on a micro scale; how one person can indeed make a difference.

My first trip to Afghanistan occurred in 2006. I accompanied Toni Maloney, co-founder of the Business Council for Peace, (Bpeace), and a group of volunteers on a mission to assist Afghan women to become entrepreneurs. On of our goals was to help Habiba grow the first real daycare center/pre-school program in Kabul, which she was operating out of small house with a courtyard. The children had few toys and no outdoor play equipment. From the time we spent with her it was obvious that what they did have was a lot of love, patience and support from Habiba and her staff, but they needed to provide a proper facility for the children. My generous friends and colleagues contributed $4000 that went directly in to the construction of a new school building. Bepeace’s total effort raised over $30,000 so the children of Kabul could have a safe, clean daycare center.

Habiba and her students in 2013.
Habiba and her students in 2013.

A few days ago, I received a photo from Toni of Habiba today, watching over a new class of students. She and the daycare center are still going strong providing early education to the next generation of Afghans. I’m very proud of the role that I and so many others played in that outcome. Just as I am proud of all the young, smart, savvy Villagers who will return to their countries with a broader knowledge of their global neighbors.

Until that next generation is ready to lead, the world will most likely continue to careen between crisis and hope..from civil war in Syria, a coup in Egypt, to a new proposal of Israeli / Palestinian peace talks. What we can do in the meantime is light candles in the darkness and use them to show the way.





What Price…

With my husband, Zsolt, in Alaska...
With my husband, Zsolt, in Alaska…
“Life is full of trade-offs. Based on our own value system, we’ll accept a little of “this” so we can have some of “that”. Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth but I wouldn’t want to live there because for me the price is too high: A glorious eight week summer of sparkling lakes and mountain meadows surrounded by a couple of months of cool & cloudy rain, sandwiched in between mind-numbing cold and snow. Nearly three quarter of a million people disagree with me and it’s those differences in the trade-off scale that make the world go round.

I wonder what Edward Snowden was willing to trade when he divulged the inside workings of the US NSA surveillance set-up. He has most certainly changed his life forever and at the age of 29, that’s saying something since he likely has much more life in front of him than behind. Believed to be hiding out in Hong Kong, a place that has already indicated they will likely extradite him if the US government requests it, he’s gone from “The world is my oyster international consultant” to one of the world’s most wanted men in the blink of an eye. Being at the center of a media feeding frenzy is almost never a good thing unless your last name is Kardashian.

The personal fate of Snowden aside, he has raised the bar on the issue of “what price” and “what will we trade”…  Now that we know our own government is spying on us, following our communication trails, and storing that information, what price are we willing to pay to stop the bad guys and how much of our privacy and freedom are we willing to trade to do it? On your trade-off sliding scale will you tolerate the intrusion of your government in to your private, constitutionally protected rights in return for the promise from that government that will keep you safe?

As for me; I don’t live in Alaska because the beauty isn’t worth freezing nine months of the year. And as much as I think Edward Snowden should be dragged home and put on trial as a traitor, there is a part of me that is grateful to know the information that he revealed because I also don’t believe my government needs to intrude in the lives of its citizens to this extent.

First Check Reality Check…

By now, almost everyone who earns one has received their first paycheck of 2013. Depending on your income bracket and your budget the reality of what the expired Payroll Tax Cut means to you is starting to hit home. 2% more out of your paycheck probably didn’t sound like much in the abstract when you hear it on the news, but now that the actual numbers are staring you in the face, the reality is something else entirely.

One night this week, just after dark, our doorbell rang, not a common occurrence for this empty nest. It was the young man who does handy work for us. Bob, not his real name, is sincere, hardworking, and trustworthy. He holds down a full-time blue collar job managing a small warehouse, helping his “moonlighting” customers at night and on weekends. He’s single, has his own apartment, and drives a beautiful extended cab truck that is his pride and joy. We’ve come to know him well enough to know he’s not a party boy; he keeps a schedule and a budget.

When Bob stepped inside I could see how upset he was. Pam, he said, I’ve stopped by to see if you have any extra work for me. I got my paycheck today and the new taxes are going to cost me over $100 a month. I’m not sure what to do.

What I didn’t have the heart to tell Bob is that our fist paycheck came, too, and the amount our budget will have to be adjusted is a bit more than $100 a month. We do know what we have to do: We have to cut back on discretionary spending like how much we give to charity, how often we go out to dinner, and how much we use services such as a handyman.

This story is playing out across the country at every income level. Yes, there is a segment of the population that will be much less effected than others. The $1200 a year loss that has Bob in a panic is pocket change to some, but for most of us the impact of this change in income has consequences.

The ripple effects are already a topic of conversation across the blogosphere and social media: The hash tag, #YourPaycheckIsLowerThisWeek has been one of the top trends on Twitter, and no less than liberal bastion MSNBC posted an article titled “Americans Feel Austerity’s Bite As Payroll Taxes Rise”

I’m no economist but if I read the situation in Washington correctly, better buckle your financial seatbelts because unlike Thelma & Louse, we may not have gone over the fiscal cliff, but this is just the first mile on a very bumpy road ahead.

What does the Payroll Tax Increase mean to you?

A Different Type of Warrior

Zarghona w-family 2011As my European friends would say, I’m “on holiday” this week. Translated in to American, that means I’m on vacation, so I was not planning to post my regular “Woman Warrior Wednesday” feature. Then, out of the blue, came these photographs of Zarghona, the young Afghan girl I found dying in a hospital in Kabul in 2006, now looking very happy with her family.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a story about Zarghona, for a woman’s global communications network, "World Pulse". The WP story was based on the last information I had about her, which was several years old. Retelling the harrowing story of how so many people had come together to save Zarghona from a terminal heart condition, and how after seeing her on my last trip to Afghanistan, I had no further information on her, prompted me to reach out to Dr. Ismail Wardak, the Afghan doctor who had been instrumental in bridging the language and culture barriers we had to cross to save her.

The result of that effort are the two photos you see here: Top, a smiling Zarghona with her parents, and below, with the wonderful Dr. Wardak, one of Afghanistan’s leading orthopedic surgeons. What do these photos tell us?  Zarghona w-Wardak 2011

Do they tell us that the media focus on the woeful condition of the Afghan National Army is accurate? Do they confirm the hyperbole of the pundits and talking heads, many of whom have never been to Afghanistan or have little first-hand knowledge of the Afghan Army, or for that matter, of our extensive US efforts to train them, that when they portray the ANA as unable and/or unwilling to defend their own country, the media are ill-informed?

The Afghan people are frequently stereotyped as ignorant, unaware, or unwilling to build their own future. I challenge you to look at these photographs of this family: A father who is a professional soldier, like many of our own warriors; a loving stay-at-home wife and mother who when her child was dying, never left her side, and a young teenager with a sweet smile, who now has a healthy and hopefully long future ahead of her…

Look at them and tell me that Afghanistan is not filled with it’s own warriors, men, women, and children, who are fighting a battle, each in their own way, to live their lives in peace and security. 

Monday Musings: Summer Vacation…Timing Is Everything

stockmarketimages After some well placed and well timed hints from me, my husband agreed to take a week off so we could have a “summer getaway”. Nothing fancy, a rented place a block from the water off the Chesapeake Bay. The plan was to sleep, eat, and read. In exchange for his willingness to go away when he’s so busy at work, I, the news & technology junkie whose entire professional universe centers around electronic media, had to agree to “unplug”; a big commitment on my part.

August is usually a good time to for this sort of thing because so many other people are doing it…trying to grab that last gasp of summer before Q4 starts at the office and the kids go back to school.

We certainly picked some week for our summer vacation, a week when our country has suffered two enormous losses: Thirty of our best and brightest warriors in Afghanistan, and millions of dollars in our IRA and investment accounts.

I imagine my husband and I are like many Americans this week, we continued with our lives and our plans, but the relaxed, atmosphere that usually envelopes us on vacation was nowhere to be found. There is a sub-current of sadness that is hard to shake: A sense that it is disrespectful to be carefree when so many have sacrificed so much.

Just as the shock of the tragedy in Afghanistan was easing, the financial markets began a freefall resembling an out of control carnival ride. My “unplugged” promise went quickly by the wayside as the Dow Jones average plummeted. Checking my email, I found a message from the investment firm that we use, urging everyone to stay calm. I sent a quick little reply of support to the operations manager…thinking she could probably use a friendly message, only to have her write back to say that this recent dip has been the last straw for many. Her recounting sounded like a scene from a movie about the Great Depression; people banging on the door, screaming “sell, sell” over the phone, demanding their money in cash.

No matter where you are right now in this great land, from sea to shining sea, it’s a discomforting time for Americans. The families of our fallen soldiers are suffering and need our comfort, while our country is, perhaps, in the process of being changed forever.

I’m going to be glad to get home…

Monday Musings: This Wasn’t What We Planned

bakery The following two stories are true, and have occurred in this past week. The names have been changed to protect everyone, some, quite frankly, who don’t deserve protection.

Welcome to the latest of Perspectives’ new “regular features”: Woman Warrior Wednesday, Fashion & Finds Friday are now joined by “Monday Musings”, a weekly look at the human condition from medicine to politics, from gender issues to the environment, and everything in between.

Musings are defined as thoughts or meditations. The recent situation in Washington has given all us plenty of reasons for both of those. If we look past one of the worse displays of political dysfunction in our lifetime, what we’ll see is the reality of people who are suffering beyond the Beltway: People for whom life is turning out nothing like they planned.


There was a nice looking couple we used to see occasionally at social & community functions. They were friends of friends so we knew them casually. He was a successful medical professional and she was a very attractive, stylish, stay-at-home wife and mother. I heard through the grapevine that he was involved with another woman and was seeking a divorce. I know nothing else about the story except when I walked in to my favorite bakery the other day; I caught a glimpse of someone who looked familiar pushing a rack of bread toward the front of the store. Her blond hair was bound up under a net; her face was pale & drawn. We made eye contact. It was painful…for both of us.

She said her former husband’s practice had suffered from the affair and his finances were, possibly deliberately, in disarray, and she had not been able to afford high-powered legal counsel. She had tried to return to her original career in fashion and merchandising but after being out of the work force for so long, and with 9.1% unemployment, here she was, in her mid-50’s, pushing a bakery cart.

While on my usual shopping rounds of framers markets and grocery stores last week, I noticed some of my favorite faces were out place. The knowledgeable young man who always makes sure I get the freshest fish and the middle-aged woman who lost her business and then found a job she loved demonstrating new products were not in their usual spots. I found them both doing other, lesser jobs: The fish monger was handing out samples of fruit and looking very embarrassed to be doing so. Both told me a new policy was in place designed to hold down the need for new employees, so everyone had to be willing to do whatever job they were assigned. As one said to me, “What can I do? I have to keep this job.”

I’ve always been one of America’s greatest boosters: A Ronald Reagan “Shining City on the Hill” believer that we are the greatest nation on earth. But there is no longer any doubt that our country is in serious trouble from which it will likely take decades to recover. And for a generation for whom recovery time has run out, a generation who grew up thinking that if you worked hard and followed the rules, life turned out like an episode from Ozzie & Harriet…this sure wasn’t what we planned.

Cosmo or Coma: al Qaeda Offers Women Both

Literature is rife with stories of people who made deals with the devil for youth, beauty, riches, or success in exchange for their soul. Usually the devil seeks them out in a moment of weakness, like he did Faust or Joe Boyd in the Broadway hit, “Damn Yankees”. Today, the always adaptable Lucifer entered the communication age with a new way to seduce his victims; a glossy magazine complete with assault rifle on the cover.

al Qaede mag cover When I first read the story that al Qaeda had launched Al-Shamikha, loosely translated to “The Majestic Woman”, aimed at recruiting women jihadists, I thought it was funny: I actually laughed at story lines like how to have a lovely complexion by “not going out more than necessary and always wearing your niqab as protection against the sun”. This had to be a spoof…a parody worthy of Stephen Colbert . But the story kept popping up on MSM sites throughout the day. The laughing stopped when I realized there was no joke.

According to the UK newspaper, “The Independent”, this new version of how to be a mid-east Cosmo girl includes advice on finding the right man ("marrying a mujahideen"), and provides tips on first aid and etiquette, along side interviews with martyr’s wives and praises those who give their lives in the name of a twisted interpretation of Islam. "From martyrdom, the believer will gain security, safety and happiness".

For those readers not quite ready for such a drastic step, it argues the pros and cons of honey facemasks and lobbies against "toweling too forcibly": My goodness we wouldn’t want to damage that lovely skin of yours before we convince you to splatter it in little pieces all over a street or cafe.

In full “media launch” mode, the editors of Al-Shamikha, when asked why they started the magazine, replied, “"Because women constitute half of the population – and one might even say that they are the population since they give birth to the next generation – the enemies of Islam are bent on preventing the Muslim woman from knowing the truth about her religion and her role, since they know all too well what would happen if women entered the field of jihad… The nation of Islam needs women to know what is expected of them."

Media analysts say the idea is to market global jihad with the same slick feel as Cosmopolitan Western culture to young women. So there you have it girls: Launch in to spring with a new lipstick or a new Kalashnikov. Either way you’re bound to make a splash.

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