Mar. 31, 2003

Just when you thought it was safe to put away those shovels and ice scrapers for good, April Fool’s Day arrives a few hours early.

After returning home from work this evening, I ate some dinner and watched a pair of Friends reruns on TV. No more than 90 minutes had passed before I left my apartment to run an errand, and what do I find outside?

A thin blanket of snow coating the grass and every car in the parking lot!

Supposedly, spring arrived 11 days ago — and not a moment too soon, after a grand total of 44.5 inches of snow* had fallen this past winter. That’s about double the season average for Philadelphia, so the mere sight of additional snow at this point is insulting.

O cruel weather gods, why must thou mock us?

* Update: This is hard to believe, but I spoke too soon. The total snowfall for the winter of 2002–2003 climbed to 46.3 inches after yet another storm arrived on Apr. 7. (True to form, some local schools closed early in response to the formidable accumulation of 1.8 inches of new snow.)

[ No. 46 ]

Mar. 20, 2003

War has officially begun in Iraq, and like most people, I have mixed feelings about the crisis. In a way, I’m relieved that the U.S. has dispensed with the futile debate in the U.N. Security Council and the countless warnings to Saddam Hussein (“we really mean it this time!”). But I’m also worried that this conflict abroad might lead to more violence here in the States.

It’s hard to take sides on this issue, because the international stage is a very complicated place these days. On one hand, although I’m supportive of President Bush, his administration hasn’t made a terribly convincing argument for sending troops into battle. I’m sure that there have been exhaustive efforts to reach a diplomatic solution, but this war has seemed inevitable for months.

Also, I don’t seem to recall hearing much debate at the outset of the Gulf War in 1991 — most people seemed to agree that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait required military intervention on our part. By contrast, this conflict seems less predicated on a clear-cut motive. And after the unimaginable violence and bloodshed on Sept. 11, 2001 (only 18 short months ago), Americans are understandably reluctant to wage a war that might provide terrorists a convenient reason to attack again.

On the other hand, while I recognize and support the right of free speech, I’m fed up with self-righteous protesters and Hollywood celebrities who spend their days spouting holier-than-thou platitudes about peace, as if our dealings with Iraq and Saddam Hussein involved simple, black-and-white decisions. “War is not the answer!” they cry in unison. “Give peace a chance.”

Gee, I hate to burst your idealistic bubble, but sometimes, peace isn’t a realistic option, either. Do you really think that tyrannical leaders of the past have been interested in diplomacy? Could FDR have sat down with Hitler over tea to calmly discuss their differences during World War II? Like many evil leaders before him, Saddam has a long history of violence and brutality, and attempting to negotiate with him about disarmament is as pointless as shouting at your car when it won’t start.

My point is that there are no easy answers. I’m certainly no fan of war, and one casualty is too many. But imagine if the U.S. had let Saddam Hussein off the hook, and in 2005, Saddam decided to attack a neighboring country with a deadly chemical weapon, killing thousands of civilians. The same countries who are currently condemning the U.S. would be asking us, “Why didn’t you stop him when you had the chance?”

[ No. 45 ]

Mar. 17, 2003

St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect opportunity for me to relate this tale of Irish pride (as well as a bit of mischief, too).

A few years ago, I spent the weekend with some friends from college who were living in Syracuse. During my stay, they introduced me to Coleman’s Irish Pub, a historic bar in the Tipperary Hill area of town. After a beer or two, my friends took me for a short walk outside and showed me one of the main reasons that the bar is so famous — above an intersection one block away, the lights on a seemingly common traffic signal were configured upside-down, with the green light on top.

The strange story behind the only upside-down traffic light in the country dates back to 1925. Here’s an excerpt from the humorous explanation on the site for Coleman’s pub:

Traffic light near Coleman's: green on top!
The accepted order of red light on top, amber in the middle and green on the bottom was not accepted gracefully by nearby residents (primarily young Irish lads) who used the red disc for target practice, thereby earning the name, “Stonethrowers.” In a display of extraordinary diplomacy the City [of Syracuse] relented and put the green on top.

It’s almost admirable that people took matters into their own hands back then. These days, those same kids would have filed a frivolous lawsuit against the city, claiming that a traffic signal with the green light on the bottom is a symbol of discrimination against Irish immigrants.

[ No. 44 ]

Photo credit: ABC Photography