Archive for June, 2009

Another Conservative Lunatic Crybaby

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

By Beth Quinn

If there is anyone in the world who was probably thrilled at the news of Michael Jackson’s death last week, it had to be Mark Sanford.

Jacko didn’t quite push Jackass off page 1, but his death did divert the markytears1media’s attention from the weepy South Carolina governor for a few minutes.

This is but one of the many thoughts that crossed my mind during the unraveling of the Sanford mystery, taking us from a cover story about a governor who had to get away from it all by hiking naked on the Appalachian Trail to the truth of the matter, which was actually more boring – an affair in Argentina with the lovely Maria.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to pull all of my thoughts about the Sanford affair into a coherent column, completely rendered and held together with an introduction, body and conclusion.  Alas, this has not happened. Instead, I offer you some disparate comments on the matter and trust that some of these very same thoughts have crossed your mind as well.

Sanford’s confession had to be the most tedious public declaration of infidelity I’ve ever heard. It took him 10 minutes of rambling on about his love of nature and his hikes as a young lad to get to the meat of the thing. Presumably, he thought the public felt more miffed about the Appalachian Trail lie than about his being AWOL and having an affair, and he wanted to explain that he really DOES love that darned old trail and wasn’t cheating on IT, anyway.

Or something.

While Conservatives have no corner on the marital infidelity market, it seems that they tend to lean more heavily toward genuine nuttiness. Liberals are more likely to be straight-ahead lyin’, cheatin’ scamps, but at least they aren’t usually booby hatch material. In fact, Sanford provided evidence that he’s a lunatic a few weeks before skipping off to South America when he rejected billions in federal stimulus money on behalf of the good citizens of his state, 12 percent of whom are unemployed and in dire need of some extra cash to put food on the table. His rationale: Well, he hates big government.

But looking at this strictly as an infidelity issue, it’s harder to swallow when a sanctimonious, self-satisfied, two-faced prig cheats on his wife because of all that hypocritical crap he and the rest of the moral vanguard are always screeching about. Sanford was at the forefront back in the day, thumping his Bible and calling for Clinton’s impeachment and carrying on about the sanctity of marriage and the long etcetera list of family values.

Like his fellow prigs – Gingrich, Limbaugh, Ensign, Palin, and the gang – he wants to make standards of behavior for all the rest of us but apparently feels free to ignore his own rules. Until he got caught, anyway. Now he’s all about the Bible once again, using it this time to explain that his fall from grace is like that dude’s in the Old Testament, and now God will holdeth his hand and forgiveth him and he will prayeth that the rest of us may someday see-eth the light as he haseth!

Or something.

Jenny Sanford is the coolest cheated-upon political spouse ever. None of this head-held-high-stand-by-your-man stuff. She told Sanford to kiss off. Publicly. And joked with the press as she did it. As she was leaving to spend some time on her boat, she told a horde of reporters, “I wish we had room on the boat for you all, but we do not.” How cool is THAT!?

Meanwhile, Sanford has described his wife to the press as “absolutely magnanimous and gracious as a wonderful Christian woman.” What a weird thing to say. I wonder what it even means? And what does that make Silda Spitzer?

More evidence that Sanford is actually a lunatic – he now claims he’s a good role model for his four sons. His good role modelhood, he says, is based on the fact that he’s picking himself up by the boot straps and soldiering on instead of being a quitter and resigning like 95 percent of the country thinks he should. What an exemplary example!

He seems to think that this fall from grace is something that happened to him, not something he did. It’s as though he’s one of Mark Madoff’s innocent victims but now he vows that, like Scarlett, he WILL survive and never eat turnips again!

Or something.

Beth can be reached at

As for the Weather …

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

By Beth Quinn

I fear we are all losing the will to live.

For those of you outside the mid-Hudson, we’ve had six days of sunshine since life began on Earth.

When I look at the National Weather Service map, I see only pictures of Thor throwing tiny little lightning bolts and God bowling in heaven. The sky is black and angry with no stars or moon in the nighttime.

It’s as though the Earth continued to rotate while the atmosphere held still until Orange County arrived under Seattle’s air mass. Then we began spinning again with their gloomy weather above our heads.

I hear it has rained only a half-inch in Washington state this season. I wonder whose weather they have now.

My friend Georgann tells me she has stopped taking all of her lawn chair cushions outside. Between downpours, she said, she brings out a single cushion to sit on so she can carry it in quickly when the rain begins again.

I have begun opening only one window per room. What is the point in opening, closing, opening, closing, opening, closing them all? I don’t want my biceps that well developed.

Fool that I am, I decided this spring would be the right time to buy an umbrella clothesline for the yard. To save energy, I thought. To make the laundry smell sunshiny sweet, I predicted. Ha! What strange optimism I must have been suffering from. I have used it only twice, once in April, then again during that sunny day – you might recall it – two weeks ago.

My new hammock is a sodden mess. I feel so sorry for it. I bought it in May, put it out on its hammock stand and then the skies opened up. I have never used it because it has never been dry enough to lie on. The poor thing seems so dispirited.

But – hark! – Could it be?

I see something rare and beautiful on the weather map three days out – a picture of white, billowy clouds against a blue sky. And there’s that round, yellow sun they told us about when we were school children!

The picture appears under the words “Independence Day.” And there it is again, under the word “Sunday”! It also says: “Mostly sunny.”

Good heavens. What shall I wear?

The Knucklehead Problem

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

By Bob Gaydos

 When I decided to join the blogosphere, I wrote a piece for Zest explaining that, now, after spending 23 years of relative anonymity as an editorial writer, my opinions would be personal. It’s not that what I wrote as editorials weren‘t my personal opinions,  but of necessity they needed to be of universal topics. Things people might want to read about. I also had to consider where the views appeared, their audience and that, ultimately, I was speaking for the publisher of the newspaper. Unencumbered by those legitimate preconditions, I now feel free to also write about things people should want to read about and to vent some of my own strictly personal views on perhaps less-”important’ topics. Topics that I hope may have some universal appeal.

 That’s a too-lengthy way of getting to something that has bugged me for several years and shows no sign of abating: the cultural phenomenon of cable TV talking heads spewing nonsense, anger and even hate under the guise of “news.” Although I am retired, I still write newspaper editorials on occasion. That requires me to keep up to date on what’s going on in the world and, since I try to be thorough, I try to listen in to what the cableheads are blabbing about.

 It’s impossible. Forget water boarding. A week of the Foxes, the NBC’s and even CNN is pure torture. Not only do the gatherings of opinion-mongers start with a biased view of what the story is, they virtually never try to fairly present the other side. Forget simply giving the facts. But what really gets under my skin is that, for all the heat and anger and controversy these shows strive to create, for all the pointed questions they pose, they never try to come up with an answer.

 In the corporate world, the 12-step world, for all I know every world that depends on  some kind of logic, it is said that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. It’s even a cliché. I hereby submit that cable TV “news” shows (and the financial ones are guilty of this, too) are and have been a major reason for the divisiveness in American society. They not only talk about the divisiveness, they cause it. They are predicated on finding fault with someone or some proposal or some law and ripping it to shreds, usually with specious facts. They do not care about offering reasonable compromises because solutions do not generate heat or ratings. They’re boring. Did Jerry Springer make his millions by putting marriages back together?

 Politicians, being self-absorbed and primarily worried about collecting enough money to run enough attack ads to win elections, have bought into the process. Maybe they even started it. Doesn’t matter. It is pandemic in political life in this country, which is why Barack Obama is  having less success convincing Congress that things have to change than he is with the American public.

 Still, his election suggests that Americans may have started to get fed up with  politicians who are good at attacking each other, but useless at finding solutions to problems. New Yorkers need look no farther than Albany for a perfect example of political egos making a mockery of government. Is there a solution? Not a political one if neither party will bend. We might hope the courts will see what’s going on in the State Senate as an emergency, which it is, and create some temporary solution. Maybe some good government group (NYPIRG? LWV? COMMON CAUSE?) will sue to demand that the vacant position of lieutenant governor be filled by special election or gubernatorial appointment to break the deadlock in the Senate. But it seems obvious that some solution will have to be imposed on these knuckleheads because clearly they do not see themselves as the problem. That remains for voters to demonstrate.

Bob can be reached at

Painting of the Week – June 30, 2009

Monday, June 29th, 2009
In June's warm dusks, thousands of fireflies light our back field every night. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x10, $200. Contact to purchase.

In June's warm dusks, thousands of fireflies light our back field every night. Oil on stretched canvas, 8x10. For more paintings, or for purchase information, see

Paintings by Carrie Jacobson

Breathing Life Into The Local Economy

Monday, June 29th, 2009

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Within every crisis is the opportunity for growth, and the current economic crisis offers a chance to build our local economies after decades of building credit-bubble economics. Many of us are realizing the fallacy of globalism, as our country has slipped from an exporter to an importer and most of our manufacturing jobs have fled our shores. We are so deeply in debt it will be a miracle if we ever get out!

Our culture has come to value wealth in dollars and overlook what real wealth means: community, that sense of belonging to a certain place and calling it home. Most of us rather would live comfortably and know that our friends and neighbors have the same comfort level than feel that we are separated by wealth from our peers. Most people we think of as rich do not want their wealth to cause poverty for others.

Having real wealth and a functional economy means that we live happy and productive lives, in harmony with the Earth, and build strong, stable families and communities while keeping the ecosystems that sustain us intact. Real wealth is passing on a healthy planet to the next generation so that they will have what they need to survive.

Economists are beginning to see the wisdom in refocusing the economy from the global to the local and, by extension, revitalizing American communities. David Korten, who wrote “Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth,” says: “As challenging as the economic meltdown may be, it buys time to build a new economy that serves life rather than money. It lays bare the fact that the existing financial system has brought our way of life and the natural systems on which we depend to the brink of collapse.”

So how do we build an economy based on living within the natural limits of our planet?

Use only today’s sunlight! Much of our current environmental crisis comes from our using stored sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. If we wean ourselves from the artificial productivity of oil and rely instead on capturing and using just today’s sunlight, wind, tidal and other forms of energy, then we are living within our means and respecting our planet’s natural limits and resources.

Foster cottage industry! So much of our current economy depends on our making money from money.
We need to foster local industry and develop industry around local needs. For example, Berkeley, Calif., restaurateur Alice Waters pays local farms to fill her restaurant’s needs rather than ordering meats and produce from outside the community.

Invest in the community! If a local farm or business is going under, perhaps we can save it by making modest investments. For example, in Morrisville, Vt., a community restaurant paid its investors with $90 worth of meals each quarter.

Most of us lost a great deal of the values of our retirement accounts. If those accounts were invested in local sole proprietorships instead of large-scale C-corporation global businesses, we would be reaping a rate of return three times higher. Local businesses also offer a benefit that global corporations cannot: They improve the quality of your community. You always can check on your investment when you pass it on your way home every day.

Barter! Money is a new concept compared with bartering. There are always things with which we can barter, such as homemade preserves, fresh eggs, baby-sitting and handyman services, and always things we need that we don’t quite have the money for. People who have lost their jobs may feel awkward about asking for help. Bartering allows folks to keep their dignity by allowing them to give things in return, and it also creates local economic impact. It is an ancient and time-honored tradition that helps many people make ends meet.

Be a good neighbor! When we have to face the trials and tribulations of life alone, they are magnified. When we have the love and help of neighbors, our problems are diminished. Neighborly acts create economic value. If your garden is overflowing, leave a bag of zucchini on your neighbor’s porch. If you have an extra pan of lasagna, bring dinner to an elderly neighbor. We all appreciate homemade and homegrown things, and it may make a world of difference to someone who has just lost his job.

Shawn can be reached at

The Travels of Zoe, the Wonder Dog

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The story to this point:

James Dunning worked for the Record for more than 20 years. When his job was eliminated, he and his wife were forced to move in with her mother, who is allergic to dogs. James had no choice but to leave his mostly blind lhasa apso, Zoe, at the pound. He didn’t have the heart to do it in the daytime, so he brought Zoe there before dawn and tied her to the entry gate. As the sun began to come up, a strange dog approached.

By Carrie Jacobson

zoezest2Zoe looks into the eyes of the big red dog, and knows she is going to be saved. The dog comes up and sniffs her, and Zoe sniffs back. She smells dirt and pine, the scent of rain, and the river, and the pavement of a road. She smells humans and other dogs, and she smells food on the breath of this red dog and in her coat, and in that instant, Zoe realizes how hungry she is, and how thirsty.

The big dog is sniffing at something Zoe hasn’t noticed until now, something she can barely see, as it’s more than a foot from her nose. She gets up from her bed and walks as far as the leash allows. Now she can see. It’s a plastic box, and she can smell James’s scent on it.

The smell makes her heart ache, and beat faster, too. That smell, she loves that smell! It means he’s here, he’s coming – and then she remembers, and her tail drops, and she begins to wonder what the big dog is doing.

Then, in a flash, the big dog has pulled the lid off the box, and torn into the bag inside. With her paw, she turns the box on its side, and food spills out. The big dog eats hungrily, wagging her tail, and when she’s had enough, she moves aside. Zoe knows it’s her own food, and she eats until her belly is full.

Then the big dog goes to work on Zoe’s leash. She starts gnawing and pulling, biting and chewing, and soon enough, the leather has broken and Zoe is free.

There’s a noise of a car, then, and suddenly, the sun is up, the day is light, and the dogs inside the shelter begin to bark.

You can stay here, the big dog tells her, and go into the shelter, or you can come with me.

Zoe remembers the shelter. Not this one, but another one, far from here, long ago. She remembers how cold the floor was, and how, no matter what she did, she could never get away from that cold. She remembers the smells of the other dogs, dogs who were in the shelter with her, dogs who had been there before her, weeks before or years before… She remembers how those smells got into her nose, and onto her fur and into her very mouth, it seemed. And she remembers the noise, the constant, endless barking of the other dogs.

All she can really see is that this dog is big, and red and strong. But she can smell truth, and honesty and power. And so, she rubs her head against the big dog’s side, and when the big dog bends her head, Zoe licks her ear. She breathes deep, memorizes the big dog’s scent and follows her up the road.

Carrie can be reached at

The Games Senators Play

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

By Jeffrey Page

The little section of New York known as the State Senate has taken on the trappings of a zoo with all the noise and stink that the inhabitants of zoos generate. Specifically, as the Senate’s Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals go at one another, they are, by extension, going at the people they’re supposed to represent. That would be you, me and the guy who lives just down the street.

And so, while the Senate boys and girls do battle over the political matter of which party will set the agenda and pound the gavel, the business of the people is dead in the water. At risk, as I write this, are the future of county sales taxes, the New York City Board of Education, and numerous other matters that must be extended by Tuesday the 30th if they are to survive. These are no small deals. If a county, such as Orange, loses its authority to collect sales tax, guess whose property tax could rise to make up for lost revenues.

The senators even gave a (figurative) middle finger to Governor Paterson several times last week when he ordered them to convene and behave like the mature public servants they pretend to be. The Democrats met and adjourned a minute later – after courageously voting to officially mourn the death of Michael Jackson. The Republicans’ session lasted about as long.

Paterson, outraged, ordered a stop to the senators’ per diem payments and travel reimbursements, and asked the comptroller to withhold their paychecks. The test of the governor’s anger will come when all this is over and the senators ask for their back pay. Won’t it be instructive if Paterson stands his ground and tells them that they forfeited their pay when they decided to play partisan games on the people’s time?

The situation in Albany has gotten so bizarre that Friday’s Times-Union took note of a Democratic senator’s unhappiness with Paterson’s actions. Translation: Paterson’s standing with the public, which has been in the tank for months, may be improving, but senators of his own party still could make life difficult for him because he insisted that the Senate meet and actually do a little work.

If you’re sickened by the action, or inaction, in Albany, just think. In another 17 months these distinguished gentlemen and ladies will be asking you to return them to office for another term. They may be waiting for 2010 to tell you what a great job they do for the people, but the people can tell them right now that the 19,004,911 New Yorkers who happen not to be members of the Senate are outraged.

Surely your state senator is concerned about your thoughts on this matter and would love to hear from you. Here are some handy phone numbers for the three senators who represent Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties:

John J. Bonacic, 42nd District: Middletown office, 344-3311. Bonacic represents the Orange County towns of Deer Park, Greenville, Minisink, Mount Hope, and Wawayanda; all of Sullivan  County, and the Ulster County towns of Denning Gardiner, Hardenburgh, Hurley, Kingston, Marbletown, New Paltz, Olive, Rochester, Rosendale, Saugerties, Shandaken, Shawangunk, Ulster, Wawarsing, and Woodstock.

William J. Larkin, 39th District: New Windsor office, 567-1270. Larkin represents the Orange County towns of Blooming Grove, Chester, Cornwall, Crawford Goshen Hamptonburgh, Highlands, Monroe, Montgomery, New Windsor, Newburgh, Wallkill, Woodbury; city of Newburgh, and the Ulster County towns of Esopus, Lloyd, Marlborough, Plattekill, and the city of Kingston.

Thomas P. Morahan, 38th District: Nanuet office, 425-1818. Morahan represents the Orange County towns of Tuxedo and Warwick, and all of Rockland County.

The State Senate may not mean business these days, but its 62 members need to be told that the people mean nothing less than business.

Jeffrey can be reached at

Photo of the Week – June 28, 2009

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Photography by Rich Gigli

Hands That Touch  The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we fing in them. - Thomas Merton

Hands That Touch: The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. - Thomas Merton




Two Good Grad Speeches 45 Years Apart

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009


By Michael Kaufman


If there is anything more boring than a speech at a high-school graduation ceremony, no one ever told me about it. As a father of five, uncle, grandparent, and family friend, I have sat (and slept) through more stultifying commencement addresses than I care to remember. In fact, until this month there was only one I could remember, that given by Jon Kotch, the valedictorian of my high school class of 1964 at Oceanside High.


Jon scrapped his pre-approved remarks and instead delivered a stinging critique of school administrators for suppressing independent thought and creativity for four years. It was an electrifying address but it was met with the normal amount of disinterested applause from the assembled parents and guests. Most of the audience, accustomed to hearing the usual tedious claptrap and platitudes about the “future,” had simply tuned out. “Abe Lincoln could come back from the dead and deliver the Gettysburg Address here and these people wouldn’t notice,” complained Helen Press, mother of my friend, Steve, one of the few parents who actually listened to Jon’s speech.


Two years before Jon gave his valedictory speech, Robert M. Morgenthau was the Democratic candidate for governor of NY State. I took part in his campaign as a 16-year-old member of the Junior Democrats. Unfortunately, my memory of the event, which ended in a lopsided victory for Nelson Rockefeller, betrayed me when I met Mr. Morgenthau last year at the Storm King School in Cornwall.


Our daughters were performing in a play together and since the girls are friends I thought it would be a nice gesture to introduce myself. As we shook hands I added, “I campaigned for you when you ran for Nassau County Executive.” His puzzled expression was enough to tell me I had misspoken. “Fishkill!” was all he said by way of correction. “Fishkill!” he repeated merrily before sauntering down the aisle to take his seat. It was my turn to be puzzled…until I learned that in addition to his longtime regular job as Manhattan District Attorney, Mr. Morgenthau likes to spend time on the family apple farm in Fishkill in Dutchess County, far from the suburban climes of Nassau.


This I learned from Mr. Morgenthau as he delivered the guest speech  just three weeks ago at the Storm King graduation. His daughter Amy, the youngest of his five children, was among the graduates. Morgenthau, who

Robert M. Morgenthau with his daughter Amy following his graduation speech at the Storm King School in Cornwall.

Robert M. Morgenthau with his daughter Amy following his graduation speech at the Storm King School in Cornwall.

will turn 90 next month, has been Manhattan DA since 1975, winning seven consecutive elections and countless convictions along the way. In February he announced that he will not seek re-election and will retire at the end of the year. His fabled career inspired the television series “Law and Order.”


Nobody tuned out his speech, which he began by noting that Storm King has been around since the Civil War (speaking of Abe Lincoln) and adding a quip alluding to his own longevity. From then on he spoke forthrightly about issues that now face our country and that will bear on the lives of the graduates for years to come.


He praised Storm King’s officials for “internationalizing” the school, half of whose students hail from Pacific Rim countries like Japan, China, and Korea. “The planet keeps getting smaller,” he said, “and it is important that we Americans reach out across the seas to our neighbors rather than consider ourselves ‘exceptional’ and try to go it alone.”


He spoke of the close relationship that existed between Storm King and Deerfield, the Massachusetts school from which he graduated 72 years ago. At Deerfield, he said, headmaster Frank Boyden “joined the boys from the farms and the mills with the children of the privileged to create a community in which no one cared which was which.


“I finished high school in 1937,” he continued. “It was not a happy time. Economically, we were mired in the Great Depression and the drums of war were sounding.” Now, he told the students, it is their turn to deal with hard times. “Economically, we face the worst crisis since the Great Depression. The US is threatened by enemies, some of whom have, or soon may have, nuclear weapons. We are torn internally as to whether tactics we have used against our opponents have made us too much like our enemies.” At this some of the adults in attendance shifted uncomfortably in their seats.


He had no platitudes or “magic answers” for the students but instead drew on his own life experiences for guidance. Soon after he enlisted in the Navy in 1940 he learned that “you can’t row a boat unless everyone is pulling in the same direction. You see infinitely varied skills and personalities, and virtually everyone will make a contribution to the common effort if you dig until you find the skill that each person brings to the table and make room for them to employ those skills.”


He told of serving on a destroyer on convoy duty in the Mediterranean during World War II when a torpedo hit a nearby transport. The ship exploded and sank, killing all 580 men aboard. “A second torpedo sank our ship,” he continued. “Every convoy’s standing orders were quite clear and strict: If a ship went down, every other ship in the convoy must sail on, lest other ships be hit as well. But that night, two destroyer escorts manned by the Coast Guard ignored the orders. They stopped and, at intense risk to themselves, shined their searchlights on the waters until they could fish out the men from my destroyer. The captains of those ships did not go to prep school but they had somewhere learned what I am trying to convey to you now. Work as a team, remember where you came from, and leave no comrade behind.”


From World War II he shifted to current events, offering a ringing endorsement of Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Judge Sotomayor spent five years in Manhattan as an Assistant District Attorney “prosecuting murderers, child pornographers, and just about any other kind of criminal you can imagine,” he recalled. “She illustrates the basic principle of the American credo…It didn’t stop with Abe Lincoln. If you are an individual with talent who will work hard, you can be promoted to any position your skills earn.


“The American Dream does not always come true,” he cautioned. “Life can never be that simple. But Judge Sotomayor’s example shows that it is a dream well worth pursuing.” His remarks on behalf of Judge Sotomayor drew loud applause, save for the the same few who again shifted uncomfortably in their seats.


His parting advice: “Use the next few years to explore knowledge and your own mind before working too hard on a career. Be loyal to those in your past. Look for the best in the people you meet down the road, appreciate their diverse talents, and work with them to resolve today’s challenges.” He received a standing ovation.


Don’t tell Kotch but I think Morgenthau’s speech may have been even better than his.


Michael can be reached at








The Prez, a Bug and Some Nuts

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

By Beth Quinn

If ever there was a group of good-intentioned people who have lost their sense of proportion, it has to be PETA – the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

This is not news. I think most of us have had doubts about the group since they began their “Jesus was a vegetarian” campaign a few Easters ago. If that didn’t do it, a lot more fans bailed when PETA started bad-mouthing the nutritional value of cow’s milk because, they said, it’s cruel to milk a cow. (Believe me – cows really WANT to be milked every 12 hours. I know from experience that they complain bitterly if the farmer is late to the barn.)

Even so, we were once again reminded of PETA’s tenuous hold on reality this past week when the group took President Obama to task for killing a fly.

If you happened to have missed it, a fly intruded on a televised interview with Obama by  CNBC correspondent Jim Harwood. When the buzzing, dive-bombing fly failed to follow a direct order from the president (“Get out of here,” he told it), the president caught the bug in his hand and smacked it dead.

I was thoroughly impressed. He seems to have some kind of laser bug beam, able to zero in on a flying target and take it out. He was proud of himself, too. “That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it? I got the sucker,” he said to Harwood. And because our president is no litterbug with dead bugs, he later cleaned up the carcass with a napkin.

Alas, PETA was not at all impressed with the president’s skills. After the bug slaying, the group issued a statement urging Obama to be more compassionate to all animals. They also sent a Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher to the White House, a device that allows users to trap house flies and release them outside. I suppose the Secret Service could be enlisted to perform this chore.

I first became aware that PETA  took a rather extreme view of bug-killing at least 15 years ago when I wrote a column called “Scout Catches a Bug.” Scout, as you may recall, was my little brown dog, and she entertained herself by chasing every bug that entered our house. This led to many ripped screens and much broken crockery, but that was a small price to pay for a bug-free house.

At any rate, in that column I described one particular fly-catching moment, during which Scout leapt onto my dresser in pursuit of a bug and busted just about everything up there, including a bottle of make-up. In the manner of good writers, I chose to be specific – it wasn’t just “a bottle of make-up” that Scout broke and smeared all over the place, but a bottle of “L’Oreal Shimmering Bronze make-up.”

Well, how was I to know L’Oreal did animal testing. If I thought about it at all, I suppose I pictured little lab rats checking how they looked in the mirror wearing the company’s latest lipstick color.

I was to learn otherwise. PETA began sending me pictures of little rats being waterboarded by cosmetics experts. The group accused me of  aiding and abetting the torture of animals. They so intimidated me that, years later, when I included that column in a book of dog stories, I edited out the name of the make-up company.

In truth, I am horrified at the notion of animal cruelty. As a child, I had to leave the theater during “101 Dalmatians,” crying at the thought of what Cruella Deville had planned for those puppies. Now that we have the movie on DVD for our grandchildren, I’m only marginally less inclined to cover my eyes and ears at the scary parts.

Yet, like most people, I’m probably a little confused about where I draw the line. I wear leather and eat meat. If a fly is hurling itself at a screen in an effort to get out of the house, I’ll raise the window and try to assist. However, if my investment in the fly’s welfare goes beyond a minute or so, I lose interest and urge one of my dogs to have at it.

(Neither is as successful as Scout was. Huckleberry corkscrews herself straight up for a mid-air snatch at the bug, but she often misses. Tom is more of an ox, hurling his full weight in the bug’s direction but arriving at his destination long after the bug itself has moved on.)

In any case, despite my love of animals, I’m no purist and would never be a member in good standing with PETA. I’ll admit, though, that I’m grateful for their efforts, however weird they may sometimes be. We need such people. Extremists in any good cause help us to find a decent middle ground.

None of this, however, mitigates my admiration for the Fly Swatter-in-Chief’s mid-air zap. Of him, I have only this to say – that guy is soooooo fly!

Beth can be reached at