Friday, March 30, 2012
I keep feeling like this cannot be happening, much like I did when the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy turned twenty-one. Where did the time go? How can so many years have slipped by so fast?
I love my kids. They are turning into interesting and compassionate adults. I realize every parent feels this way, but, in general, my kids rock. But part of them turning into adults is them going away. It is separation. And yes, as a parent you start preparing for this day long in advance, as you teach them to be independent, but it is still a shock when it comes.
Railfan will be home for a while yet (he is going to school locally), but he will be having a life apart from us. And in a couple of years, he will be gone, as will the Red-Headed Menace, only to return on breaks from school and later, only at major holidays.
I am trying to savor all the time I can now while they are at home. I know how little there is left and how soon it will be gone.
Red-Headed Menace: Railfan, do you want to know how to do this?
Railfan: Do you want the honest answer or the big, fat, lie?
RHM: Honesty, of course.
RHM: But it could allow you to rule your math class with an iron fist!
RF: No one would believe I had a fist of iron. A fist of formica, maybe.
A large part of me is tempted to stop blogging. What does this matter? I know intellectually there are people who read this blog (I have friends whom I know do, we sometimes talk about it), but so often I feel like I am speaking into a void. Even more often, I question if what I am writing is anything anyone wants to read. Do any of you really want to know my political or philosophical opinions or the cute things my kids say? Is my writing at all compelling?
Is the Internet a real place?
I could take a break, but I have a strong feeling that if I took a break I might never come back here.
This post is not a ploy to get sympathy. I also am not fishing for compliments, or even feedback (unless you want to). I am just venting, as is my wont.
Besides, if I get this out, maybe I'll feel less despondent.
Edited to add: yes, it helped a great deal.*
*So did looking at Facebook and getting all indignant over some piece of stupidity running around.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
There are times in life when you get smacked up side the head, metaphorically. Today was one of those times.
I have written before about the group I attend on Thursdays. It is an important part of my life. The people in it matter to me, even if I only see them once a week. Today I learned that one of the members, a smart, funny man whom I was getting to like a lot for his humor and warmth, had killed himself.
I am not going to pontificate about suicide. No "how could he hurt his family like that?" No condescending "It's a permanent solution to a temporary problem." No one knows what demons lurk inside someone else's brain. No one knows how unscalable someone else's mountains look to them. I have known a lot of people who have been in that place of utter despair. He is as of yet the only one to have successfully acted on it.
No. Life is too short. All I can say is....
Tell the people in your life how much you love them.
Reach out to the friends you've lost track of.
Ask that really cool person from church/work/school/Facebook out to coffee.
Listen to the birds.
Watch the sunset every so often.
Go home early from the office now and again.
Explore off the beaten trail.
Overtip the waitress.
Find your passion.
Forgive other people.
And always follow the sign to the chinchilla races.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I do not think so. They said that I could take it to and Apple authorized repair place, and see if they would replace individual components, so maybe I'll do that.
I've been working at Starbucks at least once a week for years. Today, for the very first time.... I spilled coffee on the laptop.
I do not know what will happen. It does not appear to have fried anything but it is sticky as Karo syrup. There is probably a trip to the Apple store in my very near future.
Damn. I have been pining for something new and exciting to happen in my life. This was not it.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
The members of the Pacific Stock Exchange were not.
That the latter should have commissioned the former to paint a mural for its sumptuously appointed building at 155 Sansome Street in San Francisco (now home to the City Club of San Francisco) in 1930 is one of those odd mysteries that aren't.* In America we don't have royalty to become the patrons of great artists; we have the captains of industry and commerce. The PSE paying to have the first fresco in the United States by the great Mexican muralist might on first blush seem to be not much different than Napoleon paying Jacques-Louis David to record his apotheosis.
One good look at the mural that resulted, "The Allegory of California," throws that analogy into question. If nothing else, David kept any contempt he felt for his patron well hidden. Rivera only barely did.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Consequently, I was at least somewhat productive. I dealt with a child crisis this morning. I took the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy to get the replacement phone which he sorely needed. I called the Billing Department for the clinic which handles the kids. I had a very long talk with the NSLDB. I drove Railfan and the Red-Headed Menace home from school. Most importantly, I hammered out a cover letter and a resume for a job that my employment specialist had sent me which would in fact be a very good fit for my skill set. (It took me over three hours; I don't think that's normal.) I didn't even talk myself out of applying.
I feel considerably less powerful now, probably because since breakfast I have only had Nonfat No-Whip Salted Carmel Mochas for sustenance. Eating a relatively early dinner may not be a bad idea.
Speaking of power, there is nothing quite so cathartic as driving along singing obscenities loudly. Thank you, Cee-Lo Green.
It's Friday. I am restless. This is unusual. I don't know what to do. One of the disadvantages of not working (aside from the isolation and lack of a paycheck) is that for the most part Fridays are insignificant.
My cartoon of the month is running around Facebook. I do not know the origin, although it looks like it may have been cribbed from The New Yorker. In it, a woman says to her companion, "My desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to be sane." Boy, howdy is that true.
I keep thinking I need to write about what is going on in the world, especially the contraception/abortion debate in several states, but just as I get over my shock at the idiocy shown by the politicians in one state, some other new and more horrible idiocy is proposed. I am rapidly descending into numbed disbelief at some of these people. I am ashamed to admit it, but I am glad I am not twenty, and that all my children were boys. I will still fight this fight, but at least I will not be dealing with the fear I would have had were I younger and unmarried, or if I were watching my daughters facing the "war on women" (and what else can you call it?) being waged in some quarters.
Then there is the Trayvon Martin travesty. I consider myself a Floridian, but sometimes I am heartily ashamed of my home state.
Allowing people to "stand their ground" without any obligation to retreat from potentially dangerous situations is one thing -- not a good one either. But a law stating that if the police find the actions of the assailant "reasonable" they cannot even arrest him is insanity. Such a law provides cover for corrupt, uncaring, or incompetent cops. All they have to do is state that they find that the potential defendant acted reasonably to avoid making an arrest. The determination of reasonableness is -- or should be -- a matter to be determined at trial by a jury, not by a police force potentially subject to political pressures.
Furthermore, the argument that because Zimmerman is (at least partially) Hispanic and therefore would not be racist is ridiculous. In Florida, tensions between Hispanics and blacks can run high indeed, although as I recall that tends to be more in South Florida rather than in mid-Central Florida where Sanford is located.
This whole episode is tragic and infuriating. It is also the logical end to a mindset that says that honor and "not being pushed around" and being able to do what you want to are more important than civil responsibility or even common sense, damn the consequences. You see this in "stand your grounds" laws and anti-vaxers.
Idiots. Dangerous idiots.
Well, all the idiocy in the world notwithstanding, here's hoping all of you have a pleasant weekend.
*And a new bluetooth headpiece.** I've never had a bluetooth before; I get calls all the time while I am driving, so this is a good idea. Or so I keep telling myself. I would hate to think it would be to be cool. The NSLDB complained that people who wear Bluetooths (Blueteeth?) looked like they were talking to themselves. I responded that I talk to myself all the time anyway; at least this way people will think I am talking on the phone instead of simply crazy.
**Yes, I have seen the Doctor Who episode "Rise of the Cybermen," where all of the people in the world are controlled using Bluetooth-like devices. Somehow, I don't think I run the risk of being turned into a large metal killing machine..
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I find myself writing. Those of you have seen my handwriting know that, except for times when my hand is tired or I have to write in a hurry, it is quite beautiful. (Even my signature is extravagant, one John Hancock would have been proud to own.)
I do not write for content, but for the sensual feeling of the ink flowing over the paper. I write my name. I write song lyrics. I write the questions out. I write random phrases, I write letters or parts of letters to people, I write things I desperately need to say to other people that know I will never have the courage to speak aloud. Sometimes I write automatically, with my hand reaching into my subconscious to find words and phrases that immediately tell me things about myself -- not always things I want to know. Sometimes, the writing becomes more important than the game.
I play with the forms of the letters, my smooth script giving way to experiments in calligraphy. I become absorbed in what it feels like to watch the shapes of the letters as my hand creates them. I become the writing.
I write knowing this is an ephemeral art: all the papers are collected to be thrown out or recycled at the end of the evening. This makes the writing possible: as I said, sometimes I write things I do not want to know or things which I am too cowardly to tell other people, so I tell them to myself.
This is abstract expressionism. The lines mean nothing. The purpose is only incidentally to convey information to myself (as I said, no one else will ever see this) but more to record the experience and joy of the physical act of literally putting pen to paper. It is purely art: art for nothing more than the pleasure of its creation.
It is a small art indeed, but mine own.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I find that statement troublesome.
They protect our country. Yes, there was the Civil War. And yes, the National Guard was sent in during the civil rights movement in some cases to help protect people. And yes, every member of the armed forces swears to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.
But I don't have the Marines to thank for me being able to walk into a voting booth as much as I have Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and a lot of other women (and men) who worked long and hard -- in some cases facing imprisonment and physical punishment -- for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. And what about the civil rights workers in Mississippi? Many of them paid a very heavy price so that voting would be available to citizens across the state, not just whites. It was not the Army going into those county courthouses helping people to register.
I don't have the Navy to thank for being able to stand on a soapbox -- even electronically -- and spout whatever unpopular opinion comes into my head. I have the Framers of the Constitution, and many Supreme Court Justices throughout the past 200 years to thank for creating and then protecting that right.
As I said, do not misunderstand me. Members of the armed services perform invaluable duties in keeping the nation physically safe, and I recognize that. I think as a nation we give lip service to how much we value our veterans but treat them like dirt through inadequate funding of veterans' services.
However, the job of "protecting freedom" belongs to every citizen of the realm. Subcontracting that job to the military is irresponsible. It is also unfair.
Don't they have enough to do already?
Monday, March 19, 2012
I have always loved the song "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George. It is beautiful, it is moving.
It is also incredibly well-crafted, without being ostentatious. So much so that one of the evidences of that craft eluded me until the past few days, even though I have heard the song many, many times.
In the song, Dot (George's former lover) is advising his grandson (also named George) how to deal with the fear he has that he can no longer create anything new. George expresses frustration and yearning to create "something new, something of my own." Dot tells him to "move on."
She sings briefly of her own decisions. Until the past few days, I thought her line was "I chose and my world was shaken, so what? The choice may have been mistaken, but choosing was not." It personalizes her advice to him.
The line in fact is "The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not." It might seem like an insignificant difference. It is not.
The change from "but" to "the" makes the language of the song more formal, more distanced. This is apposite: the song is not about Dot, except incidentally, but about George and his future. (It is also a resolution of the relationship between Dot and (the first) George.) "Choosing" in the line as I first understood it is a verb. The way that Sondheim wrote the line, "choosing" is a noun, an object, a choice in and of itself to be made.
Choosing versus not choosing. Movement versus stagnation. Hope versus fear.
As the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy observed to me when we were discussing this song, we cannot know whether we have chosen wisely or poorly until we in fact choose. If we stay still we may not fail, but neither will we grow. Sondheim captured that idea perfectly.
In Finishing the Hat, Sondheim states that "God is in the details." It is indeed. Something as simple as the change of one three letter word to another can deepen the meaning of a song. Sondheim is nothing if not a master of the details.
One of the reasons I have always loved this song is that it encapsulates a recurring issue in my own life: where do I go? How can I grow? I come to my own creative and personal crossroads, and far too often I am paralyzed by what seems like the panopoly of possible directions.
Maybe you simply need to pick a direction and go. Maybe you simply need to make a choice without obsessing whether it would be the best possible choice in all possible universes.
Maybe you simply need to move on.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Peonage was criminalized in 1867, when the Congress outlawed the practice, which was common in New Mexico at that time. In the early 20th Century, during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, there was a series of trials of men for forcing other men into peonage.
One of those men, John W. Pace, was convicted and sentenced to jail. His theory on appeal was that, as peonage meant holding people in slavery for debts owed, and none of the men he enslaved actually owed him anything, he was not guilty of peonage but of slavery, which was not illegal at the time.*
Part of me is completely outraged by this, which I suspect is the reaction of most people.
Part of me is impressed. Those lawyers were doing what every lawyer is paid to do, representing their client zealously within the bounds of the law. It may be obnoxious, but it was the right thing to do. This standard is the basis of our justice system. The level to which some attorneys fail to reach that standard, as can be seen by a lot of the criminal cases which end up before the Supreme Court, is saddening.
It has never been the case that the system will always result in the guilty being convicted, nor is it the case that everyone brought before a judge or jury will be guilty. People do get away with things sometimes.
But the system shouldn't.
I think most people would say that finding innocent people innocent and guilty people guilty is the standard of success by which process should be measured, not the other way around, that following due process by definition gives a just result. I wonder if that is a quirk of being trained as a lawyer, that makes it even possible for me to view it otherwise.
I know that in reality due process is all we have. I admit that truth about guilt or innocence in any given case can sometimes be difficult to ascertain. But it also worries me that there are people who seem to conflate the two.
Was it just for Pace to escape punishment for what he did to so many men and women?** Not in the slightest. Even had he not been pardoned, he might well have had his conviction reversed. I would have been unhappy, but not outraged by reversal, if the law was what his attorneys claimed. (That said, I would have strongly supported a change in the law making sure others could not escape paying for similar crimes.) I am not at all that bothered by the fact that O.J. Simpson walked, even though I think it more probable than not he killed his ex-wife.***
And that bothers me.
The system is imperfect, and I worry sometimes that I stop seeing the forest for the trees. When I was a first-year law student, I asked a civil procedure professor where justice fit into the picture. "It doesn't," he replied brusquely. "It is a game. It is about following the rules and still doing better than the other guy. If you worry about the justice of the result, you will burn out very quickly."
Okay, so that was civil procedure. But my criminal procedure professor, a former public defender, told us something similar: that she was most scared in cases when she was sure the defendant was innocent. Otherwise, it was a contest: you did the best for your client, and what happened happened. But if the client was innocent, and you screwed up, you could lose someone their liberty or even their life.
I think that is why the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act bothers me so much. In the haste to correct what is seen as injustice (because people weren't being executed in a "reasonable" amount of time), it added a layer of process that seems almost designed to occasionally thwart justice in the other direction. Conservatives decry the use of Constitutional defects in procedure to reverse convictions or sentences as being "technicalities," but states are just as willing to use "technicalities" on the other side. (This is especially true of time limitations: several cases have come before the Supreme Court in which the failure to meet deadlines was the fault of the lawyers and not the defendants, and states have argued that the incompetence on the part of the attorneys was irrelevant.)
I don't know what the answer to the justice versus process problem is. I don't even know quite where I am going here, other than to bookmark an issue which has been bothering me for some time now.
There is a reason the quote from Micah is the first of the "Words To Live By." Regardless of where I am in my faith journey or my belief in God, these words form the basis of my social and political beliefs. I am an idealist -- some would say irrationally so -- and "doing justice" matters to me. Immensely.
But as I grow older, I am less and less sure of what that means.
* I'm not sure exactly how their argument would go, but I imagine it would be something like this: the 13th Amendment did not create criminal accountability, simply eradicated a previously existing property right. Absent an actual statute making slavery a crime, it wasn't. All of this became moot when Roosevelt pardoned Pace and the other men convicted in the peonage trials. Don't worry, slavery was explicitly criminalized in 1909.
**The question of the justice of political pardons is an entirely different issue.
***Other aspects of the O.J. infuriate me: the refusal of the prosecution to seek the death penalty. For whatever reason they did not -- and the ones I have read include because he could hire the best lawyers and that they would never have gotten the death penalty given his popularity -- it was unjust. Any other person accused of the same crime in LA at that time would have faced the prospect of the execution chamber.
I am also outraged about cases where juries or judges clearly acted in defiance of the law and the evidence to acquit people who should not have been. I do not think I am going out on a limb to say that some of the results in the trials of individuals for killing civil rights workers in the South, where local all-white, all-male juries, acquitted their cronies were unjust in the extreme.
It was a beautiful day. The sun shone, yet it was not too hot. Strolling slowly along the paths, you could hear people speaking all sorts of languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and others that I cannot recognize other than as being none of those. You could see young couples, retirees and families with young children. It was heartening to see how very small children are the same across cultures.
The sun shone on the tops of the trees. When you looked up, you could see the tops of the stands of redwood illuminated fully in the strong sunlight. When you looked down, you saw the gloom of the forest floor.
The most beautiful to see were the areas at the margins. The dark boughs and trunks were silhouetted starkly against the bright blue sky. The leaves were lit up like gold from shafts of light breaking through the canopy.
I kept thinking that a lot of the world is like that. The most interesting things happen in the change from one thing to another. Where the shore meets the sea. Where forests give way to meadows.
At the changing of guards, of eras. Of states of being.
Not always, of course. The changes in this country the past few years have been often ugly, to say the least. The leading edge is facing backwards, as we become a society in retreat in many areas.
But still... watching children become adults. Meeting new people. Changing and growing yourself.
Finding where my margins are, where I gleam the most, where I can grow, may well be my next task in life.
I hope I like what I find when I get there. I hope others do, too.
It has been one of those days. At least, up until 3:00.
I discovered that my backpack, which had been in the van, was missing. I can't find it around the house, either. I had been using it in lieu of a purse for a while, since I had books to carry. At this point, there was not anything in it to speak of, except several Games magazines and my card case.
The card case is a real loss. I have cards for a quite a number of people, both professional and personal. When my phone died at the end of last year, I discovered that for some reason the contact information of several of those people (people who mattered) had not been saved. In addition, I had gotten cards from a few people since then; again, people whose contact information (especially phone numbers) I wanted to hang on to. I had been intending to take the cards and transfer them to my new phone, but had been procrastinating doing so. I really regret that now.
Edited to add: Hurrah! Calloo callay! I found the backpack! Tonight's task: transfer contacts into phone and computer address book.
As far as my cards... I have three different cards, a lot of them. One of them my business card, one for jewelry design, and a "blog card." Vistaprint is a lot of fun. (I had also once had a hat with my blog information on it.)
While discovering that it wasn't in the house, I tripped in the garage. In addition to skinning my shins, the trip did my pulled rib no good.
On the other hand, I got a new purse, sort of. It is a tote of one particular design (black, with pockets large enough to hold a collapsing folder) -- I buy them and use them until they fall apart. I got my first one in 2007. This is number three. What makes it special is the hot pink interior.
I do the same with work shoes; this time I actually *gasp* chose a different black flat. This was only because the shoe store was out of my usual design.
But my mock interview went very well. The interviewer thought I was personable, confident (!), and responded well to questions. She particularly liked my answer to "You have a potential client in front of you and the phone starts ringing off the hook. What do you do?" With absolutely no hesitation I replied, "The person in front of you is always the first priority. You hit the button which sends the caller to voicemail."* (I was a little surprised that impressed her; to me, it seems completely obvious.) She said I need to work on my "tell me about yourself" elevator speech, however, and make a few changes to my resume.
So here I am again, in my home-away-from-home, sipping my Grande Peppermint Mocha, treating myself to madeleines and listening to Broadway, watching the rain fall. And writing, even if all I am writing is a silly little synopsis of my day.
Not such a bad day after all.
*This, like all things in life, depends upon context: if you are working a crisis line, it might well be more important to answer the phone.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Especially since I have an appointment with my job coach for a mock interview tomorrow. I hate interviews -- even practice ones. Experience tells me that, unless I know people well, I am at my best when I don't expect to ever see the other person again and really don't care if they like me or not. I have been told by trusted observers that, under those conditions, I can be actually quite charming. (A couple of hurricanes don't hurt, either, but they are not necessary.) Really. I am as surprised by this as you are.**
Once I have decided I like someone and therefore care if they like me, but do not yet know them well enough to relax, I tend get self-conscious and self-critical; not a good thing when you are trying to convince people to hire you.
Note: I am fine in a work context. I have a reputation at the places I have worked and volunteered for having exceptional people skills.
Time for more Coke and "A Little Priest." On second thought, given the subject of the song, maybe not.
*I was going to write about all the anti-contraception legislation going around on a state and national level, but I am already nauseated. I don't need to make myself more so.
**There is an ongoing argument between me and a couple of my friends as to whether I flirt or not. They claim I do, and I steadfastly claim I do not. All I can figure out is that I do not flirt consciously and with intent, but on rare occasions I am unnaturally effervescent. I am really very shy and retiring. Really, truly. For some reason, people seem very skeptical when I say this.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
After his first bite, he commented "This is one of the great achievements of human civilization."
I think he liked it.
I accidentally published it. Well, not exactly. I was backing this blog up to my Wordpress.com mirror blog, and I wanted it there, so I published it, thinking that as soon as the import was done, I would revert to draft.
And then I went, "Oh, crap. Google Reader."
My brain has left the building.
So, if this works, in Google Reader this text will replace the long post I had written. I may, after some discussion, repost here at WWF, but for now it is in draft form (backed up in an Open Office text file).
If you feel really motivated, please feel free to write your own post about the nature of love and fear and Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat."
Monday, March 12, 2012
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied...
John Masefield, "Sea Fever"
Daylight Savings Time just started. The days are getting longer. It will be beach weather soon; beach weather, that is, for those for whom the shore is a seasonal destination. Not for me.
For various reasons, my memory has large gaping holes. There are many things in my life I have knowledge of, but not actual memory. There are so many things I do not remember, so many things lost.
One memory I do have is of standing alone on the sand at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, when I was seventeen, in the fading golden pink light of a January's day. It was late enough in the month that the vacationers from the holidays had gone home, and late enough in the day that the elderly snowbirds who wander down to St. Petersburg every winter from the North had gone in for dinner. The sunlight caught the improbably pink hotel down the beach, turning it warmly rosy, and the white trim – the decoration on what for all the world looks like a big gaudy cake – pale yellow. The thin piping songs of the shorebirds were broken by the occasional raucous cry of the gulls. There were no waves to speak of: by Pacific standards they were wavelets, small crests of water just catching the afternoon glow, forming a rippling golden highway to the horizon, meeting the deep blue sky streaked with pink.
The sky is rarely completely clear in Florida. There are almost always a few clouds, which make for the most glorious sunsets in the world. This day, though, was one of the exceptions: the sky was crisp, and clear, and deeply blue.
There was nothing special about this day. There were no milestones, no celebrations. There were no crises, no earth-shattering events. It was …. a day.
I have no idea why I remember this day so clearly when so many others far more important are blank canvases. It was one of the few times as a teenager I can remember feeling completely at peace. I was with the ocean, the world could wait.
I have stood on many other shores: the Atlantic, on Cumberland Island, Georgia, where I rose to meet the dawn on the same spot where the night before I had released a fragile sea turtle, the size of my palm, into the surf. The Mediterranean, where I and my family sat on a jetty eating sandwiches and watching the tides come in. And the Pacific...
The Pacific is my ocean now. It is mercurial in a way that the Gulf is not. I have swum in the warm waters off of San Diego and snorkeled in reefs in Hawaii, and waded (and shivered) at the edges of the frigid waves breaking upon the Northern California shore an hour away from my home. It is wild, it is exciting, it is frightening. A stranger shore, a stronger ocean, a deeper call.
When my children, Californians in a way that I will never be, swam in the sixty degree water, I would watch with bated breath to make sure the tides did not pull them under. (All we had in the Gulf were stingrays, easily avoidable if you shuffle your feet.* The ocean itself was not ready to devour you.) Even today, grown as they are, I find myself fretting when they hike the slippery rocks to get to the tide pools where the sea stars and anemones are, until they are back safely.
It has been over three decades since that day on the beach that stands so vividly in memory. And still, I can stand on the shore on a winter's day, and watch the waves – real ones, now – crashing against the rocks and cliffs, and feel nothing but peace. There are few things so horrible that the smell of salt air will not make them more bearable.
So let others rejoice in the return of beach weather. For me, it never goes away.
*Of course, there are the thunderstorms. What the Gulf lacks in waves it more than makes up in lightning.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Red-Headed Menace: No, it's not.
Me: You ate, what, 4000 calories yesterday?*
Red-Headed Menace: I prefer to measure it in joules.
*He is in track -- he runs middle and long distance, and throws discus. He can run 10 miles at a stretch. He routinely wipes the house out of food. He also does not gain a pound. This is annoying.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
The House of Representatives has taken steps to correct the worst of Kelo, passing a bill which would cut off federal funding to any state or municipality that takes private property via eminent domain for economic use. It would also prohibit federal use of federal eminent domain for economic development.
This is a no-brainer. The sponsors were Democrat Maxine Waters of L.A., possibly the most liberal Representative in the House,** and the very conservative Republican James Sensebrenner of Wisconsin. Bipartisan isn't the word; and in Washington these days, that's noteworthy. The only voice objecting to the bill was Democrat John Conyers of Michigan.
A similar bill passed the House five years ago, only to die in the Senate. Hopefully this time it will get passed.
I believe that governments should be able to create public works. They should be able to regulate in the public interest. But taking people's property just to develop it for economic reasons is akin to theft. That it is being done by the city, state or federal government does not change that. Sandra Day O'Connor, in her dissent in Kelo, rightly stated that the decision had the potential to destroy the distinction between public and private property.
Furthermore, it is stupid. If the economic development makes sense, the private sector will be able to make it happen. If you can't pay people enough that they sell their property, maybe it is not a good place to put your development to begin with. The city's interference in the market can allow less than competent developers to undertake projects, or to rush into projects before other important pieces are in place. (Necessary financing from outside sources, for example.) In order to be successful, development needs to be sound: city councils, desperate for the funds which they perceive will flow from retail, housing or mixed use developments, may not be the best judges of the practicality of any given proposal.
This bill is good news for people of all political stripes who believe in the right to own property.
*Just to refresh your memory, in Kelo the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for cities to condemn private property using the power of eminent domain solely to turn it over to private developers for economic development. In other words, economic development by private parties constituted enough of a "public use" to allow the city to use eminent domain. As I said, a horrible decision.
**Waters felt, I think rightly, that poor and minorities are most at danger from this use of eminent domain, with disadvantaged people being pushed off their land while developers prosper.
I don't have a suit, but I have a simple blazer, a sweater, a couple of shirts than can double as sweaters, a couple of shells,* a couple of long sleeve shirts, a pleated skirt, a couple of pair of black cords and a couple of pair of pretty decent knit slacks (purchased from Land's End when the local Sears went out of business). And my favorite black Coldwater Creek dress, which is way too low-cut, but which works nicely with the shells layered underneath it. I just need to get a one or two more skirts, and pantyhose. (Blech. I hate pantyhose.) And another pair of simple black flats.
Looking at them, however, they are all black, grey and red, with the exception of a blue blazer and a pink shirt.
I wonder what my color choices say about me. Am I angry? Fearful? Tough?
At any rate, I have not felt this much -- excitement is too strong a word -- contentment over clothing since, I'm not sure. I do sort of clean up nicely.
Now if I can just get somewhere to wear them to.
*For any male readers who don't know what shells are, they are light sleeveless tops designed to be worn under other shirts or blazers. Like camisoles, except they don't look like lingerie.
No wireless until Tuesday. How am I going to survive the hours that Starbucks is closed?
Stop laughing at me. Please. I know I'm being pathetic here.
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
God love 'em. I am proud of them for alerting people to this very serious piece of legislation. These are my kids: engaged and passionate.
I am not going to write about ACTA, however. I know from experience with SOPA that there will be many people with more experience and better writing skills than I who will be discussing this at length. I'll post links as I run across them.
The Bechdel Test was first postulated by Allison Bechdel in the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” It is quite simple, really: for a film (or television show) to pass the test, it must have at least two women, who have names, who have a conversation with each other, about something other than a man. In an ideal world, given that women make up half the world's population, movies which fail the test would be outliers, like those set in an all male prison (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) or in a similar all male environment, such as professional baseball (Moneyball) or a Napoleonic era British battle ship (Master and Commander). In fact, just the opposite is true.
People who urge analysis of films using the Bechdel Test are quick to point out that many very worthwhile films fail the test (The Godfather Parts I & II, Citizen Kane), while some that pass are nothing but sexist garbage (Sucker Punch). It is about the total paucity of decent movies about women or with significant women characters, they say. I agree. But then many of these commentators indulge in analysis of individual films that is superficial, to say the least.
One blogger, Feminist Frequency, took on this year's Best Picture nominees. Leaving aside The Help, which was woman-centered,* the only other film that passed was The Descendants. The blogger dismissed both Hugo and Midnight in Paris as having exchanges between women that were too short to qualify as conversations.
The blogger was particularly incensed about Midnight in Paris. Midnight in Paris had Gertrude Stein as a character, and to have Stein – an iconic feminist figure – not have a conversation with another woman was totally unacceptable.
This is where the problem with the Bechdel Test as an analytical tool for individual movies comes in. Midnight in Paris was about a single character, around which the movie revolved. There was no conversation in the movie in which Gil, the protagonist, was not either present for/part of, or failing that, were not about Gil. None. For Allen to have introduced a conversation which ignored that fact would have been incongruous and jarring.
You may not like Woody Allen, but he has written movies that fall squarely within the confines of the Bechdel Test: Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days. He should not be castigated because in the case of Midnight in Paris he chose to focus exclusively on a male character.
A different problem crops up in the case of Hugo. The conversation at stake is between a girl and her grandmother, about the work of her grandfather, the legendary George Melíès. Grandma Rose talked about his work, but if you listen carefully, she is also talking about her own history and the history of cinema. Yes, it is seen through the lens of a man, but it is still her story as much as his.
What does it mean to talk about a man? In any given picture, this can be uncertain. There are women, fictional and real, whose lives are bound up with a man, and who cannot discuss their own history in a vacuum excluding his. Are they to be denied the authenticity of their own stories?
Also, what about cases where the gender of the object of the conversation is incidental? Two women talking about a baby are talking about a baby, whether or not that baby is male. Two female cops talking about a serial killer are talking about a criminal. Depending upon the movie, the gender of the criminal may be irrelevant if the focus is on the cops.
Of course, the main focus should be those movies where it would be very much possible for two women to have a discussion, and it doesn't happen. The movie does not have to be “woman-centered”: Shakespeare in Love involved two very significant conversations between Queen Elizabeth and Viola de Lessops. One of them was on the nature of love in drama; one was on the difficulty of being a woman in a man's world, and the sad unbreakability of marriage vows. And one of my favorite movies, Stardust, manages to have several important conversations between various female characters that do not involve or revolve around men.
But what about The Artist? The young starlet Peppy Miller was interviewed by male radio commentators; why could she not instead have been interviewed by a female gossip columnist? Both Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were forces to be reckoned with in the world of twentieth-century popular culture. Why couldn't they have been in the movie?
How many movies have there been with all-male police forces? Only male firefighters and paramedics? Only male politicians?
And let's not even get into Star Wars. Princess Leia was the lone female in an all-male universe. (Except for poor Aunt Beru, and various slave girls controlled by Jabba the Hutt.)
Hollywood needs more stories about women, and certainly many more with strong women characters. (More Bridesmaids! Better Steel Magnolias!) The Bechdel Test provides a crude but useful tool in assessing whether or not they are doing that. If we could only find a way to have more women studio heads, producers, writers and directors, that's more likely to happen, and after a while the Bechdel Test would become irrelevant. I would not write posts quibbling about its application to various individual movies.
I'm not holding my breath.
*The Help had other problems. There has been a variant of the Bechdel Test about race: are there two or more people of color who have a conversation about something other than a white person. The Help fails this, or if not it comes perilously close. The wonderful George Takei has suggested the movie should be renamed White People Solve Racism.
If you go to the local cafe because you need wireless access for business purposes and there is none in your building...
Are the double mochas that you buy so that you can stay in the cafe tax-deductible as business expenses? Those $4.50 specialty coffees add up after a while.
No, you are not “going medieval.”
You are not doing things just as the regular folks did in the Middle Ages.
You are wearing Polar Fleece.
As for that authentic recreation of a medieval castle... Yes, the workmen are using historically accurate materials. They are using historically accurate procedures. They are also using triangular steel bladed mason's trowels, and modern spades with wooden handles and formed steel blades. Not too many of those in the thirteenth century.
The huge wheel you are walking in has its outer side covered with wire mesh. This is clearly a safety measure, but still... You do not have to worry about falling to your death. Men in the 13th century would have.
I have no problem with “recreations” for teaching purposes, I don't. But there is no way for anyone living today to completely relive what the medievals did, for one important reason: for us, living that way is a choice. For some people it's a job. If it gets to be too much, there are options.
For the people in the Middle Ages this way of life was all they had. Living this way knowing no other way to live is a very different mindset.
We have vaccines, and antibiotics. Re-enactors do not, as far as I know, have to worry that if they get a cut they will develop tetanus or gangrene.* Women who get pregnant do not generally have to contend with often fatal puerperal fever. The medievals lived with a fear of death around the corner that for many of us is almost incomprehensible emotionally.
Role-playing is all well and good, as long as you don't try to pretend it is more than it is.
*In 2008, as part of a family trip to Europe, we visited the reenactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury, from the Wars of the Roses. "Okay, so they're all dressed up, armor and everything," I said. "They have a paramedic," stated the Red-Headed Menace. "That's not authentic." "So how is he dressed?" "In a blue uniform with a yellow vest that says 'Paramedic' on the back. He's standing by the ambulance."
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
A loving friend.
A lover of the written word.
[Edited to add: I forgot three:
An art lover.
A music lover.
A trivia fiend.]
A jewelry maker.
A former lawyer.
A humble seeker of truth.
A believer in democracy.
An alumna of Wellesley and Stanford Law.
A patient, sometimes.***
An observer of the things around me.
An ocean person who looks wistfully towards the horizon.
A human being, with all that entails. As such, I am entitled to all the dignity all human beings deserve by virtue of their humanity.
An emotional person, by turns loving, caring, funny, angry, disorganized, confused, sad, happy, passionate, thoughtful.
A dancer along the edge of life.
All of these roles and attributes make up who I am, like the dots of color on a pointillist painting. Concentrate on one part of the picture, and you miss the resolution into the whole.
Who are you?
*I steadfastly hold that this blog, under the Scalzi definition, constitutes writing. I do not claim, however, that it is good writing.
**These two are not mutually exclusive.
***I hate to put this down; while it true that this is a role I fill, I do not want to define myself by it.
He trotted out all the usual responses to Sandra Fluke: having sex has consequences, and she needs to bear the potential costs herself rather than having religious organizations cover the bill.* After all, she chose to attend Georgetown (a Catholic university).
I responded with the examples I used in a previous post, and mentioned that any person who got a job offer from a Catholic organization might well take it -- the job market is a bear right now.
He had claimed that women were being denied coverage but not access. That is the sort of analysis that wins you points on the bar exam.
Unfortunately, the real world is not a law school test. For poor women, saying that access and affordability are separate issues is, in legal parlance, a distinction without a difference. If you cannot afford things (and if you are in real financial straits, it is amazing what you cannot afford, and just how tight that money gets), they are as inaccessible as if they were outlawed. (He then said that poor women can go to Planned Parenthood, quite ignoring the fact that the same people fighting for this religious exemption are trying to close down Planned Parenthood.)
I then replied that his characterization of me as "emotional" was insulting. But the truth is I am emotional.. I am ANGRY.
It has not been too long since this would have been an issue for me. I could afford to cover contraception if I had to, but there are women who would have difficulty. And yes, compared to other things contraception is relatively inexpensive, but there are women who count on every dime to feed their kids or pay rent. (Graduate students, for example. When the Rocket Scientist was a graduate student, there were weeks we went to visit his parents so that we could get leftovers to eat for two or three days. Once, we ate peanut butter for dinner for a week.)
I am fighting this not for myself, whom it does not affect, but for my nieces. For the daughters of friends. For my future daughters-in-law. I am joining with other women to help protect our own.
Whereas this single male lawyer can sit in his ivory tower, surrounded by his white male privilege, and presume to lecture me and other women about our "responsibilities." And I know that he does not refrain from sex out of concern for his "responsibilities."
Pregnancy is a medical condition, a very serious one at that. The dangers of pregnancy outweigh those of legal abortion, and definitely of contraception. Contraception is prevention of that medical condition. That some women choose -- or actively want -- that condition is besides the point.
And the whole debate ignores one important thing: if you argue that contraception should not be covered, you are saying that sex is not an important part of mental and physical health. And if that is the case, you damned well should be arguing just as hard that Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs should not be covered, unless you want to take the position that it is only men who should be entitled to a healthy sex life.
* It's really the insurance companies, but no matter. I don't know, but my hunch is that insurance companies would much rather cover contraception than pregnancy: preventing pregnancy is much cheaper than paying for it. Pregnancy is an expensive proposition.
More caffeine methinks.
Edited add: as of 3/7 at 10:43, I had managed to knock out three of these posts, as well as two other posts on subjects that cropped up in the past 48 hours. Go me. As well as doing all the other things I have done. (I hate hate hate clothes shopping, especially when it unsuccessful.)
Monday, March 05, 2012
I was never an infant person. I liked toddlers, but the best age was the age of questioning. The "why" stage. "Why can birds fly?" "Why is the sky blue?" "Why do you only have rainbows when it rains?"
And exchanges like this one:
Railfan, aged seven: If people are God's children, what are dinosaurs?
The Red-Headed Menace, age five: Dinosaurs are God's pets.
My kids are wonderful, and I love them as they are now, but sometimes I miss them as they were then.
Sunday, March 04, 2012
This debate over coverage for birth control -- or availability of birth control, even -- is not going to go away. And we progressives need to be prepared. We need to plan to have the most sympathetic and least politically vulnerable witnesses we can.
Let the young single women speak. But be prepared that the nastier fundamentalist factions are going to get very personal, very quickly. Regardless of what happens with Limbaugh -- and he is facing a massive outcry -- next time there will still be odious people raising questions about the morality of any young woman who dares suggest she *gasps* enjoys sex.
No. We need a married mother of three to speak for whom the coverage for contraception is economically important. After all, you can argue that a single woman should not be having sex, but what about a married woman? More importantly to some of these people, should a married woman's husband be forced to go without sex because they cannot afford to raise another child and reliable contraception gets expensive?
We need women who take hormonal contraceptives for reasons other than to prevent pregnancy to speak out. While this is dangerous to some extent because it opens the door for restrictions based on "medical necessity," it is still important that people know that these drugs are prescribed for a variety of conditions.
The best witness would be a married mother of four whose husband is out of work and who is employed by a Catholic university. Or a woman who works for Catholic Charities who suffers from endometriosis.
It sounds cold, but we need to line up these witnesses now. Because this fight is NOT going away any time soon.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
If you like modern dance, see Pina.
If you are curious about modern dance, see Pina.
If you like weird documentaries...
If you like experimental movies with no narrative arc...
If you like surrealism -- maybe especially if you like surrealism...
Go see Pina. In 3D.
If not, go see The Artist.*
*I want to see that movie made in 3D.
Friday, March 02, 2012
I have been told that one of downsides of helping non-profits is that at some point you have to hit up your friends.* That time has come...
Kara Grief and Bereavement Services, the non-profit I volunteer at, is holding its Spring Gala, themed "April In Paris," On April 14. (You have heard me complain before of the work involved in hunting down movie rights. I learned how to do that! I don't know when that information will next come in handy, but it has got to at some point.)
Kara is a wonderful group of people who do very important work. People come to us at times when their lives have been pulled out from under them; I've talked to parents who have lost children, adult children who have lost parents, people who have lost multiple loved ones within a short period of time. We help families and children. As someone whose family lost a child years ago, I know firsthand the devastating effect such a loss has, and how, absent help, families can self-destruct under the burden of their grief.
We offer peer counseling and support group for adults, teens, children over the age of 6, and families. We have counselors who go out to organizations, schools, and companies to help them cope with the grief of the death of a student, teacher, or employee. We educate teachers and caregivers how to help those who are grieving. We hold a three-day camp every summer for children and teens who have suffered a loss: it allows children to connect with other kids their age who understand what they are going through.
People don't "get over" their grief, or "move on," but they move through their grief to find peace and healing. We help them in that process.
We do not charge for our services. We subsist on individual and foundation support.
I have been volunteering with Kara since fall 2009. This is the second year I have been involved with the Gala. It is our major fundraiser for the year (after the support of various foundations). Part of the fundraiser is a silent auction.
If you are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, please consider donating goods or services to us for our silent auction. We can use gift certificates to restaurants, stores, and assorted services (spas, for example).** Tickets to sporting events are popular, as well. (Every year, we have people who have season tickets to baseball games donate tickets to games they know they will be unable to attend.) If you have a business, please consider donating goods or services from your business.
For more information, contact Susan Christensen, Kara's Events and Development Coordinator, at (650)321-5272. Or send an email to email@example.com. Donations can be sent directly to Kara, 457 Kinglsey Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301.
Please help us. Kara will be grateful, and I personally will be quite appreciative of your donation.
*One of the few advantages of not having girls is that you never have to get your friends to buy cookies.
**In addition to jewelry, which I gave last year, I gave a $50 gift certificate to The Loft (one of my trivia prizes) and am going to be donating movie passes at a local theatre to go with that, as sort of a "dinner and a movie" package.
***If you would rather, you could also donate money directly, or buy an ad in the program. Or buy a ticket to the event itself.
Bardot stars as Juliette, an 18-year-old orphan whose unbridled appetite for pleasure shakes up all of St. Tropez; her sweet but naïve husband Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) endures beatings, insults, and mambo in his attempts to tame her wild ways.
Last Tango in Paris. Or Lovers on the Bridge. Or Henry and June...
Thursday, March 01, 2012
Clearly, the letter "C" has had a great influence on my life.
What? I just like cool coincidences, that's all.