23 December 2008

the meaning of community

So I'm sick. And I had my yearly "girl parts" appointment today, the first doctor's visit since being back in the US. So it was automatically traumatic, even if it went perfectly. Ha. Couldn't find the office buried in the middle of the hospital complex. 15 minutes late. No idea what the prescription said. Everything actually went very smoothly. I was in head cold fog, but managed to smile and nod and do the right things at the right times, as you do.

On the way home, I stop at local pharmacy (rather than evil CVS) to minimize the trauma and maximize the potential that I might, indeed, fill that prescription. I miscalculated. It's the 23rd, and yet school is still in session? There are about 20 private schools right next to the little shopping strip with the pharmacy, and so parking/driving was a bit, well, let's say third world. I pulled well past the school mess and managed to find a space--for those of you who know us, this is problematic as we love our cars and in fact don't go out unless we know there's a place to park--end space, protected on six sides from door dings/bumper rash/tree and bird droppings. So I found a space. I parked carefully. A passer-by came up--nice woman in her 30s--and waved my door open. I opened it, sniffled, squinted, said: yes? And she informed me that in fact, had I parked a few feet back, someone could park in front of me. And had I parked a few feet forward, someone could park behind me. And I should think about the community when I park, think about others.

I was non-plussed. She wasn't angry or agitated, just a bit preachy, which is fair enough I suppose. I said: yes, I know I parked this way. It's so that no one will hit my car when they park. She said: well, that's less important than caring about the community by parking so others can park. Now, having learned from Northern Exposure that sometimes the best cure for a conversation you don't understand is to stay silent and look slightly confused, I tried this. It worked. She walked away saying Merry Christmas; I said: okay, thanks! Merry Chrismtas! got out of my car and ran into the pharmacy.

It was weird.

And it got me thinking about community. She didn't want to commune with me in any way. No name, no introduction, no--hey, do you live around here too? You new to town? No interest in connecting with me as a human being. So it can't be about that, surely. What if I'd asked her if she'd like to join me for coffee at the nearby Starbucks to discuss said community? I don't know. That would have been communing. We could have discussed parking issues, perhaps gotten at what was wrong with her day. What kind of family she had visiting. What kind of car she drives.

I'm not a very community person, to be sure, what with the whole misanthrope thing. But perhaps community is also about accepting the eccentricities of those in your community who are a little (or a lot) different than you. She clearly has issues with not having enough parking around her house/business/life. I get that. I get the tire-slashing rage at lack of parking. Empathize. Been there. And she can have that issue. I have an issue with people damaging my property for no reason, causing me endless days of hassle, real money with insurance agents/plans, lack of transportation, and all over the holiday season when these things would really really be a pain. I know I'm weird. Other people don't have the car thing. But I do. So perhaps community is about recognizing that hey--that crazy lady with the new silver Mini just parked like an ass. She must love that car. Ah well. I guess if she drove an SUV instead of the shortest car in America (Smart car aside) she'd be taking up about the same amount of room, right?

And if we were all automatons parking properly, then frankly I wouldn't have this parking issue. But we're not. And that's what's interesting about community. It's about differences. People coming together despite and because of them. So thank you, fellow community member on the side of the road, scolding me despite the season. Go forth and do what makes you happy. I'll continue to park obnoxiously when I have to drive, 'cause I'm a bit weird. Coffee's on me next time we meet.

20 December 2008

Can someone explain California constitutional law to me?

There's something I don't understand. I keep running across references to court challenges to prop 8 that would overturn it because a constitutional convention should have been required to pass the amendment. A CNN article today describes this as follows:
Opponents are also seeking to have the amendment nullified, arguing that it alters the state's constitution -- meaning the state Supreme Court's May ruling -- and therefore, according to state law, is a revision that requires a constitutional convention.

Um, they argue that the amendment 'alters the constitution'. That's not an argument, that's the definition of an amendment.

The CA SC ruling is an interpretation of the CA constitution, saying that the constitution requires equal protection for the rights of individuals to marry, regardless of their sex. It overturned the referendum (why do they call these things 'ballot initiatives' these days; that's just confusing) DOMA law that passed in CA in 2004. SO....

It's obvious that the entire reason for being of prop 8 is to change the meaning of the constitution so that it WILL allow for discrimination in access to marriage based on sex.

Now it seems to be the case that somewhere in the CA constitution - I should go read it, but none of the articles that talk about this stuff give any cites or links, so I'm being stubborn - it distinguishes between amendments that require a convention and those that don't. At the moment, that sounds like a STUPID distinction. If you are altering the meaning of the highest law of the (state) land, then you are altering its meaning. I don't see how you can choose between minor alterations and radical ones. And who would decide, anyway, since we are already dealing with the most radical and fundamental political act there is - changing the constitution.

18 December 2008

Why Blogs are the Future

Whenever the future of the newspaper and publishing industry is discussed, someone is bound to make the claim that we can't let blogs take over, because we need the 'quality' of professional journalists and writers. 

First, I think the loss of investigative journalism would be a tragedy; I hope there is some way it can be maintained (I have no idea how). But the claims about 'professional' 'writers' is just rubbish. I'd much rather read the postings of any four members from Ffb then to deal with something like this: exhibit A

I don't expect anyone out there to read the whole article, but please read the first two paragraphs. And then, if you haven't already abandoned this post, come back here for my brief rant.

1. The quotation from the second paragraph repeats the lead from the first paragraph, almost verbatim - 'hard to call...an old team'. 

2. There are two quotes in the second paragraph and literally no words from the writer other than identifying the source. But the second quote repeats the first quote: 'it's an experienced group'. 

3. Most of the article is just like this: big blocks of cut and pasted quotations, with the occasional connector words.

4. Later on in the article, the author says that 'To upgrade their championship quotient, Johannson tabbed three members of the 2008 Memorial Cup [team]'. What the hell does tabbed mean here?

Sure, nhl.com is not the NYT or the TLS. But I'm sure the budget for the NHL website is not tiny, and if they are putting out unedited schlock like this, then I'll keep reading blogs.

13 December 2008

Chris in the morning

As an early Christmas present to ourselves we purchased the entirety of Northern Exposure, and we have been watching it over the past few weeks. The inevitable Cicely-Wasilla comparisons sprang to mind, of course (they have a mayoral election even), and it confirmed our impression that indeed television was better "back then." This is a family drama in which the family comprises the residents of a small town, brought into relief by the arrival of Joel, the New York doctor. It feels not at all strange that there are no children on the show, until you realize that there are no children on the show. It makes me miss the mountains and snow and glad that I don't eat out of a can or from a TV dinner, although it does fully legitimize those practices, something contemporary TV has forgotten about.

I find myself yearning for a voice over the radio like Chris, the trailer-living, long-haired, ex-felon from West Virginia who selects the music and muses on-air on various topics, reading aloud from his favorite books, and offering quotes from worthy tomes. It occurred to me that he was the first blogger--writing each day off the cuff, sharing moods, thoughts, reflections, protests, dreams--but I think that might sell him short. Cheapen the Chris in the morning experience somehow by associating it with YouTube craziness and diaristic ramblings. Because he didn't film the flinging of the piano in season 3. He just did it. And it was, indeed, about the flinging.

11 December 2008

you had me at hello

we must be getting old. because we find ourselves remarking about how the gaping hole of talent evident in contemporary popular culture--in particular in television dramas, films, and the like--is much much worse than when we were, er, young.

take romantic comedies, if you will. last week we went out and saw Four Christmases, ostensibly a funny, cute rom-com that was okay. funny, but (without putting out too big of a spoiler for anyone conscious in the first 15 minutes) while offering at first a glimpse, just a glimpse, of possible slightly non-traditional relationship between a man and a woman (how non-trad can you get with this, but still--there was potential), the film ends up protesting too much. the answer is indeed marriage, marriage, oh, and babies. And while funny along the way, I find a lot of movies these days moving in that direction--a simple retelling of the love--obstacle--marriage--babies narrative that either does not at all challenge the norm (oo! she is going the surrogate route! no, in fact she gets pregnant the traditional way in the end. ahh. oo! she might not want children and marriage! no, in fact she totally wants these things and has therefore been fooling herself her entire life. ahh.) Somehow only secondary or tertiary characters can be queer: Samantha in the Sex and the City movie, for example.

So it isn't surprising when we re-watch a film from the not-so-distant past and enjoy greatly the fact that while it has all of the elements of the rom-com, it is, well backwards: kid--marriage--love, and therefore actually gets things sort of right. That's right. Jerry-f'in-Mcguire. Cameron Crowe gets it. He gets love, he gets kids, he gets relationships, he gets friendships. He gets disapproving sisters, even. And he gets that the wedding or the pregnancy (contra Notting Hill) does not, in fact, always signal happiness, or the blissful end, or even, frankly, romance. The rom in rom-com involves getting the love. And while Four Christmases got us a bit of that--it's clear that the two main characters click and the chemistry is great--it fails to offer anything but the tired old answer: family and kids are why we are here. And if you're not in that box, you're not here.

I'm not asking for much--heavy duty art films would give me that, but they wouldn't be showing me something that others in the popular culture universe would be seeing. I'm just asking for a bit of critical edge. A bit of thinking outside the man+woman=marriage=inevitability box. And hey--how about a movie NOT about marriage or a wedding!! How about one without marriage or a wedding in it at all!

What am I thinking. not since T2. You had me at the pull-ups.

02 December 2008

History Repeating

Some big discoveries out there in the MSM today. First up, a real doozy: it turns out that this economic downturn exposes a powerful paradox. You see,  journalists have recently discovered a nasty feedback loop. It goes like this: 
  1. The recession and financial crisis leads people in the lower economic strata to cross the line of poverty and into really desperate need; it can also lead people in the middle economic strata - those who lose their jobs - to go straight from the comfortable category to the 'in need' category. And thus, the recession means a much greater need for charity
  2. However, the stock market crash and the economic downturn mean that people in the upper econcomic strata don't have as much to give. And the bleak forecast makes them less willing to give to charity.
Therefore, just when charity is needed, the resources for it have dried up. What an awful situation!

But wait, isn't this precisely the story of the Great Depression. Isn't this exactly the narrative that I taught to my American Politics students every single semester? Isn't this why we created the welfare state in the first place? And yet, this LA Times story is written as if in complete ignorance of such history. And it fails to even mention the possibility that private charity is not the solution to public welfare. Adding insult to injury, it keeps referring to the fraying 'safety net', given the problems charities are facing. But the 'safety net' is a metaphor Reagan coined to describe public welfare. We created a public safety net exactly because we realized that private charity was not the answer.

Next, it turns out that home prices DO GO DOWN. And that when they do, it's not a temporary blip before going up again. In fact, it turns out that there's a feedback loop here, because declining prices - and especially foreclosed homes back on the market at half their previous price - lead to a 'race for the bottom'. If you need to sell your house, and A) there's a foreclosure down the street + B) you know the value of your house will be less next month than it is this month, then the answer is to drop the price A LOT. 

Hmmm...someone should come up with a name for this cyclical nature of capitalism. I don't know, maybe we could call it 'The Business Cycle'. I have to give 19th century capitalists their due: at least they realized such a thing exists. We are now almost one year into the worst recession in, at the very least, a quarter of a century. We are now a ways into one of the worst housing collapses in history. We could have prepared for these things just a bit, cushioned the blow just a tad, but instead everyone was denying reality up until just a few months ago...Lots of people saw this coming, but they were laughed at. Literally. This video is a bit long, but I think it's worth it for the way the talking heads utterly dismiss Schiff, especially the Fox News people who laugh in his face: