Friday, April 25, 2008

New Obama Ad in West Virginia

"Fat Lady...White Courtesy Telephone Please..."

Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central runs down the electoral math. Summary: Hillary's done.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Helicopter Parents

Dana Goldstein muses on "helicopter" (i.e., overprotective) parents. The particular "offense" a parent committed was to let her 9 year old ride the New York subway a few blocks from the Upper East Side to the Midtown West neighborhoods in Manhattan, for which she has received criticism for "neglecting" her child.

Firstly, I think *not* letting your child ride the subway between two safe neighborhoods in Manhattan could be argued to be "neglecting" to teach him to be autonomous and independent...but that argument would also be basically ridiculous, because it cheapens the meaning of "child neglect." What's lost is any sense of perspective - if whether or not your child rides the subway alone constitutes "child neglect," what would describe, say, selling your child into prostitution?

One commenter in the Tapped thread gets to something worth mentioning:

The only thing notable or newsworthy here was that this parent let a RICH, WHITE 9-year-old ride the subway alone.

Anyone who has taken the subway to slightly further-flung parts of the city knows that small-to-medium-sized kids routinely ride either alone, or with a friend but no adult -- but those kids are usually neither wealthy nor white.

I find it pretty depressing that parents can get up in arms about the ostensible horror of letting one kid briefly do the kind of thing that most kids with less privilege do, by necessity, all the time. Some kids are apparently just more precious, or media-attention-worthy, than others. The whole universe in which what this parent did is controversial has too much race and class privilege, as far as I'm concerned.

Well, exactly. There is an awful lot of status anxiety in play in the world of upper-middle and upper-class parenting - one mis-step, and you're in danger of being demoted to the increasingly economically strained world the rest of us live in. I think a partial explanation ought to include the increasing strain being put on middle-middle-class and poorer families, who have not gotten a raise in the last 30 years.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More DC Stuff...

I went to the Vietnam Memorial wall today, and was quite moved by what I saw there.

I saw a black granite wound in the heart of a place that represents the United States, a wound that still has not healed. I saw a woman looking at panel 61E, at a particular name there, and crying softly as tourists flowed around her.

I saw a man in his sixties. He stood frozen in front of panel 41W, staring as if transfixed. His face was an expressionless mask as he reached out very, very slowly with one hand: and when his fingertips at last found the name of some lost buddy he had been seeking, his face broke, and he quietly wept. His wife stood behind him, with her hand on his shoulder, doing her best to be attentive to him.

I saw a black granite wound, but also a place where the mourning wounded can bring their grief; a place that can bring a measure of healing to those who make a pilgrimage to it.

God Bless Maya Lin.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Road Trip: Dateline: Washington DC

I've arrived in Washington DC, after a 4 day drive across the United States.

I'm staying with a friend in suburban Maryland, and today I took the Metro (the DC Subway) into Washington DC.

The weather was off-and-on-rain, but I managed to avoid most of the heavier downpours and take in the National Mall.

The Capitol building itself is quite impressive and imposing, almost to the point of silliness. Seeing the thing close up and "in-person" for the first time made quite an impression on me - the building is just absolutely colossal, with marble columns that are probably a good fraction of 100 feet tall. I got some sense of the power exercised in that place, and it was both impressive a a little disquieting.

There is a Catholic church near the Metro Center called St. Patricks. I stopped in to pray for a few minutes, to thank God for a safe drive from California to DC. More soon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hunter at Daily Kos gets blunt... his Daily Kos front page post [Warning: he uses rather salty language at times] discussing the media's ridiculous obsession with faux "controversies" that are currently taking up pundit's time on the cable "news" networks. An excerpt:

There is a profound lesson to be taken from Orangejuicegate, or Bowlinggate, or Bittergate, and that lesson is that the guardians of our discourse are, at heart, idiots. There is no other explanation or redemption. Anyone attempting to draw out character definition from a glass of orange juice is, at heart, someone who has entirely run out of insightful things to say. Anyone attempting to make the case that a bowling score represents the measure of a man deserves to be basted, roasted, and served to whatever imbecile of a president does manage to rise to the top of their addled internal scoresheet.

They have a right to be bitter, I'd say

Robert Reich posts on the controversy over Obama's comments that working class Pennsylvanians are "bitter" about their circumstances:

I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 61 years ago. My father sold $1.98 cotton blouses to blue-collar women and women whose husbands worked in factories. Years later, I was secretary of labor of the United States, and I tried the best I could – which wasn’t nearly good enough – to help reverse one of the most troublesome trends America has faced: The stagnation of middle-class wages and the expansion of povety. Male hourly wages began to drop in the early 1970s, adjusted for inflation. The average man in his 30s is earning less than his father did thirty years ago. Yet America is far richer. Where did the money go? To the top.

Are Americans who have been left behind frustrated? Of course. And their frustrations, their anger and, yes, sometimes their bitterness, have been used since then -- by demagogues, by nationalists and xenophobes, by radical conservatives, by political nuts and fanatical fruitcakes – to blame immigrants and foreign traders, to blame blacks and the poor, to blame "liberal elites," to blame anyone and anything.

Rather than counter all this, the American media have wallowed in it. Some, like Fox News and talk radio, have given the haters and blamers their very own megaphones.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

All-American Idolatry

Morning's Minion over at Vox Nova links to this post by a Catholic priest, in which the priest looks approvingly at symbols of American miltary prowess.

About 10 years ago, I used to work with a woman named Callie, who was from New Zealand. She was about as apolitical as they come - I don’t think she’d ever voted in her life, in either New Zealand or the US.

We were sitting around the office one evening with a couple of beers, shooting the breeze after a long, hectic day taking care of the last of the seasonal inventory, and I asked her, “What was the first thing you noticed about America when you arrived here?”

She sort of paused, as if to judge my possible reactions to what she was about to say, and then said, “Well…everywhere you go here, you’re swimming in propaganda.”

I was surprised, and asked her what she meant, and she said, “I always hear people on the news and in the government saying that ‘America is the most powerful nation on earth.’ ”

“Well…I guess it’s true, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Sure, of course. But have you ever asked yourself why that is said on a regular basis?”

I guess I looked even more confused, because she said, “Let me ask you to try something for me. The next time you go to the city, just drive around randomly and stop every 5 minutes. Get out of the car, and look around for an American flag. I would bet you good money that there will never be an occasion where an American flag is not visible.”

So, the next weekend, my girlfriend and I drove over the Bay Bridge and into San Francisco, and tried this. I drove, she kept time, and every 5 minutes she would say, “Stop!” and I would pull over at the next safe spot.

Callie, my coworker, was right: there was never a place where an American flag was not visible. We made 20 stops, and most of the time we did not even have to get out of the car to find one. This was in late February, not the 4th of July or Memorial Day (and before 9/11/01).

Nationalism saturates American life - it is just the ever-present, ambient sound coming from every form of corporate media, 24/7/365, so ever-present that it has become, in an odd way, invisible. I have come to understand that it is idolatry - subtler, arguably, than building a golden calf, but no less idolatrous. And it disturbs me a great deal.

I expect Catholic priests (and, come to mention it, Catholic laity) to stand up against this sort of thing. That a priest would play along with this is not really surprising (I doubt he has ever really thought it through) but it is a sad reminder for me that we Catholics, at every level of our society and in every vocation, me included, have failed to do our jobs of providing clear witness against this Moloch-like “Machinery of Night,” to borrow a phrase from Allen Ginsberg.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Those People

What’s missing from a lot of discussions white people have about race, is any sense of the concrete, complex humanity of the people being discussed.

“Blackpeopleintheghetto” is a glib abstraction, a sort of quick mental categorization, which does not bear virtually any relationship to the people who were my neighbors in Richmond, California. For those who know the area, I grew up almost exactly between the Kennedy Manor and Easter Hill housing projects, in a solidly working-class black neighborhood - in the 1960s and into the 1970s - we were the only white family in the neighborhood. (We moved in 1976, to a town called Benicia - kind of like Mayberry RFD, only with Californian rather than Southern accents.)

Some of the most noble and Godly people I have ever been blessed to know lived in that neighborhood. Most of the parents in the ‘hood had moved in the 1940s to Richmond to get War work in the shipyard (building liberty ships mostly).

Think about how long ago, say, 1988 is from this moment. That was the amount of time separating the folks in the neighborhood in 1975 from a time when they lived in the Jim Crow, pre-civil-rights South, and could be lynched - taken out on some back road, emasculated and hung - for calling a white woman by her first name.

Imagine the psychological devastation that was wrought in people who experienced that culture: because of an accident of melanin, they could be murdered for performing the intrinsically human act of speaking with kindly familiarity to a woman they might actually be acquainted with.

There was a family down the street I’ll call the Millers. Dad worked in the Chevron chemical plant, mom was a part-time secretary at the school district office. 5 kids, the youngest of whom was in my class at Pullman Elementary.

The oldest boy, named Duane, had had polio, and walked with a pronounced limp. Duane had one of the kindest, most tender hearts I’ve ever been privileged to know. He used to look out for me sometimes when things in the neighborhood got rough.

One day when I was..oh, probably 6 years old, I was over at the Millers’ house visiting my friend from school, and Duane got the new Chihuahua dog they had just gotten, and handed the dog to me to see - and the little mutt bit me on the stomach and held on with its teeth. I screamed with pain and fear, and Duane hurriedly got the dog off me.

His mom came running, and when I told her what had happened, Duane, right there on the spot, was beaten by his mom. She shoved him, his bad leg just collapsed, and his mother just…attacked. He got the beating of his life right there in front of me.

When she was done, she turned to me and apologized in obsequious and anxious tones: “Duane didn’t mean it - he was just playing - just tell your mama it was an accident…”

At the time, it struck me as strange - here was this big, powerful woman, and she was begging for my forgiveness?

She had met my parents, had sat and talked with my mom many times over coffee - she knew my parents were about the furthest thing possible from the racists she had left behind in Alabama.

But here’s the thing. In a time in her life no more remote from that moment than 1988 is from us today, Duane’s carelessness with a white boy might have put their well-being, even their lives, in danger. She struck Duane not out of anger, but deep, unreasoning terror.


Yes, the neighborhood could be, at times, almost saturated with an atmosphere of latent violence - but there was also deep, agape love, a love so profound and simple that it gave me a taste of what heaven might be like.

There was elderly Mrs. Pender next door, who had had a stroke and walked with a walker. Her husband, Mr Pender, had the most awe-inspiring lawn on the block - he probably weeded the thing with tweezers - but his wife was the real gift to the neighborhood. She would take me in sometimes when the ‘hood got extra crazy, and tell me that she knew, just knew, that one day I would grow up to be someone really special.

There’s the elderly black lady I met one day when I was selling door-to-door. The whole enterprise, while technically not fraudulent, was making me pretty uncomfortable. Lots of the salesmen loved selling to ghetto addresses – they would just wave a couple free months of service in the na├»ve resident’s faces, kinda forget to mention the charges that would hid after that two month grace period, and rack up sales. I worked the ghetto when I had to, but for some strange reason I never seemed to get very many sales there.

One day, I knocked on some humble little basement-apartment door, and the door opened to reveal a frail woman who had the kindest eyes I had ever seen - it was as if she were staring right through the glib salesman veneer, past all the BS, and directly into my soul, and genuinely appreciating, unconditionally loving, the qualities she saw there. It was as if I were staring dumbstruck into the very Face of Christ. To paraphrase St Thomas Aquinas, I could sell no more.

There is a woman I know who lost both of her grandchildren to murder - both in their mid-teens. To see this woman is to see the virtual physical incarnation of soul-crushing grief - she walks with stooped shoulders, and to look into her face is to see care-lines that have little to do with age, and lots to do with gazing into the coffins of two grandchildren she had loved with primal, protective, simple, profound, unconditional love.

And yet, she spends practically every waking moment working in outreach programs for at-risk youth. She sees some straighten out their lives and make it out. Some she loses to murder or prison (the ones in prison she writes to; the ones who were murdered she prays for.) She is a saint.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Suburbs Have No Future

In the wake of the disruptions to our civilization which result from peak oil, I'm of the opinion that most people will view raising kids in auto-dependent suburbs as an act of (inadvertent) cruelty.

Living on a quarter-acre lot in some ugly subdivision (that probably calls itself something like "The Estates at Hampton Commons"...) is going to become economically impossible in a world of rare, expensive motor fuel: I'm going to write more about this is a later post, but no combination of bio-diesel, ethanol, fuel-cells, or anything else ["technology"] is going to allow the continuation of our current, low-density-suburb, auto-dependent way of life to continue.

Dick Cheney once famously described this way of life as non-negotiable - and it isn't, though not in the sense that he meant. The laws of physics will be dictating the terms of our surrender, and that's that.

Friday, April 04, 2008

One Good Thing about Peak Oil...

Peak Oil is a particular concern of mine, but today it occurred to me that there is an upside: car dealers will, sooner or later, be a thing of the past. I cannot adequately describe the bitterness with which I hate car dealers.

I'm in the market for a used car - I'd really like a Toyota Corolla, '03 or newer (any Bay Area readers want to sell me their car?) so I go into the local Toyota dealership, motivated to buy and ready to bargain.

A sales associate named Jimmy, maybe 20 years old, shows me a Corolla I'm interested in: 2003, LE model, previously owned by a non-smoker, good condition. I say, "let's go sit and talk." and we go sit at the table in the showroom where little old ladies get fleeced. "Looks interesting. What do you want for it?" I ask.

"$11,500, but we'll entertain any reasonable offer," sales associate tells me.

I look at him like, nice try, and tell him, "Go tell your boss I'll give him $8,500 for the car, cash."

So, Young Hungry Sales Associate goes and gets his boss, who turns out to be an extremely oily guy with silver hair dressed like he's just come off the golf links at the country club.

He sits down at the table, looks at me, and with an "I'm going to confide in you" tone of voice says, "Jimmy here tells me you've offered $8,500 for the car."


"Well, I should let you know, we paid $10,500 for that car, and we can't just give- "

Well, as I said, I just hate car dealers with a special, festering rage reserved just for them; I basically think they're all a bunch of crooks, so that just set me off.

"Hey, Golf-Shirt-Guy," I interrupted. "You paid ten-five for that car? Really?! I hear you say that, and know for an absolute certainty that one of two things is true: either you're a moron and paid $3,500 more than the Kelly trade-in value for the car, in which case Jimmy here needs to polish his resume, because you're gonna be out of business in a month or two; or, you're lying to me. Which is it?"

He changed to a try-to-understand-my-position tone, and said, "Well, you have to understand - It costs money to keeps the lights on, plus rent for a location like-"

"Yeah, whatever, dude -- whine about it to your accountant. Here's the thing: you paid...ok, I'll be generous and assume some idiot sales associate signed the papers before you could check...$7200, tops, for that car. Since I'm paying cash, I figure the paperwork to sell me this car will take about 15 minutes. Do you want to make $1500 for 15 minutes of work? That's $100 per minute: Hell, I'd take that. Take it or leave it."

He went away for a few minutes, and came back with a sales paper that had $9500 as the price. I threw it in his lap, recommended that he perform an anatomically impossible act, and walked out in the middle of his sentence. I noticed Jimmy had turned his back, and was laughing his ass off.

I so, SO hate car dealers.