Friday, January 27, 2012

Red Tails: The Black Super Hero Movie

Red Tails posterI went to see Red Tails yesterday, without having read any reviews of the movie.  I went because I saw George Lucas on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart explain how difficult it had been for him to get the picture made, saying “Hollywood isn’t interested in a film with an all-black cast.
My mailman, on the other hand, took his 13-year-old son to see it last weekend, when it opened.  The youngster told his dad it was “the best movie he had ever seen.”
I am in favor of any movie that sets out to portray African-American heroes who aren’t totally fictitious and based on wishful thinking.  The Tuskegee Airmen, the “experiment” in the U.S. Army to test the widespread belief that Negroes were innately inferior cowards who either couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up in the face of life-threatening combat, were and remain bona fide war heroes.
I was born six months after May 1944, the date stated at the start of the movie.  My bio-father and all the other age-eligible men in my family were not there for my arrival because they were fighting in World War II. With my frame of reference so tied to the events covered in the movie, I was instantly along for the ride.
George Lucas is known for spectacle -- epic stories told with eye-boggling special effects.  I might be wrong, but I don’t think he is the first movie producer who comes to mind when we think of pithy dialogue, historical detail or exemplary dramatic acting.
The story is becoming better known than it had been before HBO produced The Tuskegee Airmen made-for-television movie in 1995.  A 1925 Army War College report  concluded that African Americans might be effective soldiers, but maintained that "in the process of evolution, the American Negro has not progressed as far as the other subspecies of the human family." (Red Tails opens with a quote from this report.) “Colored” men, it held, were both physically and intellectually incapable of enduring the demands of combat, much less flight. And, they lacked bravery, the report claimed.
Although African Americans had valiantly served in the Civil War, on the frontier in the Indian Wars, in the Spanish American War and in World War I, white politicians and military officers still publicly professed to doubt black ability and patriotism, as part of the ideology and propaganda that undergirded Jim Crow in all of its pernicious forms. The crucial change came in 1938, primarily because of the efforts of an African-American woman, Mary McLeod Bethune, who saw, before most other black leaders, a way to break the hold of racism on black participation in the military, by striking at the most resistant obstacle of all: the integration of the pilot program.” {The, 1/25/2012, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.}
 The movie uses the quote from the War College report as the film’s jumping off point, apparently giving the audience generous credit for knowing their Black History.
 I watched the movie as a clueless movie fan, without giving much thought to what critics might think.  I was, at times, breathless with the excitement the cinematography provided.  The video game quality of action we have come to expect from deftly-applied CGI is a major part of the film.  One can easily see why a 13-year-old boy would find it captivating.

I left the theater very pleased.  I had been entertained.  I had seen at least passable acting, although I am starting to question what the very busy Terrence Howard brings to the table besides his undeniable fineness of face. I had fun, like I used to when I went to action movies with war themes.

There was, however, only one character who seemed to be bothered by the actual result of his unit’s heroics – the flight captain.  It is fitting that he would have developed a drinking problem as a result of his concerns, but I had to conclude all that for myself, because the script never really makes the connection.  The young pilots regarded their targets the same way our gaming children look at targets on their X-Boxes.  There is no regard at all for the humans who are manning the ships they blew up or flying the enemy planes they shot down with glee.  I told myself I was trying to be too evolved for the genre.
I came home and immediately searched out the critics’ opinions.  Rotten was my first stop.  I was stunned to see that most professional critics had panned the film.  Fifty-five of the 85 critics who reviewed it, gave it negative reviews. 
Red Tails review
While not standing on their stadium seats cheering, the paying audience liked the film far more than they didn’t.  And look at this:
Red Tails box office
Those movies that received the highest ratings last weekend also took in the least amount of money.  And Red Tails came in second!
My theory is the following:
  1. Movie critics take themselves way too seriously.  Not every film has to be laden with historical context at the expense of entertainment.  This film is more like a super hero flick, in the fashion of Dark Knight (Batman) and Iron Man.  The difference is it attempts to stay true to the 1940s.
  2. The one-dimensional character charge is unfair, given the intent of the film.  No, we don’t learn the backstory of each of the pilots.  Neither do we learn the slings and arrows the officers played by Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. suffered to attain their ranks.  Do we really need to?
  3. One of my stepfathers fought in the Japanese theater of WWII.  He came home from the war with a “souvenir”-- the dagger he had used to slay a Japanese soldier in hand-to-hand combat, blood stains intact.  He spoke a language that was pure military.  It was as corny as hell.  That’s the way they talked back then.  But the average age of the critics who reviewed the film on Rotten Tomatoes is probably at least half of mine.  What would they know about the veracity of the dialogue?  Roger Ebert, on the other hand, critic extraordinaire and a man of a certain age, rated the film much more positively.
  4. Does every film that deals with race have to be somber and reverent, true to every aspect of what has gone before?  Maybe, just maybe, we can teach a lot more white audience members more about black history if we don’t try to bludgeon them with deep historical dives.  This story speaks for itself.  Brave people lobbied for a chance; when given the chance, the pilots rose to the occasion; and the white pilots they protected and escorted to their destinations while fighting off enemy fire were damned happy to see them when they showed up. 
What happened before and after this relatively isolated story of prejudice, valor and realization?  Another movie; another time.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The State of My Resolve


Someone asked me yesterday where my post about the President’s State of the Union address was.  Of course I watched every second of it.  I had decided not to write about it at all.  Sometimes, it is best to leave the Debbie Downer essays to others who have far more practice.

However – that “someone” I mentioned above was the Reagan-loving ideologue whose last name I have carried for the past 34 years.  He seemed to be itching for another round of our traditional Matalin-Carville impersonations.  It was our way of life, even before he became my ex-husband waaaaaay back in 1985.

One thing my ex is NOT is a racist.  It was his bright idea to walk his blue-eyed-blond self down the aisle with me back in 1978. That was a time when white men marrying black women was still very much an oddity in America.  His conservatism is purely on the fiscal level, but what he doesn’t seem to understand is that these days, ALL conservatives run the risk of being suspected racists.  And when he sent me his characteristically terse assessment of the SOTU – all bad, of course – my immediate reaction was just a tad irrational.

I have since recovered and remembered the debate ground rules we established all those decades ago.  These debates had been the source of entertainment for us, especially during Presidential election cycles.  We argued endlessly about Jimmy Carter during his term as President.  But then he’d turn around and buy me a “From Peanuts to President” watch featuring Carter’s toothy grin.

Anyway, here is an excerpt of the email he sent today:

I look forward to your blog on the State of the Union address.  I guess Obama figures "if you can't be consistent" as he repeated themes from previous SOTU speeches. 
What a piece of work, and what a waste!

  • He could have had a bipartisan health care bill if he would have told Nancy not to lock out Republicans.
  • He could have had a bipartisan finance reform bill if he would have told Messrs.'. Dodd and Frank to let Republican ideas be included.
  • He could have us on our way to some energy independence and some job creation if he would have allowed the XL Pipeline.
  • He could have us on our way to some energy independence and some job creation if he would lift the restrictions on drilling both on shore and off.
  • Instead he invests in Solyndra.

And the list goes on.  He came to office with so many hopes and so much positive energy from so many people and he just devolved into a Chicago Pol, promoting at any cost an ideology.  What a shame and what a penalty all of us will pay. 
Hopefully a brighter day begins in less than one year from now.

Usually, such talk causes me to spring into action, countering with arguments to each point, defending my ideals, my points of view, and above all, my President.  But this time, all I felt was battle fatigue. 

This exercise we put ourselves through every four years feels more and more like the four years I spent in high school.  We’d go to pep rallies and spout off these inane rhyming cheers declaring the other school’s players and fans our mortal enemies:  Our team is red hot!  Their team is doodely-squat!  Aside from the coach and one or two of the returning varsity players, none of us had ever laid eyes on these people.  Yet we were adamant that they were worthless clowns who should be playing with the Frosh.  They had no redeeming value whatsoever, simply because they stood between us and what we had to have: THE WIN.

The truth is, I came away from that speech discouraged.  It wasn’t that President Obama did a poor job of delivering the speech.  He was fantastic!  He looked more confident than I have ever seen him.  Upbeat.  Powerful.  Presidential.  He was on a high, and I was right there with him – as long as I didn’t listen too hard to the words.  Because the words were just that:  words.  He lost me at “…America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about.

I WANT to believe he is going to do what he said he was going to do.  Nobody is prouder of his gutsy decisiveness in going after that bearded bastard in Pakistan who engineered the death and destruction of 9/11.  That took nerves of steel and balls of pure titanium. 

But every time he challenged Congress to send him a bill to sign, that little voice named Cynic started whispering in my ear.  “Yeah, right.”  Because in my mind, there is no chance in hell that Congress will ever do that.  No matter how many times the President inches closer to the center on the issues held sacrosanct by the conservatives in Congress, it will never be enough, because they have one objective and ONLY one.  “No more years!”

Just like the members of Congress who have made it their mission to unseat Obama, my ex already knows the reasons for the list he sent me today.  And just like the members of Congress, he refuses to consider any aspect of those reasons as valid.  He’d rather be upset because he can’t buy incandescent light bulbs anymore.  That’s one of the two mistakes he will concede was made by George “W” Bush.  The other was the GM bailout.

My guy has made a helluva lot more mistakes than two and so did Bush.  I am still an avid admirer of the man who is Obama.  The husband.  The father.  The regular guy who can sing an Al Green soul tune with genuine soul.  The charisma and charm.  But remember that question the Repubs just love to pose?  “How’s that hope and change working for ya?”

It’s not.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unemployment: Caught between Classes

This post was written in response to an Open Salon open call to write about debunking the unemployment myths of poor work habits and the preference of government handouts over a paying job.

It’s not that I’m looking for sympathy; not the “woe is me” kind, anyway.  I’m not interested in getting involved in pity parties.  I abhor pity.  Understanding and non-judgment would feel just about right.  That’s what people like me, people who don’t deserve sympathy or pity, could use a healthy dose of.

I was one of the lucky ones.  A childhood friend loved to point that out to me, especially if I had the audacity to sound as if I was complaining about my high-paying job.  She worked just as hard.  She put up with just as much bullshit from The Man as I did.  But, in her mind, she was entitled to a little whining.  I wasn’t.

My friend believed my success was the result of things over which I had little control.  Brains.  Looks.  Skin color.  Never mind how hard I worked in school.  Never mind how much pride I had to swallow to survive in the corporate cesspool.  I was lucky.  She was not.

My so-called luck wasn’t worth much when The Recession That Is Really a Great Depression set in.  I was just as laid off as  my next-door neighbor or the stranger in the next neighborhood.  One day I had a job, the next day I didn’t. 

I had already retired from my 25-year career at a Fortune 100 corporation.  My plan was in place and I was in the process of implementing it when I started to read the faint handwriting emerging on my wall.  The way prices were rising, my retirement money was not lasting as long as it was supposed to last.  I needed to unload my beloved home of 17 years sooner, rather than later.  It needed updating to be competitive in what was fast becoming a buyers’ market.  I had hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity, so pulling some of that equity out to remodel made all the sense in the world.

Until it didn’t.  I had already completed the refinance and the remodel when I became uncomfortably aware of the softening of the housing market.  By the time I was able to complete a sale, it was a short sale that took me 18 months to cajole the bank into accepting.  I had lost all my equity, of course.  My retirement plan was in shambles, much like my nerves.

I had taken a full-time job making less than half of what I had been earning before retirement.  The small sales training company foundered when its corporate clients began slashing training budgets.  The paycheck that was allowing me to make my mortgage payments without having to use funds from my 401(k) suddenly went away.  I begged the employer to give me the proper paperwork to allow me to collect unemployment benefits.

I felt like a woman dropped into the middle of the ocean with only one water wing.  Swimming in circles while I searched for another paying job, it soon became clear my full-time job had become doing battle with my mortgage lender.  I was ashamed of having to go, in person, to the unemployment office and wait for hours to apply for UI.  No matter how many people told me there was nothing to be ashamed of, I still was.  This was my first dance with “government handouts.”  I had never received any kind of government aid and I was raised to believe that was something of which I could be very proud.  I felt foolish.  I was a failure.  And I was so ashamed.

But I also feel I have no basis for complaint.  Throughout the recession, I have never had to worry about my next meal or my next month’s rent.  Yes, it IS rent instead of a mortgage, which at one time would have been a devastating step down for me.  I am able to get by on a small pension and Social Security, plus the small amount I have left in my seriously depleted retirement account.  The lights are on, the heat is on, the dog is still a pampered diva.
I feel a strange sense of relief that I am no longer collecting unemployment because my benefits ran out.  And that luck, for which I have been so envied, did send my way a six-month writing contract that added welcome new funds to my stash.

I no longer search for a job.  At age 67, I feel guilty taking a job that someone who needs it more than I do could have.  My life has changed dramatically and permanently, but it is not a bad life at all.  I seem to have passed on the “Lucky Gene” to my son – or so my old friend tells me.  Never mind that he has paid his dues in spades in Hollywood for 14 years, scraping together rent money any way he could.

One thing I have learned for sure:  Unemployment is just as much a state of mind as it is fiscal reality.  It does something bad to a person’s self-esteem.  It has absolutely nothing to do with poor work habits or contentment with government handouts.  It sucks.  I would tell you to ask my next-door neighbor, if you don’t believe me, but you can’t.  He committed suicide a year ago.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Newtie Had a Fit and Fell in It

 A friend of mine asked me yesterday why on earth I would watch the Republican Presidential debates.  He wondered if I felt my blood pressure was too low and needed elevating.

I agree it is a rather masochistic thing to subject myself to, especially since they seem to happen every other day of late.  I do it in order not to be  guilty of the thing I deplore in people on the opposite side of any issue – not listening.
And so it was last night, when I made sure to be tuned to CNN at 8 p.m., so as not to miss anything, given the kind of wild day on the stump the GOP had on Thursday.  Rick Perry suddenly discovered he was wasting his time.  Rick Santorum suddenly discovered he had actually won in Iowa.  And a woman once married to the man his mother charmingly referred to as “Newtie” decided to have a chat with ABC.

The elegant John King sat at the moderator’s podium and introduced the four remaining contenders for the Republican nomination for the 2012 Presidential election. 

And then he said this:

And just as speaker Gingrich surged into contention here in South Carolina, a direct fresh character attack on the Speaker.  
And Mr Speaker, I want to start with that this evening.  
As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with The Washington Post. And this story has now gone viral on the internet. In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.
Would you like to take some time to respond to that?  
When Mitt Romney is presented with a question he would prefer not to answer,  his slick exterior stiffens and his tongue suddenly twists itself into speech-defying positions.  All that so-called “looking Presidential’ disappears and is replaced by bumbling.  Not so Speaker Newt.
Nobody can say “Fuck you!” more eloquently than Newt.Gingrich.  By the time he got through eviscerating John King and all the other “elite media” types who ever lived, somebody should probably have called the paramedics to attend to the news man, who tried desperately to look unfazed.

Oooooooowheeeeee!  One can only imagine what it would be like to cross His Speakership in a closed meeting where he is unencumbered by the invasive media cameras.  I pictured a meeting between Newtie and Iran's President  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and saw the diminutive leader flying out of his shoes as the result of a Gingrich rant -- followed closely by the whine of missiles heading toward the U.S. coastline.
Can we change that slogan to "Anybody but Newt, please?"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dr. King Would Not Be Pleased

The ironies of human life are almost unbearable sometimes.  Like today, the national observance of the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Living as I do in the city Dr. King made famous, my local Atlanta news station covers the annual MLK services at Ebenezer Baptist Church minute by David Scottminute.  Though I have frankly tired of the redundancy of the speeches delivered by members of his family and local politicians, I dutifully tuned in this morning in time to hear the preacheresque  delivery of a stemwinder by U.S. Representative David Scott, my Inman Park neighbor whom I often see watering his front yard in his pajamas and robe.

Scott whipped the congregation of Atlanta’s movers and shakers into the appropriate frenzy, using the opportunity to encourage all of us to get out and vote in the Presidential election in November.  He did a little Jessie Jackson rhyming.  He threw in the list of Obama accomplishments that are so often omitted and ignored by his opposing aspirants.  And he ended by dramatically reciting the lyrics of the great Billie Holliday’s God Bless the Child:

Them that's got shall get
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Just in case the message of us- versus-them didn’t convey, the next speaker, Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal walked to the podium Nathan Dealwhile the crowd continued to whoop and holler, as if possessed by the Holy Spirit they speak and sing so much about.  This will be the first time I have ever had such a thought – much less articulate it – but I felt a tad sorry for the Governor.  From the look on his face, so did he!

Nathan Deal was first elected to the U.S. Congress in November 1992 as a Democrat.  But as soon as Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995 for the first time in 40 years, Deal joined the Republican Party then led by Speaker Newt Gingrich.  He remained a member of Congress until he took office as Governor of Georgia in January 2011.

One would probably wonder how a man who has accepted the obligatory invitation to address the King Day congregation has acquitted himself on the topic of Civil Rights.  On the lists his voting record:

Click here for 14 full quotes on Civil Rights OR background on Civil Rights.
  • Voted NO on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Nov 2007)
  • Voted YES on Constitutionally defining marriage as one-man-one-woman. (Jul 2006)
  • Voted YES on making the PATRIOT Act permanent. (Dec 2005)
  • Voted YES on Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage. (Sep 2004)
  • Voted YES on protecting the Pledge of Allegiance. (Sep 2004)
  • Voted YES on constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration. (Jun 2003)
  • Voted YES on banning gay adoptions in DC. (Jul 1999)
  • Voted YES on ending preferential treatment by race in college admissions. (May 1998)
  • Supports anti-flag desecration amendment. (Mar 2001)
  • Rated 7% by the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights voting record. (Dec 2002)
  • Issue a commemorative postage stamp of Rosa Parks. (Dec 2005)
  • Rated 0% by the HRC, indicating an anti-gay-rights stance. (Dec 2006)
  • Rated 14% by the NAACP, indicating an anti-affirmative-action stance. (Dec 2006)
  • Supports Amendment to prevent same sex marriage. (Aug 2010) 
 It will probably come as no surprise to the reader that Nathan Deal vigorously supports the Georgia law that requires a photo I.D. in order to cast a vote.  In the speech he had just delivered, David Scott had urged those in attendance not to allow that law to get them down, which Scott believes it was designed to do.  Many in the state believe the law was passed specifically to suppress the African American vote.
So there he was, at the podium, a little ashen, waiting in vain for the crowd to quiet itself.  Even as he tried to begin his remarks over the din, some over enthusiastic members of the audience shouted over him.

What did Deal have to say?  I couldn’t tell you.  I did not stick around to hear the lies and platitudes that would make even a peacemaker like Martin Luther King, Jr. want to slap His Honor the Governor upside his head.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Weight Wars


This is a sad story.  It is not a new story, or a terribly original one, but it is sad.

At roughly the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day, the American marketing machine began its annual assault on blubber.  Never willing to miss a chance to capitalize on the foibles of undisciplined, sedentary couch tubers, retailers roll out the New Year’s Resolution brigade to peddle gym memberships, high-priced machines that allegedly evaporate newly-acquired fat cells surrounding abdomens and derrieres from coast to coast.

Most of the time I try to ignore the whole siege.  I don’t make resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise.  I just decide and do.  Or I don’t decide and I don’t do.  More of the latter, I confess, but it’s better than failing to meet a goal!

Two years ago I decided to drop at least 20 pounds in time for my 44th college reunion.  I started in March, 2010 and by June 2010 I had lost 32.  That was satisfying as all get out, but there was a bigger challenge, and I knew it.  Almost anyone can lose weight when they put their minds (and mouths) to it.  The real challenge is keeping it gone. I wanted to accomplish that.

The lowest weight I achieved stayed at that level for exactly one week.  Even though I continued to eat the exact same way I had for the previous three months,  fluctuations in water retention and other bodily functions kept my weight bouncing back and forth by a pound, but never as low as that all-time low again.

Between months 1 and 6 after that low, my weight crept up around four pounds, still with the same eating patterns, but with my mind games starting to creep in almost unnoticed by the conscious me.  Salt and sugar seem to be the culprits in my metabolism.  During the diet period, I was religious about keeping both at bay.  But after the reunion, without a specific motive, my resolve began to slip.  For example, popcorn as a snack is fine if it is popped with little or no oil and salt.  But it is also pretty boring and bland.  So I began “compromising.”  Surely one gentle shake of salt won’t hurt anything.  And I’ll just use one tablespoon of Smart Balance buttery spread to pop it in for flavor.

I got away with that for quite a while, with my weight staying more or less plateaued.  In fact, it worked for a whole year, even with occasional “splurges” of steaks slightly bigger than the palm of my hand and frequent popcorn snacks.  So for some 18 months after the diet, I was holding my own in the maintenance challenge.

Christmas 2011 arrived and with it the need for gifts for people such as the mailman, my former gardener who is still a friend, neighbors and unexpected guests.  I have traditionally made cookies for these purposes.  Last year I resisted the whining of my former gardener friend and skipped the baking.  This year, I gave in.

If I ever doubted the notion that eating carbs causes carb cravings, I know it for certain now.  On the first day of the baking, I succumbed to the habit of licking the mixer beaters and bowl after removing the batter or dough. The sweetness of real sugar was shocking to my taste buds – almost sickening, to be honest.  Next came the warm cookies along with the intoxication of their aromas. One cookie can’t hurt. 

Don’t make me write it.  You know the rest.

It is five pounds later and I am up a total of ten pounds from my lowest weight after the diet.  Add to the mix the fact that I quit going to my gym because of poor treatment of seniors by the staff and have ignored my intention of finding a substitute, and I am pissed at myself. 

There is no getting around it.  Maintenance of a healthy weight takes good habits and lots of movement.  Head games are guaranteed to be lost by the person with the head.  The older we get, the more difficult it is to do.   If I continue to make excuses for myself, my health will pay the price. 

I did it once, I can do it again.  Ten pounds is a helluva lot easier to lose than 32.  Back to reality.  The weaning from salt and sugar has begun, the eyes are steely and the motivation has returned.  My waistband is too tight. Dammit!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Ideology Doesn’t Work For Me

While I was reading a recent OS cover piece by Ted Frier about Rick Santorum’s relentless Catholicism, the realization almost bowled me over:  I don’t do ideology well.

I am supposed to be Catholic, too.  I was baptized, confirmed and indoctrinated.  Eight years of Catholic elementary school made sure I learned all the thou shalt nots I needed to be guaranteed a seat near the right hand of God Himself.  There were a few thou shalts thrown in, mostly in the form of commandments such as behaving, obeying, keeping holy and honoring.  Good works were encouraged, so long as I didn’t have to enter a Protestant, Jewish or Muslim house of worship to do it.  Those were forbidden places.

I questioned myself into the principal’s office so many times, I had my own chair there.  My six-year-old mind couldn’t grasp the concept of blind faith.  Logic was more my style, although I didn’t know that word at the time.  I did, however, know the word precocious, because I was constantly being described that way to explain why I asked so many obnoxious questions.  They weren’t obnoxious to me.

There was lots of talk about the Virgin Mary, for example.  I knew Mary was a girl’s name, but what is a virgin, I asked.  Told to ask my mother, as usual when I ventured too far outside the boundaries of first-grade query, I soon got a satisfactory answer at home.  Which then made the concept of a virgin birth a little outlandish in my book.

Miracles?  C’mon now, I’d think.  You really expect me to believe that Jesus was successful in feeding throngs of famished people with five loaves of bread and two fish? I was Doubting Thomasine, the classroom pain in the nun’s heavily clothed behind.

It was impossible for me to reconcile a “loving God” with the notion that “Catholicism is the one true faith.”  We were even taught that only Catholics had a chance of getting into heaven.  That didn’t make sense to my immature but logical mind.

Although there don’t seem to be as many of them as others, Catholics are really prime candidates for Republicanism.  The Catholic faithful are used to thinking in absolutes, eschewing gray areas of human existence.  They have been taught the practice of exclusion and of thinking of what NOT to do, instead of what to do.  The Catholic way is the right and only way; everybody else are sinners, blasphemers and the doomed.

When the time came for me to determine my political stance, I often found myself straddling a line between the two parties – socially inclined to make sure all were included in the American Dream, but firmly entrenched in the work ethic demonstrated by the adults in my family, who would walk 10 miles to work rather than miss a day.  Money was not abundant, but it was managed so well by my grandparents, the families of my friends were convinced we were far better off than we were.  Paying as you go, saving and sacrificing were family credos.

When someone like Rick Santorum preaches both banning birth control AND banning abortion, I want to scream.  That is taking Catholic conservatism to an insane level for thinking people.  If contraception is “dangerous,” as Mr. Santorum believes, and abortion is murder, can chastity belts and/or penectomies be far behind?

But there are other elements of the conservative way of thinking that make a lot of sense, at least they do to me.  The government has proved to be a very poor manager in so many ways.  The level of waste and redundancy in the halls of the U.S. Departments of Everything is staggering and maddening.  Politicians spend so much time running for office, there is little left for monitoring the practices of bureaucracies that simply plod along, growing bigger and less effective each year.

I agree we need a smaller government.  I just don’t mean the same thing the average Republican means when I say that.  I do agree we could do without a lot of the agencies created during some political fracas or another to appease the opposition or postpone the matter indefinitely.  I do not agree that taxes are evil across the board and must be slashed indiscriminately. How are we supposed to maintain the infrastructure of the nation without taxes? 

When I listen to Ron Paul talk about our individual liberties, I say an enthusiastic yes – until he goes a bit further and I realize that those same liberties are the arguments used by people who want to be able to make a profit at the expense of employees, customers and competitors using whatever measures it takes. 
But then Dr. Paul talks about the U.S. pulling the troops out of non-combat zones of the world,and he talks about America needing to stop trying to “fix” matters that are none of our business in other people’s countries, and I am back to yes.

I don’t appreciate being pigeonholed by others because of my position on a single issue.  I don’t like the double solid lines on the ideological highway painted by the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or the Libertarian Party or the Tea Party.  I want to be able to think through each issue, come to a conclusion and be able to vote accordingly.  I cannot do that now – not in my state.  I am required to declare a party affiliation in order to vote in primaries. 

This morning I was driving on the Interstate, listening to a black radio station.  I am mixed-race, but identify as black.  The on-air personalities were discussing a new GPS feature they said was introduced by Microsoft, which allows the driver to “avoid ghettos.”  They took umbrage with that concept, based on the assumption that the designer of the software was thinking “black neighborhood” when s/he used the term ghetto.  They imagined the use of the n-word in the product’s development stages. One of the announcers went on to ridicule “white folks” because “they strap things on their car roofs, trunks and hoods.” 

I don’t get this.  I don’t get how we “black folks” can make  such sweepingly stereotypical statements about other groups and expect to hide behind the ideology of victimhood in America.  Ask Dr. Laura Schlessinger if she could get away with a similar commentary.

When people adopt an ideology which informs their every waking thought, they are surrendering their freedom to think for themselves.  It makes them sound like parrots and robots and thoughtless boors.  That doesn’t work for me.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reflections on an Icy Pond

Two days ago there was a hard freeze in Atlanta.  It was the first freeze of the season.  The bubbling fountain on my patio froze solid, threatening the survival of the clay pot that holds its water.  The robins came by, as usual, looking for a drink or a bath, but stood pecking at the surface of the ice, to no avail.
The pond in the local park was deserted by the water fowl.  Lucy the Neighborhood Goose squatted on the shore, wrapped in her own down, head tucked snugly under one wing.  The ducks were nowhere to be seen.  Thin and crystalline shards of ice floated on the surface of the placid pond, too sparse to form a solid surface.

Today the sun is warm, the air is 63 degrees Fahrenheit, the sky clear and bluer than Muddy Waters' sounds.   The contrast in the two days' presentations reminds me of "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

My week was spent watching all 38 episodes of the Showtime series The Tudors.  No one ever swore on the historical accuracy of this work by Michael Hirst.  License was taken.  I video-streamed the four seasons since 2007 via Netflix because I don't get Showtime on my cable service.  I'm too cheap.
Not since I read James Clavell's Shogun have I been so riveted by anything, written or filmed.  Period pieces do entertain me tremendously.  I love the pageantry, the luscious frocks and jewels.  I feast on the foibles of royalty. The story was close enough to true and the major elements stayed intact.

King Henry VIII was a spoiled latter-day trust-fund kid.  His dad, Henry VII, was the last King of England to win his throne on the battlefield.  Henry VIII's only qualification for the kingship was an accident of birth.

The king was a handsome, athletic and charming individual, especially as played by Jonathon Rhys-Meyers.  He loved his food and drink, romping on horseback through the English countryside with his buddies, and bedding his wives' ladies in waiting.

His habit of wooing, wedding and ultimately dispatching his six queens would be funny if it weren't true.  His idea of showing his discarded spouses mercy was to have them beheaded instead of hung, drawn and quartered.  Nice guy, Hank.

If I hadn't struggled to stay awake through my Modern European History classes in college, I might have learned more about the power struggles between our mother-country's randy king and the Catholic Church.  Episcopalians probably know far more than I, since their church was the product of those struggles.  Henry didn't like it that the Pope and his minions thought they could dictate policy to the English throne. so he found a loophole in the law he rationalized to justify giving himself absolute power in his realm as head of the Church of England.

Throughout this truly entertaining series, I couldn't help but see the parallels between the shenanigans in Henry's court and what goes on in Washington, D.C. today.  Power mad?  Check.  Womanizing?  Check.  Lying? Check.  

The nobility of the 16th century didn't believe in equality among people.  They used terms like  "betters" and "riff-raff."  They could walk by beggars and the handicapped as if they weren't even there.  Once a week or so somebody in a crown might step outside and tuck a coin into the hands of a few "lessers."  That allowed them to live with their consciences, if they happened to have one.  Amassing more money and power was job one.

Sound familiar?  The biggest difference between our far-right conservative politicians and the ones in King Henry VII's court is the costuming. 

The 17th century Plymouth Pilgrims  fled England to free themselves of religious persecution, but they brought with them the sensibilities of England's noble classes.   Rich versus poor.  Class versus classless.  Haves versus have-nots. Christians versus Muslims.  Mormons versus Baptists.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Photo by L

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Woman in the Mirror


A couple of recent lessons in humility have weighed on my mind for the better part of a week now.  It is my nature to detest making what are normally called faux pas; those lapses in social consciousness that find us saying things that are offensive to another person, group of persons, or classes of persons.

It is mortifying enough when such a misstep is made knowing full well, a nanosecond after the utterance escapes from my mouth, how absolutely inappropriate I have been.  But when the infraction is committed unbeknownst to me,  in the midst of doing what I perceive to be a good deed…well,to my knowledge, that hadn’t happened to me before last week.

How I reached the ripe old age of 67 without knowing the origin of the word I chose to utilize in a good-natured post marking the December 26th birthday of a fellow blogger, I can only guess. 

In the post, I said something about people having birthdays on or around Christmas Day often feel gypped out of attention – and sometimes gifts.  A reader who usually makes delightfully supportive comments on my posts this time just included a link to a web page – nothing else.  The topic of the page had something to do with tolerance.  I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with this birthday announcement, so I shrugged and moved on.

A couple of hours later I received a private message suggesting I replace the word “gypped” with something less offensive.  The writer wrote of living within blocks of a Gypsy King as a kid, and therefore knew how that term was used.

This was one time when only the word gobsmacked would suffice to describe my sudden realization of the origin of the word gypped. 

I have never met a gypsy.  I have never knowingly seen a gypsy, especially one who fits the description I carry in my imagination.  In fact, I now realize that before very recently, I thought gypsies were mythical characters or long-gone memories of times gone by.   

There were no gypsies in my hometown.  When my grandmother threatened to send me off to the gypsies if I didn’t behave, I thought it was just one of her “sayings," of which there were dozens. And the only thing I knew about Gipsy Kings was on the back of the Hotel California cd in the cabinet.

An hour later I had read enough about the history of gypsies to be mortified at my ignorance.  I had only learned of their victimization in the Holocaust in an article posted on Open Salon less than a month ago.  And now I know there are American Gypsies living the “traveler” lifestyle, for which they are famous, throughout the United States.

Three days ago a neighbor and I were chatting outside in the unseasonably warm sunshine.  She and I have known each other for at least a decade and have spent quite a bit of time together at neighborhood gatherings and events.

“Oh, Lezlie, I have something I want to …  You always have an opinion…well, I was about to say you are opinionated, but…I want to run something by you.”

Opinionated.  Now there’s a word that can get my attention.  It certainly did about 20 years or more ago when my boss used the word while giving me a progress review.

Here is Google’s definition:

Adjective:  Conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in one's opinions.

Synonyms: obstinate - headstrong - stubborn - self-willed

There are other definitions I found that aren’t quite as harsh, but I’m going with this one.

In my mind, a person who does not think about issues, who doesn’t have enough curiosity about certain topics to learn about them and form an opinion is not very interesting.  I seem to be curious about virtually everything, which is probably why I spend so much time in my head. 

In a given conversation I will be in one of two positions:  either I will have thought about, read about and talked about the subject before and have a basis for discussion; or, I will not know anything about the subject and will proceed to ask a few pretty incisive questions, many of which can seem to annoy the speaker sometimes.

It is never my intention to come off as a know-it-all; in fact, I try hard not to.  But I fail.  And I am determined to tone down the conceited and dogmatic aspects of my assertions, especially if the person who is evaluating my contributions would agree that obstinate, headstrong, stubborn and self-willed (whatever that means) would also apply to me.

Individual, evaluative words and phrases have as profound an effect on me as the more commonly hated gender and race based pejoratives.  A colleague who was not a fan of mine once told me I was “an inch away from brilliant.”  Some would say that was a rather generous pronouncement coming from a detractor.  Me?  Comically, I worry to this day about that inch!  But the hurt I felt from his telling me we were “oil and water” caused me to cry on the spot and it reverberates from time to time in my memory.  This happened 20 years ago.  I had thought we were friends or at the very least, friendly.

American English is packed with loaded words and expressions that come flying off the lips of well-meaning people who don’t question their meaning or origin.  Just this week I have heard Indian giver, off the reservation, Irish twins, Chinese fire drill, and yes, I used gypped.  I’m going to do better.

over the counter viagra