Sunday, January 28, 2007

The "Elder"

I had one of Those Incidents at the gym today. I'd finished my weight training and was pulling my stuff out of the locker, and I said, "Oof." Not for any reason; I just felt like making a noise.

The young black woman toweling herself off next to me jumped and said, more or less, "What was that?" (Background here: we didn't go into biography, but based on her manner and slight accent, this was an African woman, not an African American; also probably a Muslim, assumption based on the head wrap.)

"I said, 'Oof'," I replied, "no particular reason."

"I guess you said that because you are an elder." Now, I'll confess that this young woman was, oh, maybe twenty-something; so yes, I'm older than she is. But...

Ouch. I remarked that I don't think of myself as an "elder", although since I'll be 61 in less than 3 months, I suppose I have to admit it. And she was extremely polite (if a little startled by this odd woman), saying that I was, at any rate, her elder. It's a remark that an American wouldn't have made; and it made a point that, frankly, I'd rather wasn't brought up. I guess I have to get used to it; if anyone anywhere has figured out a way to turn that clock back, I haven't heard about it. But I prefer to think of myself as "well seasoned," or maybe "experienced"...

Hang In There, Molly

A small sidebar article in yesterday's paper said that Molly Ivins, the columnist, was going into the hospital; Molly has been fighting breast cancer. I just want to say, Molly, that our thoughts are with you, and we want you to keep fighting. There are very few people who speak truth to power the way you do, and we need your columns, and we miss your wonderful humor. Come back to us, Molly, hale and healthy!

"Don't Judge Me"

In yesterday's Letters to the Editor, one Mr. David Woodworth, of Walnut Creek, complained that teenagers don't get "much respect or appreciation for our troubles." They have to work all the time at school, he says, and they don't get paid; school is hard and colleges are a nightmare. Furthermore, he says, adults "think lowly of me because of the way I dress," although they know nothing about him.

This letter was apparently sparked by a recent excursion to the mall with friends, in which some adults gave him and his friends the hairy eyeball. He objects to being judged on his appearance, by people who don't "truly know me."

Mr. Woodworth, you lay claim to a 4.0 GPA, which implies that you have something resembling a brain, but you are allowing your sense of grievance to keep you from using it. If people don't know you, sir, how else are they supposed to judge you, except based on how you look and dress? (Don't suggest that they shouldn't judge you; that one is hopeless.) Everyone in society is judged based on how they look and dress, from the CEO down to the janitor, by people who don't "truly know" them. Happens every day.

I doubt seriously that you plan to take these snarky people aside, buy them a cup of coffee, and spend time persuading them of your worth; so you'll have to get used to being judged by your looks. If you don't like the judgment - try changing the way you look. If you and your friends were shambling through the shopping center dressed like gangstas from the 'hood, because you think it's cool, you'd better get used to a negative reaction from the adults you run into. (Note: I have no idea what you were wearing...) Adults have been looking suspiciously at adolescents for at least 2,500 years, and they aren't going to stop because you don't like it.

You should also consider the possibility that the people you thought were giving you dirty looks were actually thinking of something else altogether, and you just happened to be in front of them. When you're twenty, you worry all the time about what people think of you; when you're forty, you don't care what people think of you; when you're sixty, you realize that no one was thinking about you at all.

And your grievances would be more impressive if you didn't sound so much like Rodney Dangerfield. Life is tough, young man, for all of us: you, me, the CEO and the janitor. Very few of us get much respect these days, partly because very few people give much respect. You may have been glared at by adults who thought you were glaring at them. You'll never know.

As a matter of fact, I agree that many teenagers do have it rough these days. Without knowing any more about you than your letter in the newspaper, I don't know if you're one of them or not. I do know you're wasting your time complaining about something that's probably beyond your or anyone's ability to change, because it's rooted in human nature.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Give Us Money Or We'll Pledge

As I usually do on Saturday, I've been listening to KQED, being a devotee of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. In the break we got the local announcements, including the current round of warnings that the winter pledge drive is scheduled to begin next week. Last fall KQED did pretty well with a "pre-pledge" drive, which urged people to go online and pledge in advance, with the bait that if KQED got enough money up front, the pledge drive could be shortened or, at best, eliminated. They got 6 pledge days worth last fall; this time I think they're only 2 days to the good, so far.

What I realized today is that the wording of these announcements, all friendly and well-meaning as they are (and it's all voluntary of course), is like a shakedown. Give us money or we'll do something you won't like. As shakedowns go, a pledge drive is pretty innocent, and many people were going to donate anyhow; I'm just shaking my head at the way they're presenting it.

I'm also fascinated by the fact that they're only shaking down their Internet-enabled listeners (because, of course, the web site is there; the people who donate by mail already have; and the people who want to donate by phone need someone to answer the phone...).

But it's a good cause, and I'll even endorse it: readers in Northern California, please go to the KQED web site and donate now, so they'll shorten the pledge drive and I won't have to listen to so many pledge breaks!

Who, me? I donate during the fall pledge drive...

Monday, January 15, 2007

And then there's Mrs. Henderson

Speaking of movies, last week we watched Mrs. Henderson Presents. If you haven't seen this movie, go rent it now. It is hilarious. Dame Judi Dench is known for her great dramatic roles, and there are some pretty dramatic scenes in the movie; but trust me, the woman is also a brilliant comedian with wonderful timing. I'm not going to blow the surprises by describing any of the delectable scenes, but do see it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fred and Ginger

Now that it's dark on Saturday evenings again, we're watching the occasional movie again, and yesterday we watched Swing Time, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This is the second Astaire/Rogers picture I've seen; a couple of years ago the Oakland Paramount showed Top Hat on the big screen with Dolby surround sound, always the best way to see a movie.

I have to admit up front, both of them are amazing dancers, and the costumes are fabulous, and the dancing set pieces are a wonderful show. I'm even more amazed at Astaire's stamina and brilliance because he smokes like a chimney. Ginger Rogers has an occasional puff, but Astaire has always got one going. Nobody was surprised at this in 1937, but it looks a little off now. At least, to a Californian.

What I regretfully admitted to myself last night was: there's nothing to these movies apart from the dancing (and maybe a song or so by Jerome Kern, or, so that's where "A fine romance" came from). Plots? You wanted a plot? For that matter, did you want reasonable dialogue? Go rent a Thin Man movie. Those are really funny, and the humor is - it's kinder. The humor in the Astaire movies, especially Swing Time, is pretty close to slapstick. If you like the Three Stooges, you might enjoy it; I don't. And the scene in Swing Time where Astaire performs as "Mr. Bojangles", in blackface, probably looked fine in 1937.

Not only is there no decent dialogue and no plot: frankly, the characters Fred Astaire plays are not very nice people. He plays sleazy opportunists (especially in Swing Time), and after about 10 minutes, I just want to smack him upside the head. Of the two movies, I'd say Top Hat was better: the plot had a little more to it, some of the dialogue was almost witty, the secondary characters held up well. But I don't think I'll rent another Fred-and-Ginger.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Surge

So, the brilliant new idea is a "surge" of troops. We're going to flood Baghdad with American soldiers, to "stabilize the government." This drives me crazy. This whole situation is insane, as defined by Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

We are an invading army in Iraq. That's why they keep shooting at us. You'd think even Dubya would get that.

The only people in Iraq who don't want the American troops to leave are the Sunnis; they know the Shiite militias are after them and the American troops are their only hope. Whenever we leave, now or in a decade, the Shiite militias will slaughter Sunnis indiscriminately (instead of just sporadically as they're doing now); and we will not be able to stop it. This has been inevitable ever since we insisted on democratic elections; 60% of the Iraqi population is Shiite, and they now run the government.

I wasn't blogging then; but before the invasion I said that if we invaded Iraq and took down Saddam Hussein, the ultimate result would be a Shiite theocracy. We're halfway there.

Everyone wonders why Nouri al-Maliki doesn't take down Muqtada al-Sadr. Simple - they're in the same bullpen; and in any case the Mahdi Army is better armed than anything on the ground in Iraq except our troops and maybe the Kurds. Mr. Bush makes noises about new constitutions and national unity governments and sharing oil revenues; this will never happen because the only people who would gain from it are the Sunnis, who are only 20% of the population and hated by everyone else because Saddam Hussein was a Sunni.

This is also why we can't stop the Sunni insurgency: they're fighting for their lives and they know it. Not to mention that, with all the killing there's been so far, in a society that still believes in the blood feud, the revenge killings will go on for years.

How many ways do we have to say this before Dubya hears? We. Can. Not. Win. In. Iraq. No matter how you define "win." We made the mess; but we can't clean it up. Only the Iraqis can clean it up; and we probably won't like the way they decide to do it. There's no way we can impose a solution on them unless we completely take over, establish a puppet government, and rule the place as a satrapy. I don't see Congress funding that.

The only reasonable course for us, in this mess now, is to start pulling our troops out; at least get our own people out of harm's way. Then Iraq will become a failed terrorist state? Iraq is a failed terrorist state now. Iran will influence the Iraqi government? It does that now. Given the stubbornness and stupidity of the current administration, I see no way out of this that won't leave the entire Middle East a flaming mess, and all America's fault.

Actually, there's one option that might - just might - restore some of America's reputation. Nancy Pelosi has taken it off the table; but we need to put it back. We need to impeach both the President and the Vice President, because they are both neck-deep in the lies that got us here, and put a new President in the oval office. A new President, a new administration, could break with the failed policies of the past and start some real diplomacy; and then maybe we would have a chance to clean things up.

Of course, Nancy Pelosi is next in line for the presidency after Dick Cheney. I can see where she would hesitate to give the appearance of reaching for the office. But we could do worse. In fact, we have.

Senator Boxer is Right

Senator Barbara Boxer is taking some flack for her remarks to Condoleeza Rice over the Iraq war. She made what seems to me to be a self-evident statement:
"Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young," to serve, Boxer told Rice. "You're not going to pay a price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.''
None of these personal facts is a state secret; and yet everybody is yelling, "Cat fight!" and making noises about "vicious feminine politics". Tony Snow even said that it was "a great leap backward for feminism.'' Feminism is not a subject on which I normally consider Tony Snow an expert, somehow.

What this really demonstrates is the fact that the news media (not to mention the Bush White House!) still doesn't regard women as real participants in the political process, and I'll prove that. Imagine it's 1973. The U.S. Secretary of State is Henry Kissinger, who is single; and that exact remark is made to him by Senator J. William Fulbright, who at that time was 68 years old, 2 years older than Barbara Boxer is today.

I have no idea what Fulbright's family was like, but given his age, he could quite possibly have said something like that to Kissinger about the Vietnam War; and no one would have said a thing about it. If you don't like Fulbright in the role, pick any senator from the 70's who opposed the Vietnam war and was in his middle to late sixties, with children and grandchildren.

This whole flap is because one female politician stated a series of obvious facts to another female politician; if one man had said it to another, or if Senator Boxer had said it to a childless man, it wouldn't have made the news. Senator Boxer is refusing to apologize, and she should refuse to apologize; if stating facts is offensive, we're all in trouble. The furor is being stirred up by the Bush White House, which is trying to devalue Senator Boxer's statements by labeling them a woman's opinion.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

There's an old story that I've read in more than one novel set in rural England before the 19th century:
A man comes home from a journey and asks his servant if anything happened while he was gone.
"The dog died, master."
"How did the dog die?"
"In the fire, master."
"What fire?"
"The barn burned down, master."
"How did the barn burn down?"
"The candles at your wife's funeral, master."
I've never seen it go farther than this; but as a slow revelation of disaster I've always thought it was blackly funny.

I had a "what happened while I wasn't looking" moment this morning on the Internet. We're having a cold snap here in California, the worst in 10 years - maybe the worst in 20. (All of you having ice storms in Texas and Missouri, just quit sniggling. 24 degrees Fahrenheit is cold for a seaside town, even if you're colder.) So the first thing I did when I brought my computer up was to check the National Weather Service site, to check last night's low. (It was 24 degrees.) And the first thing I saw when I checked the special weather statement was, "the tsunami watch for the central California coast has been removed."

Tsunami watch? Why are we having a tsunami watch? You already know, of course, about the 8.2 earthquake in the Kuril Islands at 20:24 PST on January 12 (that would be last night), but at 9 AM this morning, I didn't. Now, of course, the tsunami warning makes sense; and I'm just grateful that all we had was a tsunami watch, and not another disaster like last year's little Christmas present.

8.2 is a helluvan earthquake, folks; it's roughly the estimated magnitude of the 1906 San Francisco quake, and according to Wikipedia is the equivalent of a gigaton of TNT. Nobody seems to have died in this one, which means the human race dodged a biiiiig bullet. Happy New Year.