Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Candidates

It's sad but true that the 2008 Presidential election campaign has already started. Like many liberal feminists, I'm torn between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The trouble is, I feel I ought to support Hillary to become the first female president; but I have the feeling that she is running, not because she thinks she can do things better (although she may think that too), but because she wants to be the First Female President. She's nothing if not competent, and would undoubtedly do a good job. I just get bad vibes from her.

I get really good vibes from Barack Obama, and I don't think it's because he's a youngish, good-looking guy. (You have to be my age to call a 46 year old a "young man", sigh...) It is unfortunate that he's a smoker (and I think he's raving crazy to commit to quitting smoking at the same time he's running for President). But what would you rather have: a competent, intelligent guy with one bad habit, or Dennis Kucinich? What I like about Obama is that he seems to have a sense of proportion; even better, he has a sense of humor. My husband commented the other day that no one at that level of politics has used humor the way Obama does since Ronald Reagan. Nobody in the current administration has a sense of humor, and unfortunately, neither does Hillary Clinton.

I'm trying to stay uncommitted, and see what happens. We'll all see more as the campaign unfolds; but for now, I'm leaning strongly toward the guy who can laugh at it.

Librarians and Bad Words

I'm somewhat boggled by the recent flap over The Higher Power of Lucky, the recent Newbery award winning novel which contains several repetitions of the word "scrotum." Apparently a librarian from Durango, Colorado, complained about it on, a librarians' listserv; and the whole thing blew up from there.

Mind you, it's been wonderful for sales; the book went from the 600s on Amazon to the top 40. Just for evidence, here is the (first) offending passage, about a man
who had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked '62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.
Apparently this incident is mentioned several times in the book, necessarily repeating the word.

Here are the things that bother me about this:

Numero uno: I think that incident is funny. It's my crude nature, or my upbringing as the daughter of a Missouri farm boy, or something. Also, I want the next sentence; I may have to borrow the book from the library so I can find out what happened to the dog.

Numero two-oh, as Molly Ivins used to say: "scrotum" is not one of those "you can't say that word in polite company" words that George Carlin used to have so much fun with. It's a scientific term, dammit; it's in Gray's Anatomy (the book, not the TV show); it's in the encyclopedia. True, it's a body part that isn't normally discussed except by men with prostate problems; which is why, if you want to refer to it, you don't have one of those handy, "we all know what it means" synonyms to use. You have to say, "scrotum."

Finally, the whole business is completely out of character for librarians; and I was a librarian for 17 years. Most of the librarians I know would rather have a kid read a book that contained the word "scrotum" than not read at all. In fact, most librarians know that the kids already know all those "bad" words, and reading a book containing them will not corrupt them any further. It's much more important to get them to read at all.

Having read the article on Yahoo News, I'm relieved to find that it was mainly this one woman in Colorado, and a few like-minded souls; and most of the library community is perfectly fine with the book, which is what I would expect. We would all be better off if we worried about genuine problems, like global warming and whether Dubya really is crazy enough to bomb Iran, and quit expending energy on the reference in a children's book to a male body part; and not even "that" male body part.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Not Black Enough

This is last week's news but that's how it goes sometimes: I'm befuddled by the arguments among leading black political figures about whether Barack Obama is "black enough."

The facts aren't in question. Barack Obama's father was a black Kenyan, his mother a white Kansan. The old southern word for this genetic mixing was "mulatto." In the peculiar classification of American society, where your ancestry is sometimes more important than your actual skin color, Barack Obama is clearly identified as African American, or (as we used to say in the sixties), black, despite the fact that I've known Indians who make him look like Michael York. The issue, of course, is that Kenyan father, a man who grew up a free man in a reasonably free country and came to the U.S. to attend college. A man, in short, with no personal connection to the American experiment in slavery, or the Jim Crow laws.

Obama's run for the presidency, however, has sparked this sort of reaction:

Some African American leaders came out against Obama because he announced his candidacy Feb. 10, the same day as the State of the Black Union, an annual event organized by Tavis Smiley to gather prominent African Americans. It drew 10,000 people and would have been a perfect venue, those leaders said.

Author and Princeton University Professor Cornel West said Obama's decision to announce in Illinois instead shows he "speaks to white folks and holds us at arm's length."

The Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, who ran for president in 2004, was also upset.

"We cannot put our people's aspirations on hold for anybody's career, black or white," said Sharpton. "Just because you are our color doesn't make you our kind."

I don't know what has the "black leadership" more annoyed, the fact that Obama grew up either in Hawaii (known for its cosmopolitan race mixing) or outside the U.S. altogether, thereby missing out on the essential racial injustices which everyone else had to put up with, or the fact that he's the first black candidate for President in the history of the country who actually has a sporting chance to win it. Or could it be because he never talks about the issues of black America, but only about the issues of America? I assumed he announced his candidacy in Illinois because that's where he was elected to the Senate. The people of Illinois are his employers; they have a right to know he's applying for a new job.

No one has mentioned this, but I wonder if the traditional black leaders also resent the fact that, when you hear Barack Obama speak but can't see him, you can't tell he's black. You certainly can't say that about Rev. Sharpton. Obama speaks pure midwestern American, without the "black accent" that even many well educated African Americans have. I'm not talking about "ebonics"; just a distinctive, not quite southern twist of pronunciation and phrasing. Not all blacks have it; northern blacks in particular have northern accents; but almost all the people who have it are black. People underestimate how much they are judged on their speech patterns.

I thought that both Professor West and the Reverend Sharpton did themselves a disservice with these public remarks. They sounded envious; they sounded petty. They sounded like children bullying an unpopular new kid. I wonder what they will say when President Obama takes the oath of office, as I'm quite sure he will one day, whether it's in 2008 or later. He has plenty of time; he's only in his middle 40's.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

You just don't get it

My dad used to say, "I buy you books and buy you books, and still you don't learn nothin'." According to an article by a New York Times writer, our Congressional representatives are inventing new and clever ways to get lobbyists to pay for their entertainment, this time using the representative's "personal PACs" as conduits. Apparently these PACs can pay for anything up to and including dental work and house repairs; so, the lobbyist makes a big PAC donation, the PAC buys the legislator tickets to an expensive outing, and the lobbyist goes along, paying his own way.

When will our brilliant elected representatives get the point that: We. Do. Not. Send. You. To. Washington. So. You. Can. Party. You are elected to study public issues, draft and vote on bills, and things like that. Being elected to Congress doesn't give you any kind of a right to take relaxing little outings on the lobbyist's dollar. Maybe what we need to do is make it illegal for Congresspersons to go out socially at all. Either that or require public funding of all campaigns. But who would vote for that?? (Apart from me...)

The quote that really got to me, though, was this one:

Some members of Congress said it would not bother them if the upshot of the new rules turned out to be more contributions.

"I am not going to hide from the fact that we have to raise money," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Alpaugh (Tulare County), who has invited donors to his political action committee on a wine-tasting tour in June, modeled after the movie "Sideways." "Only a moron would sell a vote for a $2,000 contribution."

So, Mr. Nunes - how big a contribution would you sell a vote for? After all, as the old joke goes, we've already established what you are. Now we're just dickering over the price.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mayor Newsom and the Man Code

I don't normally pay a lot of attention to San Francisco politics - Oakland politics is enough trouble for any normal citizen. It's been impossible, though, to miss the brouhaha going on over there about the mayor's, um, experiment in intra-office personal relations.

The short story is: during his divorce, Mayor Newsom had an apparently short-lived affair with his appointments secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk, who was (and still is) married to Alex Tourk, who was (and no longer is) one of the mayor's primary aides.

I'd say that sleeping with his secretary was sooo Fifties, if I didn't know from personal experience that it was still going on in the Eighties (no, it wasn't me, but I knew the participants); and obviously, here we are in the 21st century and
it's still going on, in defiance of common sense, common courtesy, and every personnel code in existence. I wondered if the City and County of Ess Eff had a personnel code, but the answer (from one article) seems to be no:
"it does not appear Newsom violated any of the city's ethics laws by having a sexual relationship with a subordinate..."

The part of this which really boggled my mind, though, was C. W. Nevius' column yesterday about "The Man Code." Apparently Nevius' phone mail and inbox are full of horrified responses from his male readership, to the effect that by sleeping with his friend's wife, Newsom has committed the Ultimate Sin.
Many said they would never trust Newsom again as long as they lived.
Nevius' women responders, on the other hand, generally said, so what else is new? The men compared this to stealing from a friend, or framing a friend for a crime. It is Betrayal, they say - you don't betray your loyal ally, any more than the Mafia would. (They would, of course, if there was something in it for them, but let that pass.)

All these men are acting as if Ms. Rippey-Tourk had nothing to do with this. It takes two to tango, folks. Keep in mind, although the lady was working for the mayor at the time, nothing I've read indicated the incident was anything but consensual. Also, of the two participants, he was in the process of getting divorced; she wasn't. In fact, she's still married to the guy (although not still working for the mayor). But the whole tone of the male response seems to be, not that Tourk's wife betrayed him, but that Tourk's friend betrayed him. I can only assume that all these men are operating on the basic principle that Ms. Rippey-Tourk is her husband's property and has no independent existence and no will of her own.

And that attitude is a whole lot older than the Fifties...