Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This Minute in Pop Culture….

I don’t know about you guys, but my brain hurts, not in the “I’ve been concentrating too hard and now I need an aspirin” way. It’s more like, “OUR SOCIAL FABRIC AND THE WORLD ECONOMY ARE DISINTEGRATING BEFORE MY EYES! AH! EVERYTHING SUCKS BUT THE WORLD CUP! WE’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO ‘WIN’ IN AFGHANISTAN! THE GULF IS TOAST! MAYDAY! HELP!”

Yeah it’s kind of like that. I know that awareness and consideration are part of my job as a responsible American citizen. If I attempt to bury my head beneath clouds of sunshine and rainbows, in the first place I will find no such place exists for my weary noggin’. But in the second, I understand that avoidance of circumstances never, ever leads to resolution. I am but one small person in this terribly troubled global community, but I am committed to doing whatever I can, whatever form that takes, even if my only available weapon is the pen, to move our human race forward and out of this persistent downward spiral.

That said, there’s nothing illegal about taking a break from absorbing the constant assault of bad news (Russian spy cells are active in American again!?) and indulging in a bit of escapism. My drug of choice for dulling my overstimulated senses is the popular gossip website run by mini-media mogul Perez Hilton, though one could easily substitute E! media, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ or a host of other pop culture news outlets.

After spending half my lunch hour furiously clicking the buttons of my Blackberry, trying to drink in as much nonsense in 30 minutes as my limited vision could stand, I spent the next few moments challenging myself (using the word “challenge” very loosely) to come up with stream of conscious impressions of my information gathering. Ah but that we could always live in the comparatively simple world of entertainment reports! My thoughts went something like this, and in EXACTLY this order. After all, I must remain faithful to the parameters of this exercise:

- So Mel Gibson’s left his wife of 28 years, the mother of seven of his children for a plastic-faced baby tramp, and now she’s stirring up ugly allegations of abuse and non-payment of child support? Perhaps conservative Catholic types ought to broaden their studies to include the Eastern philosophy of karma.

- WHY am I still reading about Heidi and Spencer? No seriously, someone tell me why. I have never watched an episode of The Hills in my life. And yet I am somehow dying to find out if their “divorce” is a sham or not. These two have the oddest, most predatory love story I’ve ever seen play out publicly. It’s like Star 80 for 2010. Except Heidi is no Dorothy Stratton.

- Poor misguided Jessica Simpson. Turning to Eastern medicine traditions will never bring Nick Lachey back. You know it ain’t Tony Romo your bed and career are regretting.

- Lindsay Lohan – Linda Lovelace, SCRAM bracelets, a new Lohan reality show and father Michael is engaged to a 25 year-old who also once dated Jon Gosselin. Not sure who the current poster family for white trash America is since the Hogans slunk off into ignominy, but I think we have a clear front runner.

- I hate the new season of So You Think You Can Dance. Eliminating Mary Murphy from the judges table was the dumbest decision ever, and I don’t accept a clearly-trying-to-be-less-of-a-bitch Mia Michaels as a substitute. I want back on the Hot Tamale Train!

- I still miss Lost as much as I did six weeks ago. When will I get through the withdrawal?

- Most welcome comeback of the last decade: multi-talented and super hot Neil Patrick Harris. Christmas with Harold and Kumar? Hell frickin’ yeah!

- I can’t believe Michael Jackson has been dead a year. I still can’t believe he died at all. People with that much talent always seem immortal.

- So stoked for the next season of Weeds. Zack Morris is going to get some good loving and herb from Ruth Jamison. My little 80s and 90s heart goes pitter patter at the prospect.

- I still don’t care about any of the following and vow that I never will: Harry Potter, Twilight and True Blood. Do we still need fantasies and monsters anymore? The world is frightening enough. Although I do find Emma Watson adorable. R-Patz? Over it! However Taylor Lautner is more than welcome to do other films where he doffs his shirt and I will consider attending. Meow.

- Tom Cruise is a fabulous actor, but I think consumers are telling him they’d like him to disappear for awhile. Think Jeff Bridges. He dropped off our pop culture radar for a time and came back with an Oscar. You don’t have a Golden Guy, do you Tom? Food for thought.

- Midway through the year and my favorite celebrity of 2010 remains Brett Michaels. I am as shocked by this as anyone. Dude is just so disarming.

See the answers are easy at this low brow level! I feel invigorated, don’t you? We now return to our regularly scheduled program of gloom, already in progress…

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kevin Costner Makes an Unlikely Comeback

I actually have nothing snarky to say here. Anything that might help us clean up the mess in the Gulf is worth a shot. And I know he fought rather hard to get Congress and Big Oil to take him seriously.

Go get 'em Crash Davis.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dear God, Make Me a Walrus, So I Can Swim Far, Far Away…

So much bad juju has beset the already beleaguered Obama administration this week, it has been difficult to keep up. Even for the small purposes of organizing this post, I hardly knew where to begin. But let’s dive right in, shall we?

General McChrystal apparently has an Icelandic volcano to thank for his undoing. It’s been said that the now former Afghan Commander’s diarrhea of the mouth was the result of an ill-fated bus trip, replete with cheap beer, that the General took with his team and Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. Had McChrystal given me a ring before he began drunkenly castigating members of the President’s cabinet, including the too-often mocked Vice-President, I would have told him what I learned myself the hard way long ago. “Car bar” is not the time for serious office discussions. Especially in front of a young, anti-war media representative with a tape recorder.

A brilliant military career thereby goes up in beer bongs and President Obama must deal with the implication that he is an armed forces chief without control. With the controversial surge about to ramp up in the Afghan region, this PR mess could not have come at worse time. Americans are tired of war, especially battles that are strategized in a reactive, discombobulated way. How do we support the administration’s plan when its ground leaders are insubordinate? Black eye #1 for the week.

Moving onto Federal New Orleans judge Martin Feldman, who ruled this week that the administration’s 60-day moratorium on deep water oil drilling was “arbitrary and capricious.” Republicans just love to howl about “activist liberal judges” who try to rewrite law. But tell me where in the Constitution it says that the judiciary branch can override a perfectly reasonable Executive Order just because they don’t like it? Come to find out (surprise!) that Feldman is a right wing oil guy. The bench ruling will almost certainly be overturned, but this is an unnecessary red tape headache that opens a window for oil companies to return to business as usual, even as crude continues to blacken the Gulf. Obama must respond to the public impression that his orders are easily flouted. Black eye #2.

What makes Feldman’s decision the more confounding is that the Executive Order was rescinded, even as it becomes more apparent each day that we are far from having a handle on the BP deep water trainwreck. Congress summoned Big Oil Executives to the Capitol the week of June 9th, with the idea that maybe something could be learned from the disaster response plans of BP’s competitors. Instead, we discovered that the only preparations these avaricious corporations had was to dig, baby dig and ask God really nicely not to let anything bad happen. But in case a oily walrus (not seen in the region for upwards of three million years) should happen ashore, they knew how to clean him right up!

And only yesterday, BP reported that two cleanup workers had died, and the containment cap partially subduing the gusher, knocked off by a robot submarine. More lives lost that will never become the front page news story it ought to be. Is it “capricious” Judge Feldman, to expect some resolution to this now months long horror story before going back into the Gulf with more deep water drills? I wish the families of these dead men, and the 14 who perished during the initial explosion, had been present in court when the judge handed down his decision. I doubt he could have located the gumption to look them in the eye.

BP and the White House are evidently no closer to solving this tremendous environmental and economic crisis than they were eight weeks ago. The idea that everyone responsible for this mess ought to be in jail, instead of floundering in a safe and comfortable office, permeates the American mindset incrementally. Black eye #3.

The President, blameless or otherwise, has been humiliated at every turn this week. About the only thing that has gone right for Obama is his meeting with grass-roots gay activists at the White House on Tuesday night. As major metropolitan locales throughout the country celebrate their annual “pride” festivals, GLBT leaders wanted to discuss the administration’s progress in repealing the embarrassing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military recruitment policy, the ongoing fight against Prop 8 in California, and an overall strategy platform which includes a hate crimes bill, expanded benefits for gay State Department employees and unpaid family leave to care for gay partners. The community remains disappointed in Obama for the slow pace with which he and his team are working to address these issues, but they continue to remain “hopeful and optimistic.” During a week like this, consistent faith can only be looked upon as a “win.”

While one ruckus after another disrupts the flow of regular business, it is almost easy to forget that Americans await action on other serious issues like energy, immigration, unemployment, and the fiscal crisis experienced by nearly all 50 States. This latter situation presently accounts for the once bedrock educational and human service networks coming apart at the seams. No funds means no resources, which threatens not only families and children in the present tense, but additionally places the next generation at risk as well.

I would like to recommend that Obama begin to wade through the disorganized cesspool of his agenda by creating a new cabinet post: Secretary of Shit Storms.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Office Sugar Daddy

I have been with my current employer for a little over two months now. We are a teeny, tiny non-profit that receives cube space as an “in-kind” contribution from one of our board member organizations. This arrangement has its advantages as well as its disadvantages.

On the one hand, we are left out of company events, free donut cattle calls and the delicious concept of summer hours (whereby those who work an extra hour Monday-Thursday get to skate out of the building at noon on Fridays). However, I am also able to rise above the common pitfalls of the typical large office environment. Petty politics and team infighting? Don’t concern me. Gossip? Only if I go and seek it (and rest assured, at times I do). New hire orientation day? Exempt! I find myself in this nebulous situation of being part of things, yet not. I think this might be a metaphor for my life in general, so it suits me fine.

On my first day, I was seated at a cubicle near the key card entrance door to the building’s sixth floor. This arrangement also placed me within sight and speaking range of one of the host company’s bigger fish, a man whom I shall call “Oscar” for the purposes of this post.

Oscar has been with the company for over 30 years. He is old school in every sense of the word, a relic of the 1970s corporate American “Boys’ Club,” who still refers to female colleagues as “darlin’” and “sweetheart.” As Oscar is a warm, trustworthy and genuinely good man, the post-feminists I share space with grant Oscar a free pass for these non-PC addresses.

However, it became apparent during my second week on the job that Oscar is a particular fan of mine, though as I intimated above, there is no reason on Earth why our work should ever intertwine. I am not insensible to the fact that at the age of almost 32, I am one of the younger folks in this elder-skewing environment, another bonus of my employment here. Obviously, Oscar noted this anomaly well before I did.

Oscar is aware of my marital status, and is a newlywed himself, married to his second bride for about a year. I know where stories like this typically go, but fear not: there is nothing sordid here. Oscar is merely an appreciative audience, and when we come right to down it, must that always be a bad thing? It is still OK for a man to notice I am female. And in truth, the older I get, the more ego strokes I receive on the rare occasions when I find myself an object of physical admiration. Ought I to have evolved beyond this need by now? Perhaps. But I haven’t - just being honest.

Oscar’s mini-crush on yours truly has taken the form of acting as the titular office (literal) Sugar Daddy: random free Cokes, the occasional morning muffin, an unrequested bowl of soup or roast beef sandwich. Apparently, Oscar likes the ladies with a little meat on their bones.

Did I mention that Oscar’s elderly assistant, “Loretta,” sits in the cube right next to mine? She is rarely on the receiving end of these delicacies, yet instead of becoming embittered, Loretta behaves as if this preference is wholly natural. She even gets in on the act. After a heated phone call between my boss and I last Friday that ended with my slamming the handset into the receiver, she trotted up to my desk with several Hershey’s Kisses and a pat on the head. This after I shook our mutual cube walls with disturbing fury.

Of course I have looked at the moral implications of acting as the de facto company pet. However, knowing that my own behavior is beyond reproach professionally, I have decided to enjoy the favors. As there is nothing I will do to compromise myself, and the only requirement seems to be existing and breathing, I may be able to enjoy special status on an open-ended basis. I have talked this over with Eddie at length. He has taken the position that anything that saves him money can only be good thing. Do you know what the price of a Big Gulp is these days?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Anderson Cooper and His Tight T-Shirt Get to the Gulf!

If Obama is still searching for a way to take the national temperature, to figure out “whose ass to kick,” as he famously said last week of his response to the BP oil spill and ensuing environmental crisis, he just needs to follow the biceps. Whenever trouble lurks, wherever humanity has taken a heartbreaking tumble, the “Silver Fox” and his field uniform of form fitting designer jeans and pec-stretched t-shirt will be. Apparently windblown hair and a serious face are the weapons of mass destruction needed to “keep them honest.”

President Obama is not a bad looking guy himself, and we know he keeps in shape – all that “Buff Bam” vacationing in Hawaii coverage. So it’s a wonder that in the midst of the PR mess his administration finds themselves in, accusations of being slow to respond to the Gulf catastrophe, not showing enough empathy and acting as the handmaiden to big business, Obama’s people have never thought to rip a page out of AC’s playbook.

As Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize winning author and presidential historian stated as part of a panel discussion on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” “President Reagan knew the value of photos.” She alluded to the idea that if the BP catastrophe had happened on his watch, the Gipper would have made sure he was documented in his work shirt, talking to the Gulf’s “real people” on a daily basis.

But Obama is a curious case. For a man who harnessed the viral powers of the Internet throughout his campaign in ways that other candidates could only envy, a man who seems to understand intuitively that listening to the people who put him office is vital to his success, he has a curiously arrogant and disdainful attitude toward the media. This is not serving him well. Reagan, who I revile personally, was however, inarguably cuddly with the press and the American people. Though his policies may have stuck a knife in the back of our nation’s future, he had this way of making you believe in a kindly, disinterested love of the regular guy.

America needs a little cuddling right about now. Unemployment rates are stuck, with no immediate hope of falling. People are worried and scared. The middle class American dream is in danger of slipping through the fingers of so many, and on top of that, our geographic treasures, such as the Gulf and the beaches of Pensacola are imperiled. Is anything sacred anymore? But instead of connecting with us, President Obama comes off as curiously truculent and annoyed. That may be reflective of the national mood but it is not what we need at this moment in history. Where is that decided, active hope?

I began this post by taking a good natured poke at Anderson Cooper, or “Old Smoldering Blue Eyes (OSBE),” as my good friend Diane calls him. But there is a reason I invoked his studly example. AC gets it. He understands that in the midst of a local or international crisis (Katrina, the Earthquake in Haiti, trouble in the Gulf), America wants to see a virile, somber visage, on the ground talking to people, raising awareness, and providing the televised appearance of making things happen. Sitting in the Oval Office on a Tuesday night asking the nation to pray just doesn’t fill that need. God doesn’t know how to fix this mess either. When did “Yes, We Can” become an inert heavenly plea?

Get thee to an Abercrombie & Fitch, Barack!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

She's too humble, but I'm not!

I am bearer of tremendously good news. As you know, Boop received an award from the Illinois Women's Press Association for a two part series on urban agriculture she wrote for Street Wise. Her first place status paved the way for her entry into the national competition. Last night she received word that she had, indeed, placed first at the national level and will be honored at the National convention in August. This shocked us both into....gasp....near speechlessness. I know. Quite hard to fathom, but its true. If you are a good, humble person you should NEVER expect to win a national journalism award. Especially after only recently breaking into the world of professional writing. Needless to say I am patting myself on the back today for encouraging her to leave corporate American and pursue her dreams...uh...er...I mean I'm congratulating her quite heavily on this accomplishment. Sarcasm aside, I did gift her with a bouquet of flowers. It seems like a tiny reward for such a great accomplishment, but how can I compare with a National honor??

Katy Perry Is Ruining My Life

Ever since I made the mistake of telling my husband Eddie that pop singer Katy Perry had gifted a birthday trip to space to her English fiancé, comedian/actor Russell Brand, I have opened myself up to endless complaints that I am not a supportive wife. It’s not like Brand is going to physically walk the moon. He’s just going to shoot up above the Earth’s atmosphere, have a look below and float in a gravity-less environment for a bit, before heading back down to the ground.

Apparently, I am the ultimate shrew because I believe rocket launches to be historically unsafe (Apollo-13, the Challenger disaster) and I have this thing about liking my hubby better alive than dead. I would think he’d be flattered, but no, he thinks I ought to support his sense of adventure, come what may. This from a man who informed me yesterday that he couldn’t possibly take me to a theme park because he doesn’t “like to hang upside down.” What does he think will happen in a rocket? Then there’s the small matter of my not having 100k to spare for Eddie’s Big Adventure.

As tiresome a wife as I am, I was not content to burst this dream bubble and call it a weekend. I also had to put the kibosh on Eddie’s desire to “make a record and go on tour.” Oh, did I lay the blame solely on Katy Perry for bringing marital discord into my home? My bad, I should have included Matthew Morrison, aka “Mr Schu” from the hit Fox television show Glee in my complaint. With his dapper wardrobe, magnificently crafted hair, banging beach body and smooth vocals, my husband has discovered a new 30-something American Idol. On a TV show full of talented high school singers and dancers, it is Mr. Schu who has walked away with Eddie’s heart. He has managed to accomplish the unthinkable, according to my youth-is-everything spouse. He has made a grown man with a day job look sexy and glamorous. Somehow however, I don’t see my husband's co-workers in the IT consulting field joining him in a glass breaking rendition of “Dream On,” no matter how fun that idea might sound. IT workers are notoriously vanilla.

This got me wondering if grown men ever leave behind the little boy inside. And if not, is this a good or bad thing? In my husband’s case, I choose the former because it is his refusal to disregard “maybe” that keeps him so engaged, active and interesting. Though he has toiled for seven years as a successful software engineer, a career in which he becomes more expert and entrenched with each passing year, there remains a side of him that credulously believes it is possible to chuck it all one day to become an astronaut or a rock star. I like this. He has yet to grow cynical. May he never, despite my nihilistic influence.

Gotta run. I think I hear Eddie tying a bungee cord to our balcony.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Catch-22 Of Manners

Whenever I pick up a Jane Austen novel, a work by the Bronte sisters, or one of many other classics of British literature, I am both thrilled and saddened to recognize myself in a world of slackened manners. On the one hand, keeping up with appearances and civilities seemed to be such an exhausting effort, one I just don't have time for in my own life. I am not that great at remembering names, so how often would I redden in the face at having lost Mr. So and So's surname? I would be a social pariah at the neighborhood ball in a flash.

On the other hand, people today are bracingly rude. I am not simply referring to the guy who steps on your toe in a crowded commuter train and never apologizes. Neither am I alluding to people who cut in line, take more than their portion, or burp in public. While all of these behaviors may be obnoxious, I am interested in the power of words and their varying effects. I both love and loathe that we live in a historical epoch where people will say just about anything to you, with zero regard for your feelings or their own image. This phenomenon is amplified when it comes to the Internet. The ability to be controversial from the safe confines of your home office seems to be empowering for many.

And that is terrific in a variety ways. We live in an alienated, siloed quasi-community. Many of us don't engage with our physical neighbors anymore, but are able to carry on debates and conversations with other web surfers in Sri Lanka. There is something both strange and wonderful about that. As we become more fractious and divided in our personal politics, and lose the ability to make small talk with those we encounter while taking out the trash, at least we can form connections, somehow, some way. When we feel in our daily lives, that our little voice doesn't matter, it is affirming to know that we can be heard (or read) by someone, somewhere.

At the same time, I wonder if these e-connections we are building across the world cause us to forget that we are actually interacting with people, not machines - people who have feelings and reactions that you cannot see while staring at a monitor. My personal rule of thumb is this: I will never write something that I am fearful or ashamed to say in public. However, this is clearly not general practice. When I read a news item on the web, or am directed to the latest hot You Tube video, I am often beyond appalled at the galling commentary I find at the end of the item. As a writer, a liberal and a human being, I cannot but champion free speech. It is simply lamentable that this right is often misconstrued as the right to be an arse.

There is no use hankering for a return to formality. Once lost, social fetters are not willingly recalled, and that is as it should be. I remind myself that I would not have liked to be a female in Austen's time, treated as a simpleton and "protected" as an item of witless property. The liberty to express oneself often accompanies quantifiable improvements in social status, and I wouldn't undo centuries of progress for anything. That said, it is hard not to feel wistful for the days when the days when people thought a bit before they spoke. Being a jerk just because you can is not an empowering exercise of your rights. Consideration can be trying, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the attempt a little more often.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Down on the farm? Nah, just my garage.

I have always said that anything that CAN happen to me/my family WILL. We just seem to have this cloud of chaos hanging over our heads. Not necessarily a "black" cloud because its not all bad chaos. I'd like to think of it as an "interesting" cloud, one that keeps me entertaining at parties with all of my wacky but true stories. So it really should not have come as a surprise yesterday when there was a rooster chilling in my garage window. Yep. A for real rooster.

Walking to the train after work, I get a call from the hubs. I could hear from the tone of his voice that something was up. Me, I would have come out right away with, "Holy sh!t babe, there's a fu*!ing rooster in our fu*!ing garage!" He took the more subtle approach of "remember a few days ago when we heard that really strange sound....well I think it was a rooster. Because there is a rooster in our garage." I thought for sure he had to be crazy. He often gets his farm animals confused so I said "you mean like a duck?" to which he replied "no, like a Kelloggs cereal mascot rooster with the red stuff on top of his head and everything!" Holy sh!t. He then sent me the photographic evidence.

Somehow in his description of Kellogg over the phone, the rooster scoots away to parts unknown. All hubby knows is that he did not exit the garage. Hubby starts banging around trying to spook it out of its hiding place. All of a sudden I hear "There he is! I gotta go!". The line goes dead and I have thoughts of hubs being mauled by Kellog. Oh, the humanity! But what actually happened is hubby got the hose out and tried to H2O him out. Didn't work. Apparently Kellogg wanted a shower and basked in the flow of water. Just when you thought this couldn't possibly be more bizarre.

I suggested perhaps he should call animal control. After all, we don't live on a farm or "the sticks" as they say. Clearly Kellogg must belong to someone (right?). But, to be frank, hubby is not a big fan of animals in general and he just wants to get the thing out of our garage and onto somewhere else. So the next update I get from hubs is that the garage is in utter disarray from his broom-swinging (and successful) attempt to scare Kellog away.

After the dust settled on Kellogg's visit, I have to say I'm a bit worried for the little fella. Where is his home? How will he ever find his way back? But the big question that remains: who the hell is keeping roosters in their fu*!ing yards in Villa Park!? And can I get some eggs please?

Making the Name “Stanley” Sound Cool

Though it took me, and the rest of the City, a minute or two to process what happened, it sure feels good to be a Chicagoan today. Last night, after Buffalo native and youngster Patrick Kaine slipped the puck past Flyers’ goaltender Michael Leighton, for a 4-3 overtime victory over Philadelphia, and handed the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961, Windy City residents were stuck in a lengthy moment of determined disbelief.

In the first place, the final flash, the end of an eight month, bruising journey that is the NHL season, was a bit anticlimactic. I had to watch the replay several times to finally grasp that a puck had gone into the opposing net. My friend Ann said it best, likening the winning instant to “some one pulling the plug on a video game and then saying 'oh by the way, you won.’” It was a bit disorienting. Even as I watched Kaine, possibly the only man in the free world who knew immediately that the Hawks had done it, skate down the ice in the midst of a war whoop, I was afraid to trust the emotion.

And that is because, in addition to the end of the game being somewhat unusual, Chicago denizens just aren’t used to winning that often. The last time we had a sporting victory parade was in 2005, when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series. But let’s be honest, some of us (Cub fans - 102 years and counting) felt a little left out of that soiree. Prior to this, it was the late 1990s, the end of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty, when the City last united in drunken revelry with a side order of good natured taxi tipping.

My husband and I discussed the euphoria we experienced on election night 2008, the night Obama stood before hundreds of thousands in Grant Park to become the first African-American President-elect. I suppose many parallels could be drawn between politics and sports, but comparing a momentous moment in American history to a Stanley Cup victory seems to cheapen Obama’s accomplishment. I will never forget that unseasonably warm November evening as long as I live, but it’s still different.

Today is the rare day in this violent, corrupt and financially troubled City when we can all set our differences, factions and grudges aside and enjoy being fellow members of Blackhawks nation. For just a moment or two, the local media has turned its head away from the sideshow of the Rod Blagojevich trial to celebrate something positive and unifying. The parade that will stream down Michigan Avenue tomorrow, as our heroes hoist the Stanley Cup high for all to see, is not a protest, demonstration or some other form of social unrest. The only thing to fear Friday morning is litter, or the vomit piles of over-served revelers.

There just aren’t enough moments like this. I plan to milk it as along as I can. Blago isn’t going anywhere.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Adult Onset Anorexia

While contemplating issues such as the immolation of the Gulf of New Mexico and the anemic American economy, the prolonged churning of my insides often leads to hunger. And when it does, I immediately become distracted with the question of what to eat. In 2010, the decision is more complicated than it might sound.

Time was when I would have cracked open that old blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, before I was aware of the evils of processed carbohydrates, and have been done with it. Kraft has moved with the times and developed a whole grain variety of the good stuff, yet there is no discernible protein, or fruit and vegetable boost, so I still experience considerable guilt and anxiety when indulging. When exactly did eating become so complicated?

The topic of food led me down a stream of conscious path that somehow ended with Tori Spelling. To my mind, she represents a visual of the problem as I see it. In the 1990s, when Spelling played the role of Donna Martin on the old Beverly Hills, 90210, she had what I considered, then and now, to be a pretty banging body. Though she may not have possessed the pulchritude of a Shannen Doherty or Jennie Garth, Tori was able to work it on location at the Beverly Hills Beach Club like nobody's business.

The image on the right, of Spelling, now in her late 30s and a mother of two, represents the actress as she appears today. Does anyone envy her physique now? Sadly, the answer appears to be yes. Because I can compile an endless list of actresses (and a few actors) who looked simply swell a decade or two ago, but who have since virtually disappeared into their collar bones: Courtney Love, Kristen Johnston, Jennifer Aniston. To go a bit younger, and though she swears otherwise, I believe there is world of difference between Keira Knightley's healthy, youthful glow in Bend it Like Beckham and the bag of bones she became by the time she filmed Atonement.

I am calling the condition "Adult Onset Anorexia," and the reason I believe we need a new label is to draw some attention to a very real problem. Consider the following conventional wisdom of the medical establishment:

"The average age of [anorexia's] onset is 17. Older woman can have it as well, although it is usually diagnosed in the teens or twenties."

I wonder when was the last time, if ever, that a research body took a look at modern women: mothers, career people, gym enthusiasts. Because though I can't be certain, the examples provided above, and countless others, seem to suggest that the tendency to develop a distorted body image knows no age. It is no longer the paradigm to assume that if you emerge from your teens and early 20s unscathed, you'll be just fine.

It is not only members of the Hollywood glitterati who are prone to this developing trend. Last week, I published a post-Memorial Day weekend FaceBook status update, regretting the sheer amount of gluttony I had indulged in while away on vacation. This concerned verbal smackdown was the response I received from my sister Jen:

"Please stop acting like you can't afford to eat real food. Ridiculous. Like when you didn't eat lunch becuase you were going to order a tall soy frappachino. Gimme a break. You'are a size 2. Stop the madness! People who work out like you do NEED extra calories. There, I'll step off my soapbox now..."

Brusque? Certainly. More than a hint of truth? Most definitely.

Because as I identify Tori Spelling's transition from healthy looking teen hottie, I am also aware that I weighed 5 pounds more in high school than I do today, wore a bigger clothing size, but at the time, saw nothing wrong with myself. Oh sure I wished for a flatter stomach, - who doesn't? But I sure wasn't going to skip dessert worrying about it. I read the fashion magazines all the time, but never once held myself to the standards of the models I viewed on the pages. When and why did that change? More importantly, why did I let it?

The origin of my neuroses, and that of the other women I reference may lie in the need for control. As any good therapist will tell you, individuals grappling with self-image in this manner are almost, without fail, trying to grab onto something they can manage - a circumstance where the perceived failure or success stems from their own agency, rather than external forces. In a bleary-eyed world full of constant chaos, pulling the strings on your image might be the one action with no surprises. If you overeat and sit on the couch, you'll gain weight. If you run like crazy and limit your calorie intake, you will lose. However, this generation of women seems to know exactly how far to push it without ending up like Karen Carpenter. It's like we are getting better at torturing ourselves.

Logically, I abhor this, and yet somewhere deep in the recesses of my culturally brainwashed soul, when I see a tiny, toned woman walking down the street, I am aware that I envy her discipline and size-0 figure. What is it about intelligent women of this generation, ladies that have achieved so much and are so successful, trapped in a hell of their own making?

Jen was right. Stop the madness.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Racism in South Carolina? How Original!

Talk about the ultimate backfire. When Palmetto State Republican gubernatorial candidate John M. "Jake" Knotts Jr., called GOP frontrunner Nikki Haley, a converted Christian of Sikh Indian descent, a "raghead" this week, he made the young lawmaker a household name. Heretofore, she had only been known as the slutty would-be replacement for the current tramp in the Governor's mansion, Mark Sanford. Haley was well on her way to doing herself in, having faced two separate allegations, within the span ten days, of having sexual relations with GOP operatives. But leave it to an old, fat, racist white man to breathe new life into Haley's candidacy.

I have to admit that I never bothered to search for an image of Haley, until Knotts hurled his antiquated and culturally ignorant epithet. I read a column in the New York Times by the incandescent Gail Collins this week that addressed the infidelity accusations dogging Haley's campaign, and upon coming across her name for the first time, I assumed she was simply another hypocritical, greedy member of the far right, which tends as we know, to be WASP-y in its makeup. No thanks. It wasn't until news spread that Knotts had not only insulted Haley's cultural heritage, but managed to rope President Obama into a racist slam at the same time, that I wanted to know more about this woman.

And if I am discovering interest in Haley, it is not a far conjectural leap to assume that voters in South Carolina are doing the same. The rumored adulterer and mother of two has suddenly been rendered sympathetic by the shocking ignorance of a challenging member of the ruling class. In a political climate that is very anti-establishment at the moment, Knotts could not have made a more damaging faux pas, leaving aside what it says about his tolerance and character. All of the sudden, the clout of Republican heavyweight Sarah Palin is thrown behind Haley's candidacy, in the form of recorded robo-calls. Whatever one might think of Palin, there is no denying her star power, particularly in the Red States. I doubt Knotts can count on any important party support, except perhaps from the ghost of late South Carolina Senator and fellow ideological crackpot, Strom Thurmond.

Which brings me to another point. I thought conventional wisdom had it that in order for the Republican party to compete in the ever more diverse landscape of American politics, they were going to have to break with the past, be more inclusive? Wasn't the point of hiring bumbling jackass Michael Steele as chairman of the RNC (the gift to the Democrats that keeps on giving), to put a face on that effort? Well you can place as many visages of color in leadership positions as you want, Republicans, but as long as you have wingnuts like Knotts, and media personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly doing your talking for you, it's going to be hard to convince people that you are other than the party of discrimination. In a nation that becomes more multi-ethnic by the year, intolerance is dangerous and unsustainable.

One can only assume, despite Knotts's predictable, insincere apology for his comments, that his candidacy is all but over. Thank goodness for that. I believe an additional boost to Haley's run will stem from her measured, savvy response to the controversy. She was quoted as saying: "What the race in 2010 will prove is the goodness of the people of South Carolina, that there [are] fewer people of the Jake Knotts [ilk] and that there are a lot more good, educated people [who] want their voice heard in government."

I can only hope that other members of the new Republican movement are sincere in their desire to expand their membership base, and are not just cynically chasing votes. Because even those of us are who lean far left have much to gain in finding a worthy adversary with new ideas and attitudes. Clearly however, the old guard of the GOP has not looked a calendar lately. It's 2010, not 1959 fellas.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Two Ten Year-Old Girls and a Lemonade Stand: Yes, They Can

As a student enrolled in a Lutheran grade school growing up, I learned each year, from each new instructor, that Jesus taught his disciples to live like children: view the world with wonder, seek truth with an innocent heart, and always maintain a basic sense of fairness and justice. I did not grow up to be a devout Christian, but there is still much to dig about JC and his universally applicable, deceptively simple, lessons.

We adults find the world very complicated, and no doubt that it is. But once in awhile, it does the soul good to be reminded that small actions can lead to big rewards. Change is possible, no matter how small, if you choose your spots wisely.

For those of you who read my last post “An Argument for Anarchy,” consider this a balance to that cynicism, not a cancellation mind you, just an equalizer. I did not set out to answer myself in this manner. I was perfectly content to stew in my own helpless, indignant juices. How was I to know I’d be shaken out of pissy reverie by two adorable urchins and a darned tasty brew of old fashioned lemonade?

As I alighted from the train yesterday afternoon, en route to my new church – the gym – I was immediately accosted by the dulcet, and cannily sales-savvy tones of two young voices, inquiring of passerby, “It sure is a hot day. Wouldn’t you like a glass of lemonade, perhaps a cookie?” Now I would have blessed the young spirit of entrepreneurship with my hard earned dollar had the pitch stopped there. However, I was completely caught off guard by what came next.

I was informed by these juvenile small businesswomen that the proceeds from their afternoon goody stand were to be directed, 100%, toward the funding of a new well dig in the war-torn Sudan region. Well as Flo of Mel’s Diner fame used to say, “Kiss my Grits!” These girls are cute, intelligent, with good hearts and social/worldly awareness? This is not what we have come to expect from our nation’s youth. In all the very best, spiritually invigorating ways, I was shaken to my core.

As the children’s beaming father stood by, coaching them to repeat what they knew of the conflict in Sudan and how they got the notion to raise money, the little ones informed me that they had been personally affected by the sight of starving, dehydrated children in images seen on the evening news. Apparently, they didn’t get my memo that the only thing to do with this world is to overthrow it and start fresh. “Let it burn” would not suffice for these earnest youngsters.

Having learned, through the benefit of Internet research, that it costs between $150-$225 to dig a well in Africa, the children rightly figured they could earn that much by taking advantage of some great late Spring weather in Chicago. Add some home made chocolate chips and a cooler full of fresh lemonade, and the girls may very well be on their way to saving lives. Sometimes it really is that simple.

These beautiful girls did not figure out how to plug up the BP oil leak in the Gulf. They have not reformed the banking industry, solved the Middle East peace crisis, or found a cure for cancer. But their good hearted interest in suffering children from another land taught me an important lesson about activism. Love your neighbor, no matter how far away, as yourself. That love will spread with a force of its own.

A glass of lemonade never tasted sweeter.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Argument for Anarchy

It’s hard to imagine that the American public has ever felt more powerless in a given period of history than it does now, with the possible exception of the Great Depression. However, even during that awful fiscal and social crisis, there seemed to be a sense of agency – a pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality that told citizens to wake up and each day and keep fighting. The idea was that if you toiled hard enough after suffering a bad break, recovery was possible.

It’s certainly hard to grab ahold of that sensation now. Millions of jobs have been lost since the “Great Recession” began in 2007. But this time, we sit in the middle of an economic rebound that doesn’t include employment creation. The eliminated positions in finance, construction, manufacturing and other industries may never come back. Companies have learned to do more with less, aided by the technology ironically developed by thousands of H-1 visa workers who find that their services, and thus their vision of the 21st Century American dream, are no longer required.

Oil leaks into the Gulf by the millions of barrels, and we are told this environmental catastrophe may last another couple of MONTHS before we can even begin cleanup. We accept this with a resigned weariness that is beginning to take the shape of a national spirit. We didn’t vote to authorize this deep well drilling, and if there’s nothing the Federal Government can do about it, then certainly John Q. Public can’t solve the problem either. We must all sit our hands and wait patiently for the villain in this nightmare, British Petroleum, to figure a way out of this mess before the Gulf region becomes an ecological holocaust. Fishermen lose their livelihoods, animals die, plants are coated in black sludge and still we must wait for the same non-information to be spoon-fed to us each evening on the nightly news.

Millions of families lost their homes in the housing bust, and their retirement savings in the market crash of late 2008. Individuals and their dependents try to climb out of their personal fiscal craters while Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan and other agencies responsible for the mess post more robust profit earnings than ever. The always inept Congress debates punishment while these corporations laugh all the way to the bank.

What is the lesson taken away from these developments as well as the BP saga? Big business, not middle America, is what matters. Most of us can feel free to take a long walk off a short plank for all that our little lives mean in the grand scheme of Federal health. Just ask the families who lost loved ones in the BP oil rig explosion. Their bodies were never found, yet this is not a headline.

Where voices were once heard, raised up to effect a shifting of the national consciousness, and beget change, a organized movement is now required. The Tea Party was written off as a fad until Glenn Beck and his multi-media platform gave it some validity. Candidate Obama’s surge to victory on the shoulders of small donors already seems so antiquated.

So what’s the solution? How do we, to borrow a phrase from the Tea Partiers, “take back America?” How do we return the USA to its heyday as a Republic that is actually run for the people, by the people? Because it seems that preserving the status quo is what has actually become un-American - not as Mr. Rand Paul claims, criticizing the corporations who are slowly breaking our spirits.

The system is shattered and those of us (including me) who were naïve enough to believe that one man as President could fix it, are removing the pixie dust from our eyes to find, to our shock, that we may just need to start from scratch. America has become the proverbial ship that is so off course that it may be sunk before it ever finds the right path.

With each passing day, I am beginning to wonder if that is such a terrible idea to consider.