Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Living in a Gender-Neutral World

On July 25, supporters of Washington State Referendum 71 turned in 138,500 signatures in the hope that citizens of my state will be able to vote for or against fundamental changes in the English language.

Signers of petitions resented that legislators had approved on May 4 Senate Bill 5688, which some called the "everything but marriage" bill, allowing registered domestic partners all the privileges, rights and responsibilities of married couples (similar to the situation in California).

As I've said before, I don't mind if gay couples make lifetime commitments and even receive the benefits of law afforded straight people who are married. But SB 5688 doesn't just extend specific privileges by inserting "...and domestic partners" in the list of who's covered. Instead, it actually changes the meaning of English in dozens of chapters and titles in the "Revised Code of Washington," the list of functioning laws in the state: "...gender specific terms such as 'husband' and 'wife' used in any statue, rule, or other law shall be construed to be gender neutral and applicable to individuals in state registered domestic partnerships."

Voila! A wife is the same as a husband! A son the same as a daughter! A widow the same as a widower! Finally, there's no such thing as gender in the English language in the state of Washington!

And that is the agenda of gay marriage advocates: to blur the most fundamental distinction that exists between human beings, male and female. They seek to downplay the importance to society of procreative sex, gaining government's endorsement for their type of sexuality. They want to remove society's encouragement of two biological parents raising their children, and elevate the status of two guys (or women) who by definition can never raise their biological children, as equally essential to the future of our state.

And once Washington State officially designates everybody as gender-neutral, it follows logically that the accepted language should apply to marriage laws as well as everything else. Why should marriage be the only exception to gender-neutrality, after all?

"We have the right to marry the person we love!" insist gay marriage advocates, who conveniently don't push for polygamy, under-age unions or incest, all of which are less of a change in marriage (still involving man-woman combining) than gay marriage brings.

Marriage has at times been deemed a fundamental right--but only as traditionally defined, a man and a woman. It's not a civil right if you're already married to someone else. And it's only been a "right" in the US between a man and woman who meet qualifications set by law. The electorate, sometimes directly and sometimes through their representatives, gets to decide what those qualifications are (some states set minimum marriage age at 16 or 17, for example). But nowhere, ever, has marriage been a "right" between two men or two women, until recent gay marriage advocates and "progressive" (rather than objective) journalists have decided to label it so.

I don't know if Referendum 71 will qualify for the ballot (it needs 120,577 validated signatures), or, if it does, if it will gain enough support to repeal Senate Bill 5688. Today its supporters fended off the threat of the pro-gay marriage group "Who Signed" to publish the names and addresses of petitioners; the Tacoma judge agreed that publishing them was solely for the purpose of harassment.

I kind of doubt that enough people care to read the 110 pages of SB 5688 (as I did), and as long as gays don't gain the "right to marry," I don't know that enough Washingtonians will care if they get "everything but." Still, somebody ought to point out that SB 5688 isn't just talking about being nice or fair to gay people, but rather inserting in our laws that men and women are interchangeable; that a husband is a wife is a sister is a brother. If the bill stands, then despite the DNA marking every cell in our bodies, here in The Evergreen State, we'll be living in a gender-neutral world.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why Classical Music Scares Off Loiterers

Apparently criminals and loiterers flee from classical music and opera--so businesses plagued with hanging-out low-lifes blare it in front of their stores--and it works!

I was captivated by a front-page story in our Seattle Times describing the brain mechanism classical music triggers, causing loiterers to scram. Apparently this crime-deterrent is successful in Europe and increasingly around the US. Locally, the Tacoma Mall Transit Center and several stores in the Rainier Valley clear their sidewalks with the harmless tactic.

If you're a loiterer, this is your brain on rap: "Amigdala up! Stimulate nucleus accumbens! Dopamine up! Woo-HOO!" Here's a loiterer's brain on opera: "Amigdala: 'what is this noise?' Pull back... Dopamine....not. What a downer; outta here!"

Menacing hoverers scatter at classical, opera and even country music. And our streets are safer because of it. What amuses me is the eggshell-walk in the article when a music professor "cautioned about being elitist or ethnocentric in linking good behavior with classical music and other fine arts." He speculated that "hip-hop or R&B or heavy metal, in the right circumstances, can make someone feel kind, sensitive or inspired."

Now I'm laughing. I think they ought to play hip-hop in front of the stores and find out what it does for loitering and customer count. And how many loiterers become "kind, sensitive and inspired." On the other hand, have you ever noticed typical symphony audiences? After hearing the orchestra, are they more likely to lawfully return to their families and professions, or leave Benaroya Hall to hang out in front of McDonald's on Third and Pine?

Music and Muzak have long been used to manipulate behavior. Bright, happy melodies cajole shoppers to buy more. Innocuous tunes calm nerves in claustrophobic elevators and on "hold." The town of Christchurch, New Zealand, keeps unruly taggers and disorderly youth at bay with Barry Manilow.
But it's politically incorrect to suggest that certain types of people, and certain types of music go together--that rap songs with primitive, driving beats and lyrics demonizing police and degrading women foster less-civil behavior, and appeal to less-sophisticated people, than those who appreciate the classics. Is it elitism or, perhaps, demonstrable?

My rabbi points out that music is an intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds. Fine music with complex structure and harmonies can be ethereal, arousing lofty emotions, and connection with God. As music simplifies further and further toward chanting and a plain, pumping rhythm, its physical elements strengthen, and it moves from spirituality toward raw animal instinct.

Unlike my husband, I don't have a visceral yearning for classical music, though I do enjoy and appreciate it. I was raised with "oldies" and pop music. It's true that I would indeed avoid any store that blared rap or heavy metal from loud-speakers.
It's undeniable that classical music is generally associated with "culture," and rap with a counter-culture, and often, sadly, a self-destructive drug culture. Am I a music snob? Maybe a little; I do believe some music is "better" than other music. And apparently, loiterers do, too.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gay Marriage Activists Won't Give Up, Insist Men and Women are the Same

I've been working on my project about marriage as the combining of male and female, and so, while enjoying some of the most perfect weather we've ever had here in Seattle, lying on a chaise my balcony and catching up on the paper, my attention went to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal of Monday, July 20: "Gay Marriage and the Constitution" by David Boies.

Boies explained why he and Ted Olson are suing the state of California to overturn Proposition 8, already confirmed by the state Supreme Court, that defines marriage in that state's constitution as one man and one woman.

Of course he takes the tack most gay marriage advocates do, trying to equate race and gender, saying it's just as wrong to deny two men marriage as it was to deny a white and a black; i.e. if people and courts now agree that all races should be interchangeable when it comes to marriage, so the two sexes should be, too.

And he pulls out that false but ubiquitous meme that it's just about freedom to marry the one you love: "The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the right to marry the person you love is so fundamental that states cannot abridge it." He supports this by citing rulings that allow "child-support scofflaws" and imprisoned felons to marry.

...But only marry one of the opposite sex. Not to marry one of the same sex. In these cases, the Supreme Court didn't re-define marriage; it just said that breaking the law isn't in itself reason to stop a conventional marriage. The punishments for the offender's crimes are unaffected; the institution of marriage remains unchanged.

Nowhere is there a "right to marry the person you love." What if you want to marry your sibling? Your parent? What if you want to marry somebody who's already legally wed to someone else? What if the person you love happens to be six years old? Or has advanced Alzheimer's and can't consent? Or wants to join you and your present spouses in polygamy? Would the court uphold your right to marry one of these people, even if you swear your love is undying and pure?

Boies dismisses so called reasons to deny gay marriage. Heteros feeling threatened by gays is unable to "withstand discussion." He thinks it's "hard to envision" straights avoiding marrying or divorcing just because gays can. He rejects that forcing gays into straight marriages would help societal stability. Or that keeping gays from marrying each other will steer them straight. Who ever argued any of this?? Only Boies, so he can shoot down these dumb straw men.

Boies then says Californians' votes should be nullified because of that tired question, "how does it hurt YOUR marriage if two gays get married?"

Aside from legally widening the marital sexual "norm" from coitus to include homosexual sodomy (with big ramifications in terms of public school education), suddenly our language and understanding get stripped of any means to describe the unique combining of male and female. And that's dandy, because gay advocates' agenda is to insist that a man and woman--or biological mother and father--together form exactly the same "marriage" as two men or two women together do. Denying biology. Denying reams of scientific literature demonstrating the superiority of married natural parents raising their children over all other permutations of parenthood.

Boies doesn't address the fact that men and women are not interchangeable--and in fact are opposites--and that marriage exists to reconcile and mesh them. There's no way to deny fundamental gender differences; the difference is--unlike race--identifiable in every cell of the body.

Instead, he insists that "sexual orientation of gays and lesbians is as much a God-given characteristic as the color of their skin or the sexual orientation of their straight brothers and sisters." There's no biological evidence of that. There are, however, many people who say they have chosen one orientation and then later, chosen another. Perhaps they are bisexual--I envision sexual proclivity as a long continuum. And while I do think there are gays who are as repulsed by the opposite sex as most straights are unattracted to their own, these people can freely live according to their orientation, and, in California, form civil unions that by law (California Family Code, Section 297-297.5) receive exactly the same rights, privileges and obligations as heterosexual marriages do.

Boies notes that California law gives domestic partners all the rights of marriage. But instead of concluding that the purpose of the two categories is to elevate and encourage California's biological families, he insists it's "to stigmatize a segment of its population that commits no offense, other than falling in love with a disapproved partner, and asks no more of the state than to be treated equally with all other citizens."

Excuse me...gays are treated exactly the same: they too can marry one of the opposite sex. Or civilly join with one of the same sex. The only difference is...maintaining distinctions. Men and men together are different from men and women together, not only in the capability to procreate, but in their "God-given characteristics" as detailed in innumerable physiological, psychological, brain and hormonal studies. Men and women marry. Men and men, or women and women may domestically partner. It's not "separate but equal;" it's separate because the two are not equal.

Boies concludes that "Gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters, our teachers and doctors..." who are due "the basic human right to marry the person they love" (as long as that person is an adult, not a close relative, not already married, not seeking to be a second or third spouse, mentally competent and willing...). He says it is overdue that "the Constitution fulfill its promise of equal protection and due process for all citizens by now eliminating the last remnant of centuries [no, millenniums!] of misguided state discrimination against gays and lesbians."

He is not willing to argue about discrimination against polygamists or incest-philes. But he's right about one thing--this issue is about discrimination, in the positive sense--the notion of being discriminating, cognizant of distinctions. If scientifically advanced people cannot even admit obvious differences between males and females, and instead deem them interchangeable in marriage, then our society is in a sorry state, indeed.

(OK, I know I've written about this before, and I, too, am becoming weary of being forced to repeat the same arguments. But then another of these articles gets huge coverage and I just have to answer...again.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jewish Sad Days, The Book of Job, and Mom's Nagging

With the arrival of the Jewish lunar month of Av, we enter the most intensely sad portion of the year, "the nine days" that culminate with Tisha b'Av, the ninth of the month, which was designated by God for tragedy for the Jewish people. It's tough to feel sad when the weather is balmy, the days luxuriously long, the school year pressures lifted. "Summer means fun," Jan and Dean sang in 1964, a phrase I've got posted in my kitchen in kids' magnet-letters. So "summer means mourning" is a bummer.

Unlike other religions where the days hum pretty much the same, save for a few happy holidays, Judaism has equal numbers of ups and downs implanted in the calendar. We see each day of the year as imbued with a special character; holidays landed where they are because their purposes match the nature of their dates. So when on the ninth of Av the biblical Jews wandering in the wilderness--who were beneficiaries of constant miracles!--complained when they heard the spies' reports about the land of Israel, God said, "Funny you should moan on this day--it's the perfect day for you to learn how bad things can really get."

I'm fortunate to be able to host a women's class every Wednesday in my home taught by a clever and articulate Rabbi, and lately we've been exploring The Book of Job. There's controversy over whether Job really existed, but nevertheless Jews call his story "The Book of Truth" because it explores the tough questions, especially why horrendous things happen to, well, in Job's case, perfect people. He's got three friends who try to help him sort out the awful circumstances in which he finds himself--physically afflicted, his home and wealth lost, his children all killed.

Are we supposed to look at such misery as God's punishment? Job can't think of anything he'd done that could warrant it, even though one of his friends insists that must be the case. Is it to prevent him from doing something unacceptable in the future? Does it mean God sets up the world and then steps back to watch man use his free will--even if it means collateral damage? Or does God bring calamity in order to inspire a deeper need and therefore closeness to Him? If that, then you could say God's actually doing a favor--providing a means to ascend closer--even as He's ruining your life.

The one thing we learn is that Job's friends do a bad job of responding to his plight--instead of insisting Job got what he deserved, they should have just sympathized and marveled with him at God's mystery.

Meanwhile, Jews all over the world are reading the same portion of the Torah, this week moving to the final of the Five Books of Moses, Devarim (Deuteronomy). Whereas the first four books are dictates directly from God, we're told that Devarim, still from God, repeats a lot of content from the prior books using Moshe's (Moses') angle (Source: the Maharal).

Relevant to Tisha b'Av and Job is the "tochacha," or rebuke of the Jewish people repeated by Moshe even though these consequences for disobeying Jewish law were presented earlier, in Vayikra (Leviticus). As a prophet, a buddy of God, Moshe must have known the Jews wouldn't listen to his rebuke. Just look at Jews throughout history--God gives them a potch (spank) to get their attention, and they just don't get it. Why bother with the rebuke if it won't have an effect?

Because the criticism, the instruction isn't just directions: do this; stop doing that. It's an expression of caring, of concern--of love. God wants to steer his people to the best outcomes, and out of that alone, must give advice.

The application? Appreciate mothers. Kids and husbands may call it nagging, or butting in, but we mothers are hard-wired to express our love and concern. Even criticism is usually a sign of attachment, of the importance of a child or spouse. We women can't just stand by and watch those we love fail, or even take chances that might lead to failure or harm. Drive carefully. Take your sweater. Protective admonitions are Mom's air-kisses.

Now, I do not understand why God sets things up the way they are (in the end, Job doesn't, either). I'm still perplexed about why bad things happen to good people (I do recommend an excellent 10-part set of lectures by Rabbi Benjamin Blech that does a pretty good job giving plausible explanations, though). I'm bewildered as to why God creates people and drops them into horrific circumstances where they'll suffer and die. And I don't know why God decided the saddest, most restrictive days of the year had to happen in the most beautiful weather, when the world is its most ripe and enticing.

Aargh, too many questions. But the message of both the Book of Job and "the nine days" is that underestimating God is a pretty dumb thing to do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Walk Anniversary and Obama's Restriction of Possibility

Though tempted not to admit my age, I was indeed alive 40 years ago for the historic moon walk. My only memory was being with my family gathered around our black-and-white TV set (or perhaps the scene itself was so starkly black and white that the contrast was all I recall), my dad telling us that this was history, and expecting to hear some kind of technical progress report. Instead, Neil Armstrong was well aware that his words would be repeated forever, and his "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind" so startled me that even as a child I was moved to tears.

The national moon mania united everyone; the country was caught up in possibility. After all, if we can put a man on the moon, surely we can....fill in the blank. We anticipated a cure for cancer, an end to illiteracy, exploration of the stars. We, the youth, were especially empowered and told we could accomplish unimagined feats. Perhaps that moment fed into Boomers' arrogance. It was likely no coincidence that "the dawning of the age of Aquarius" centered on astrology, the owning of the cosmos.

A man on the moon seemed universally liberating; we humans were no longer confined to our planet, no longer restrained even by gravity.

Unfortunately, continued space programs proved less exciting. Scientists perhaps discovered significant facts and made important advances based on their space experiments, and certainly people ooh'd and ahh'd at photos from unmanned probes of other planets. But nothing compared with the thrill of man's first steps on the moon.

Forty years later, rather than expanding our liberties and increasing our freedoms with an attitude of unlimitedness, it seems legislators are now focused on contracting them. The contrast between "one giant leap" and the death of moon-walker Michael Jackson is striking: Neil Armstrong opened up life's potential; the passing of the singer emphasizes how the sphere is closing in.

Right now I'm feeling stressed and nearly depressed by Pres. Obama's push to restrict Americans to a nationalized health care plan, and to restrain their options by taxing them prohibitively to pay for it and his "stimulus" deficit that has now reached $1.1 trillion.

While the moon landing inspired Americans to push themselves to earn more and reach further, Obama's punitive taxes on the highly and moderately-successful inspire us to limit, or at least hide, the results of our labors. When the federal government can take nearly half of what you make, and state and sales and property and capital gains taxes leave you working three-quarters of your time for somebody else, you are, for that time, in bondage. You cannot claim what you work for; you are, in essence, working for the government, to pay for others' health care, foreign aid, and the 1,588 pages of earmarks in the stimulus package--whether you like it or not--under penalty of imprisonment.

Obama's stern imposition of his national health plan is a redeux of his strong-arm rushing of the stimulus package. With the hubris of one who's done it before, he's once again insistent that nobody read and consider the ramifications of his massive reshaping of policy and practice. This time, though, a growing wave of both legislators and citizens, on to his methods, are effectively shooting down his missile-like force. To hear the president on Friday sounding almost like an angry parent revealed to me that he's frustrated: "And that's why those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken. We are going to get this done. We will reform health care. It will happen this year." Repeat after me: "it will happen this year," whether you like it or not. Don't stand in my way. I'm the president. If I want it, it happens.

And the Palestinians and Israelis could think over their issues carefully and then they'll be friends.

The simplistic liberal goal is to help everybody; that everyone is equally deserving. With that view, those who are wealthy, whose work is paid highly, earn their money not as a result of a marketplace where obviously their skills are more highly valued, but because some people (through a warped system or selfishly motivated aggressiveness) happen to unfairly get more money for their time while others (whose time is equally worthy) get less. So of course the wealthy should pay for the health care of everybody else.

On this anniversary of the first human footprints on the moon, I prefer to think about those days of heady possibility, when our thoughts were directed to the heavens. And I prefer to trust that the One who wants our focus to be heavenward will continue to guide our nation, as He has from the days of those whose yearning for liberty brought their footprints to the new world of North America.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer in the City

I accompanied my husband to a screening last night--a rare occurrence since few films meet my criteria of no violence, no suspense and no slapstick.

But "(500) Days of Summer" was a romantic comedy, and had good buzz. Turns out the flick was charming and inventive, and both of us enjoyed it.

But there was one character in the movie touted as beautiful and charismatic that I knew really wasn't: Downtown Los Angeles.

The filmmakers even offer on the "(500) Days" website a video extolling their incorporation of the setting into the plot, as an underappreciated but praiseworthy locale.

Los Angeles is my hometown--in fact I'm the fifth generation born and raised there--and I love it for many things, almost all made by God and not man. When I worked downtown (as a writer at the Los Angeles Times) many years ago, I'd stroll during my lunch hour to Grand Central Market, where the produce was cheap, but the proprietors put the bruised pieces from behind the counter into your brown paper bag. I'd walk to the Bradbury Building and eat lunch in its lovely central plaza. Then I'd fast-walk back to the office, past little clothes stores where everyone spoke Spanish and seemed to have a ruffley and poufy sense of style. Downtown LA is colorful in the mornings, shut tight by 6 pm, and just not all that nice for browsing.

I also worked for a bit writing editorials at the Herald Examiner, RIP, and its historic building, as I've blogged before, had a distinctive Spanish style, a sweeping entry staircase, a grand cupola...and rats. Not much was nearby, though about six or eight blocks away, some clothes factories and stores clustered in dark, scary older buildings, where you could hear the churn of sewing machines and sometimes get a great deal; other times get ripped off.

In "(500) Days," aside from one hillisde location where the lovers perch overlooking a panorama where two of the prominent buildings are identified as parking lots, and one nice scene in the Bradbury Building, LA is just a blink. Even being in love--or not--can't color the brown that dominates the entire region, but that's irrelevant since there's not much of the region in this movie.

LA's attraction is its weather, its beaches, and the creativity and vitality of its people. Only tourists walk around Hollywood; many attempts to revitalize its skuzziness have failed. In fact, I just took a virtual look-see down Hollywood Blvd. on googlemaps' "street view," and no, it hasn't changed since I moved to the Northwest a dozen years ago. Too bad.

I'm still attached to my beloved hometown, and when the sky up here is socked-in gray, the ground saturated and moldy, and the short, cold days of winter yield to mostly night, I yearn for Santa Monica beach, for palm trees and sidewalk cafes, for the ever-blooming hydrangea and bouganvilla in our yard.

But don't tell me downtown LA has special magic. This time of year especially, I'll take the vibrance of downtown Seattle, where locals and tourists walk the sidewalks carrying white-wrapped armfuls of dahlias and peonies from Pike Place Market; where sparkling Eliott Bay moves with ferries and sailboats, where the golden light glints off panes in the Olympic Sculpture Garden. And where there's no better view than cerulean Lake Washington and snow-topped Mt. Rainier from right where I live. I only wish that summer in Seattle could last 500 days...

Monday, July 13, 2009

More on Media Bias: Were Obama and the Pope "Contentious" or "Cordial"?

Turns out that also on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal showed its outrageously obvious editorial bias--in an article and even in the "What's News" front-page one-sentence summaries found every day in its print version.

My husband had socked away the WSJ for his personal reading (I guess lest I read and recycle it before he got a chance to see it). This morning he came in astonished: "It's not just the New York Times that's doing it!" Under "World-Wide" news was this bulleted item: "Pope Benedict XVI pressed his case against abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research during a Vatican meeting with Obama. A7."

The editorializing in the article, which starts with the misleading headline, "Pope Presses Obama on Contentious Points," turns out to be even worse than expected. Despite the "pressing his case" lead, WSJ reporters Stacy Meichtry and Davide Berretta cover a meeting the Vatican called, instead, "cordial."

And we don't find out until the fourth paragraph how the Vatican actually phrased it: "...the Vatican said the conversation turned 'first of all' to topics such as 'the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one's conscience'..."

"The defense and promotion of life" would have been an accurate way of reporting what the Journal changes to a "case against abortion rights." A positive view of creation was turned into an adversarial opposition to "rights."

And where did the reporters get the idea the tete-a-tete was "contentious"? From the fact the two leaders hold differing views? Obama's official response was only positive; Denis McDonough, Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, told the press the president was "eager to find common ground on these issues and to work aggressively to do that," and was "very appreciative" of gifts from the Pontiff, including a paper on ethics of embryonic research, some medals, rosaries and a mosaic.

Clearly, both men knew there was foment in the US against papal policies and authority. But this was coverage of the actual meeting of two world leaders plus the First Lady, and journalists would be best to stick to the "five Ws" of classic reporting (what, who, when, where, why) in news stories, and then on editorial or feature pages, or in the news as "background" or sidebars, discuss the behind-the-scenes issues that exist but were not actually part of this historic, and apparently very pleasant, event.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage "Rights"

While casually flipping through today's New York Times, I came upon an article about New York governor Paterson's decision not to force a vote on same-sex marriage, because the state senate is "unsettled" in aligning its Democratic caucus, and also because Bronx Democratic senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Pentecostal minister, is stridently opposed.

Blah, blah blah, until we get this "background:" "Last month, the governor, a champion of same-sex marriage rights, vowed to make sure the Senate voted on the issue before breaking for the summer."

What's wrong with this sentence?

Since when is same-sex marriage a "right"? Why couldn't Danny Hakim, the reporter, have simply said, "...a champion of same-sex marriage, vowed to make sure..."???

I showed the piece to my husband who answered, "Of course. They're so biased. It's just like abortion--pro-life people are 'against abortion rights.'"

And so they are, in the politically correct world of the New York Times. Subtle mental manipulation, so easy to gloss over as it penetrates the brain.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Bruno:" You Don't Have to Wait for The End

Last night, my husband invited me to a pre-release screening of the new Sacha Baron Cohen flick, "Bruno." Our son has been anticipating this for weeks, because he just loved "Borat," where Baron Cohen plays a bigoted, backward "innocent" journalist from Khazakstan interviewing and grossing out people across America. I happened to attend the Borat screening and found myself at many points laughing (and feeling guilty about it) and at other points completely revolted.

I felt guilty because the Borat character created hilarious situations by taking advantage of people. Kindly, helpful teachers, dinner companions, hoteliers and others were exploited and made to look either stupid or prejudiced. A scene where children run in real terror from an ice cream truck equipped with a ferocious live bear is funny, but at the same time painful. I think my son liked Borat because it's the kind of immature humor that 15-year-old-boys appreciate, in which scatology and others' embarrassment serve the cause of personal kicks. Luckily, he got an invitation to go camping with a friend, so wasn't in town for the Bruno screening.

From the buzz about the new film and a few teaser clips, I knew that Borat would be tame by comparison. I'm not eager to focus on anyone's rear end, and the word about Bruno was that orificial humor was prevalent. So, much as I enjoy an evening out with my husband, I chose to skip this one.

I'm so glad I did.

My husband--who was highly disappointed in the movie--came home ready to give me a detailed description, but had to phrase things carefully, and even then several times I stopped him mid-statement. The plot sounds not only disrespectful of gays, but downright degrading of them, as well as of straights. Inserting items in dank receptacles apparently comprises a large portion of the action.

The Internet Movie Data Base features a "Parents' Guide" page listing potentially objectionable scenes. There are no entries under "Profanity," "Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking" and "Frightening/Intense Scenes" for Bruno. But what's provided under "Sex and Nudity" sounds frightening enough to me; I'm uncomfortable repeating them. "Grade inflation" or crafty producers managed to nab the film an R rating; my husband felt this was a definite NC-17.

After hearing the contents of this film, my only question was, "who'd want to see this?" It's certainly not a date movie. All women, lesbians included, would be turned off by the exaggerated gay stereotypes, and certainly by the anal fixation. Heterosexual males won't be attracted to the crude overt homosexuality; it's not politically correct even to laugh at it. And I'd guess that gay guys wouldn't find Sacha Baron Cohen's crass portrayal of their sexuality either arousing or supportive of their cause.

I could be wrong, however.

There might be enough immature guys who enjoy watching animated, talking members, champagne bottles in unusual holders, and cage-fighting that devolves into men making out, to carry this film to success. But, to the credit of our national sensitivities, I doubt it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

We Won't Have Sarah Palin To Kick Around Anymore. Or Will We?

I started writing this post about Sarah Palin last night, but didn't have time to publish it. Then, in the midst of a busy day, I heard my fave radio talk show host addressing this topic--making several of the points I'd written! But there's plenty to say about Gov. Palin, who eagerly leaped onto the international stage, and seems to imply she can stay there, even without any platform under her feet.

While reading Gov. Palin's mostly incoherent statement announcing that she's resigning two-thirds into her first term, I was haunted by a blubbery voice intoning, "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore..." uttered after the future president lost for California governor in 1962. Apparently I wasn't the only one channeling that ghost; I googled the quote to verify its date, and found several more writers invoking the parallel.

Admittedly, I only heard clips from Gov. Palin's speech, but her chirpy tones sing from the prepared text distributed to the world online, littered with ellipses, orphaned phrases, slang, and even double-parentheses surrounded by stars. Can't imagine it? This line was actually within the address released from the governor's office:

*((Gotta put First Things First))*

Even in a note passed during class to a friend in junior high, I doubt you'd find that kind of punctuation. I especially like that the "p" in "put" is lower case. Gives gravity to the "Gotta."

I will be completely candid about Sarah Palin, who stole more of my brain cells this weekend than she deserves.

When Sen. McCain presented her as his vice-presidential running mate, I was jazzed. Not only was she a woman (who could lure Hillary's feminists), but she came across with spunk and energy and gave a warm, ingratiating acceptance speech. Her family was adorable; she clearly acted on her pro-life beliefs. Given my admiration for Sen. McCain, I trusted that he had researched Gov. Palin's credentials, and had spent enough time with her to know that she was not only presentable and an advantageous gender, but capable. That she was well-versed in international relations, understood the political system and process, and, even if lacking in the aforementioned, was quick and earnest enough to jump up to speed. Her folksiness was a plus; a refreshing change from beltway insiders with Ivy League bona fides. I had the highest hopes.

Gradually, Gov. Palin dismantled my enthusiasm. The first problem was the inconvenient pregnancy of her daughter, Bristol, shown during the campaign holding hands with her "fiance," Levi Johnson. Though I couldn't blame the Governor for her daughter's transgression, I wondered what the young couple was waiting for. If this is a marriage-supportive family, where's the marriage? Why so easy about Bristol as an unwed mother?

This would have been merely a distraction, however, if Ms. Palin hadn't failed to present herself and her running-mate favorably. There was the Charlie Gibson interview where she kept repeating, despite Gibson's probing, that we "shouldn't second guess" what Israel might do. And her cluelessness about the Bush Doctrine on the Iraq war.

Then her supporters gulped at the excruciating Katie Couric interview, where the governor seemed to be parroting back her handlers' phrases and pat answers:

Couric: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more examples of his leading the charge for more oversight?

Palin: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie - that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.

Couric: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

Palin: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you've said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?

Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.

Couric: I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.

Cringe. In a subsequent Couric interview, Gov. Palin's inability to name any of the newspapers she reads, other than to say "all of them," didn't fly well, nor did her blank on Supreme Court rulings with which she disagreed.

She did a bit better, on paper, in her debate with Joe Biden on October 4, but I felt that her soccer-mom, 'round the kitchen table style, punctuated with winks, defeated her purpose, which was to demonstrate her seriousness and grasp of complicated issues, and counter detractors' accusations of ignorance. She seemed stuck with memorized phrases, sidestepping Gwen Ifill's questions. Biden had anticipated her lines, countering swiftly and charging onto the offensive. Palin had rehearsed a few punches, but couldn't fend off Biden's jabs. At the end of the debate, I was disheartened (as I was after McCain's inarticulate sparring with Obama).

And as the campaign wore on, the petty cuts of opponents (e.g. her $150,000 wardrobe) were far less effective in undermining her credibility than her own superficial and inarticulate statements. A New York Times poll taken on October 10 asked voters if their opinion of John McCain had changed over the previous two weeks. Seven percent said for the better, and 21% said for the worse. Of those dropping their support, the top two reasons were his attacks on opponents (23%) and...dum, dum dum...Sarah Palin (22%). The same poll asked about views of Ms. Palin herself; her ratings had collapsed since a September 12 query, switching from 40% favorable, 30% unfavorable down to 32% favorable and 41% unfavorable.

Yes, she had indeed been the recipient of some pretty mean behavior, even after losing the election. Her Thanksgiving pardon of a turkey while a slaughterer awkwardly decided whether to proceed with his task in the scene behind her (he finally smote the bird as she kept talking, unaware) could have been a Saturday Night Live skit.

And after becoming awkwardly indignant at the rude joke by late-night TV host David Letterman about Alex Rodriguez having sex with her daughter at a baseball game, she began to look more pathetic than presidential.

Now we come to her Independence Day-eve resignation. Anyone who's a fan of Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves better be sitting down while reading it. Detailing the punctuation and grammar errors rife in every sentence, and in even the plentiful fragments, would be overkill for a blog post, but their effect is to undermine her message and even worse, the messenger herself. Any tenth- grader should be able to write better than this. Or call in an editor, or at least use spell-check. (BTW, I'm a fan of sentence fragments.)

The problem is not only that she rambles, but that she's completely disjointed and unintelligible, mixing in basketball, fishing, visiting Kosovo and her parents' refrigerator magnet. After a self-serving list of her accomplishments, she launches into a lament about 15 ethics accusations that she said cost 2 million in tax dollars, and "thousands of hours" of state employees' time to handle. In fact, she says "my staff and I spend most of our day dealing with this instead of progressing our state now." Doesn't make her look good.

But it's not clear if being the victim of politically-motivated attacks was the reason for her resignation, Dick Nixon-style comments notwithstanding. Here's how she prefaced it, lifted directly from the gubernatorial website, errors and all:

Life is too short to compromise time and resources... it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: "Sit down and shut up", but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out. And a problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just hunker down and “go with the flow”. Nah, only dead fish "go with the flow".

Is she saying that leaving the job her constituents elected her to do is not quitting but emulating live fish? Do fish hunker?

She seems to suggest that remaining in office would "allow millions upon millions of our dollars go to waste just so I can hold the title of Governor." If she can't see through her first and only term in high office, what kind of Vice President would she be? If the mean-spirited political world is too much for her while she's busy with Alaska's 686,000 residents (62% of whom are Republicans), how would she weather constant barbs from the nation's 72 million Democrats?

She says she's "taking my fight for what's right--for Alaska!--in another direction," but doesn't say which, allowing lots of room for speculation. Some snicker that she's evading some huge scandal about to break. Others suspect she wants time to complete her newly-contracted book (I think she needs a ghostwriter). Palin-pushers say she's going to launch her presidential campaign.

I hope she's just tired of the "superficial wasteful political bloodsport (sic)," recognizes her lack of knowledge, savvy and background, and returns to Wasilla to be a great mom to her kids, especially Trig, who she touchingly says "needs me, but I need him even more." Bristol also needs her guidance, now that she's a single mom taking public knocks from former fiance Levi Johnson (who says the Palins are "snobby" and fostering the misconception that his family is "white trash"), and even his sister Mercede ("they're lying, trying to save theirselves [sic]").

I have sympathy for the Palins' difficulties, and I wish them all well. But like Dick Nixon following his erstwhile exit from the scene, I suspect pundits may have the ex-governor to "kick around" for quite some time to come.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rich Enough for Fireworks

It caught my eye: a fireworks display taking up most of the page of the Wall Street Journal today. The article said 40,000 pounds of fireworks are set to explode over New York City in commemoration of Independence Day.

The show, this time on the Hudson River, will feature ten thousand more explosions than last year, with eight times more fireworks shooting higher than 600 feet. The show will be computer-choreographed to "American River Suite," an original piece by Tony Award-winning composer Stephen Flaherty, performed by the New York Pops symphonic orchestra.

Here in Seattle, we won't get up-close-and-personal with the fireworks, as they start just as Shabbat is concluding, but from our view-point we'll get to see fireworks illuminating Lake Washington, rather closely, from Renton's Coulon Park, as well as along the skyline. Downtown, Lake Union will be teeming with viewers for its spectacular, computer-synched to traditional anthems broadcast on a special sound-system. If it weren't Shabbat, our family would probably watch from downtown Bellevue Park, where the local symphony orchestra provides the accompaniment to yet another computer-synched show.

What does all this suggest to me? With an unemployment rate of 9.5%, and car makers receiving welfare; with many taking hits in their paychecks, with housing prices depressed, and loans nearly impossible to obtain--our nation is still wealthy! Not just in the spirit that motivates cities to spend these big bucks for fireworks displays--not the most essential of expenditures--but in the actual dollars to pay for them. Yes, generous corporations (hooray for big business!) sponsor the displays, but cities also fork over, if only for the maintenance of facilities where the patriotic crowds gather, later leaving their garbage mark.

Even with all the cuts we hear about, even with all the complaints and whining, we still manage to make gorgeous and enthralling fireworks displays in nearly every municipality. Ivar's, the famed local fish monger and restaurants, used to sponsor an additional extravaganza on Elliot Bay, having stepped forward one year when the city couldn't foot the bill. But this year they demurred, committing to other local charities, for the simple reason that there were so many other displays within just a mile or two, so their particular contribution was no longer needed. That's how rich and blessed we are in this nation.

No wonder our founders suggested we celebrate our nation's birth with illuminations--we have existed these 233 years in the light of wisdom and unbounded gifts from the Almighty. Happy Independence Day!