Friday, November 7, 2008

The One for All of Us

I've finally emerged from my retreat. This election has been exhausting. There were times in the last two weeks when I didn't think I could stand it for another minute! On Wednesday, when it was finally over, I was totally spent. I watched television all day, finally able to enjoy every political discussion, whether from the Right or the Left ... and really loving the crew at MSNBC (even Joe Scarborough, who was ever-so subdued :-)

I was enthralled by Barack's speech, but also felt very sad for him. I immediately saw a difference in his demeanor: somber, serious, deliberate, overwhelmed but -- as ever -- under control. Even his embrace of his beloved Michelle was restrained, as was hers of him. Only with his girls did I see a relax in his body language for a few seconds. This is a man who is undertaking the hopes, not of millions, but of billions of people. No one knows better than Barack what a mess this world is in. Maureen Dowd said it so well, writing in The Times on Wednesday.

This country was/is at a crossroads (the world, actually.. which is much of the point here), where we were either going to get impossibly worse, or try to get better. He is The One in This Time for This Moment. Somehow, we passed the test and I anticipate the world getting on board, because we are indeed one people and we all need a leader.

So many respond to Barack's grace, his civility, his smile that comes almost in spite of himself, his ability to explain to the rest of us what is happening, his gift for inspiring us all to do and be better, his patience, his thoughtfulness that somehow also seems to spring from intuition .. all of his passion wrapped in a somehow DISpassionate nature that can see the big picture, but still handle the small details. He's amazing.

So here we are.. with a heckuva guy for President. Man, it's just lovely, isn't it?

Monday, October 20, 2008

To Colin Powell and Barack Obama and Many More

A friend of mine recently applauded Colin Powell's response to the question of whether or not Obama is a Muslim, in which Powell posed the incredibly sensible, laudable, American question: "What if he was?" I've been struck by the integrity, civility, temperance, patience, and strength of so many Black Americans who have remained role models despite the idiocy raging around them. Instead of fearing such men, we should be thanking God for the character they display, so unfortunately forged in pain. There is a special dimension to the greatness that emerges from both Powell and Obama (and from many other Black men of that ilk, the most prominent of whom was, of course, Dr. King) and, surely, it does take shape in the experience of being male and Black in America. That quiet character.. that really deep understanding of freedom and rights and patience and compromise, coupled with incredible strength and persistence ... is striking and awesome. What the heck are we afraid of?

Friday, October 17, 2008

No Poppin' Goin' On

I've noticed that the wheels are turning veeeeeeeery slowly on every front. I suspect it's a combination of extraordinary anxiety about the economy and angst about the election, both culminating in communal exhaustion. No one is getting much done.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sarah Palin Is No Elle Woods.. There IS no Elle Woods.. Yet

Ever since Sarah Palin was named McCain's vice presidential pick, I've been perplexed [and frantic], wondering how any woman could support the nomination of a person so obviously uncomplex, uninformed, unsophisticated, and untested. Writing in The New York Times this morning, Judith Warner gave me the insight I've been searching for. It's the Elle Woods syndrome. Palin supporters see in this former beauty queen the notion that feminine [and by feminine, here I mean girly] can trump masculine -- that girly is as smart, as strong, as dominant (or more so).

This is a state of mind that lurks in the dark corners of every woman's psyche -- from the strongest and most accomplished among us, to the weakest and most vulnerable. All of us harbor the fantasy that girly can win. Hear me out, my sisters ...

Who is Elle Woods? She's that truly girly gal who beat all the men at Harvard -- and, notably, all the non-girly women --at their own game. In the end, she even saddled the guy and his white horse. Meanwhile, no, Elle didn't have to give up pretty pink stuff, or the feathery, sparkly, soft accoutrements of a cozy nest. She didn't have to leave her loyal dog behind [note: in this case, dog stands-in for baby]. Elle Woods suceeded while looking gorgeous and wearing high heels. And, best of all, she remained friends with all her Delta Nu sorority sisters. In short, she succeeded in a girly woman's world. Wow.

Think about it for a moment. Here we are, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile and Carly Fiona, all succeeding. But where? Sadly, in a man's world, on men's terms, and with men's rules (don't wail; you know it's true). And, though we almost never admit it to ourselves -- and certainly not to each other or, heaven forbid, men -- oh truly, how we do yearn to be Elle, doing our achievement thing in ways that make us feel comfortable. No compromises. Just all of us, all "getting along," all the time. Happy happy, back in the cave, with our sisters and our babies, cooking scrumptious T-Rex, cutsey-ing up the stone walls, watching out for each other's kids, sharing, bonding, giggling, and talking ... [admit it: we love to talk].

That's the Elle Woods fantasy ... and that fantasy is what makes the "girly" women among us easily fall victim to the mirage of Palin Power. We can't deny that these girly girls are, primarily, Republican women -- homemakers, and evangelical church goers, and "wives" of "men" -- all believing that Sarah Palin is Elle Woods come to life. I'm not talking about those accomplished women among us who, for thoughtful reasons and/or by instinct, believe in making homes for kids. I'm talking about those women who just want to be cave girls forever, even when they live in McMansions built by men.

Sadly, this election isn't about Elle Woods, folks. And when the neo-cons get their teeth into Palin, all she'll be is a Stepford VP anyway. That's the reality show.

So, girly girls, a vote for Sarah Palin is -- in truth -- a vote for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (c'mon, you know you don't really like them; these are the guys who drag cave women by their hair and sacrifice their babies, when "necessary").

Listen up, baby: We've come a long way ... but we've got a long, long way to go. And we're not getting there in high heels.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Little Romans Burning

The initial Palin Feeding Frenzy seems to have been swallowed up by real news. There's no doubt the Repubs are responsible for much of what's happened on Wall Street and maybe most Americans are realizing -- or at least intuiting -- it.

The revised Bankruptcy Law passed in 2005 (which, I have to say is Your Bad, Congress, and including yours, Joe Biden from Delaware) was the initial inkling that credit card companies were worried about the average American being waaaaaay over-extended . If Congress hadn't passed that bill -- which basically left people with severe hardships totally unprotected -- the credit card companies would have shut down easy credit much earlier. Instead, the new law provided carte blanche to put the screws to consumers. With consumers no longer able to attain debt forgiveness under any circumstances, the credit card companies couldn't lose. But that wasn't all. Now protected from consumer defaults, the credit card companies instituted unconscionable late fees and mammoth interest rate increases for the smallest infraction. Big Money wins.

Enter Bad Repubs Two: Lower and lower interest rates. For most American families, real earning power -- and associated "savings" -- have been stagnant or declining for a decade. Even with two or more people in the household working, people are barely making it. The solution? Offer cheap money for mortgages, which, in turn, boosts market demand for housing, which, in turn, inflates housing "value," which, in turn, inflates the value of consumers' only remaining real asset -- the family home. Voila! Easy access for the average American to huge amounts of "paper" wealth .. which they promptly converted into REAL debt -- sometimes extravagantly for vacations and digital toys, but more often for paying off those skyrocketing credit card bills, housing repairs they couldn't afford otherwise, ballooning health care costs, college tuition hikes, and those alluring SUVs (also made cheap and easy to buy) that burned oil like no tomorrow.

The people setting monetary policy were totally responsible for stopping all this. Instead they fueled it. The might have injected some market discipline by boosting interest rates, but they didn't. The Republicans knew that real income was declining for most Americans, but consumers didn't realize it because they were suddenly "wealthy" from mortgage "refi" that the financial "experts" told them was going to be "fine, folks, just fine." Meanwhile, the Republicans fiddled no end, because their political futures were looking very solid. Moreover, the Republican policymakers' colleagues were/are/and always have been the credit card companies, the financial institutions, the global congolomerates, and the oil companies ... all of whom were ecstatic, guzzling the new cash flow. Meanwhile, the public was feeling "rich" and happy. Yep. Great psychology for the 2008 election.

So, yes. Make no mistake about it. Blame the Republicans who have always protected Big Money. But now they're burning, too? Well, yes, except that now policymakers are coming to their rescue ... while Little Romans burn.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I don't understand HOW the housing and mortgage crisis could have caused FannieMae, FreddieMac, Merrill Lynch, AND Lehman Brothers *all* to sink like hot rocks. I mean, hell yeah, some people bought inflated houses and now they're defaulting, but there's GOT to be more to this fiasco.

How about the dimension of ordinary people refinancing their houses and spending every dime on [sometimes] vacations and flat screen t.v.s but [more often] on paying off the credit card bills that filled in when they just weren't making it otherwise [no, no, no... we're not in a recession, America; it's just a slowing economy.. gag ...]

... or the practice of the scurrilous credit card companies SCREWING people for the tiniest of transgressions [a day late? $35 and STFU] ..

.. or the fact that tens of thousands of us [more?] are dealing with medical crises and/or job losses ...

... or the outrageous interest rates charged for student loans that ALSO are going to go into default ...

... or the whole greedy Republican banking, energy, and media FUBAR that lets corporations (American and global) bleed people until they're anemic and then gives the transfusion to the transgressors.

No, we don't need to fix health care, or credit practices, or higher [and lower] education, or oil fixation, or corruption, or lies and propaganda at the highest levels of government. Not a problem. Have another drink, or pill, or Dance with the Stars. It's fine. Really. It's just fine.

p.s. Did you say AIG? Did you say General Motors? Did you say trillions to wage war? Did you say Depression?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Scary China: Not So Scary After All

Okay, I admit it. I’ve seen the Chinese as formidable opponents ever since I went to college in Tokyo with a bunch of kids from Hong Kong and Taiwan. It wasn’t just that these guys and gals were smart. They were. But they had this competitive, entrepreneurial spirit that drove them to excel at everything they touched. These weren’t the Chairman Mao Chinese, mind you, but all last week in Beijing, I kept seeing the same darn thing: win, win, win. But I really got worried this morning when I read what the Chinese Olympic fans were saying when they lost.

According to this New York Times article, Liu Xiang was the first Chinese guy to win a track and field gold medal in the 110 hurdles in 2004. He had become a national hero, an icon, a demi-god. But before Liu could compete in 2008, he injured both his hamstring and his Achilles’ tendon. The Chinese response startled me.

“It is a very hard moment for all of us,” Sun [Liu’s coach] said.
Well, wait. It's not really about ALL of you, is it?

I’m very disappointed, very disappointed,” said Wang Jifei, a reporter with The Chengdu Economic Daily. “Liu Xiang is our, you know, national hero. But right now he has failed.”
Failed? I don’t think I’ve heard the word “failure” applied to an injured athlete before ... have I?

“Everybody has been waiting for such a long time. We hold very high expectations. But I think people understand,” said a fan.
Maybe I’m wrong, but to me that sounds a lot like, “I think people forgive.”

Another fan said, “What a regret. But he’s injured and that happens to everybody. An American got hurt, too. There must be something wrong with the track. Maybe it’s just unlucky.”
What, pray tell, does an American getting hurt have to do with this?

And, finally, this from an eight-year old. “I’m not mad at him … I’m sure he’ll recover very soon and grab another championship in the future.”
Well, what if he doesn't recover in the future? Will you be mad at him then?

I'm not getting this attitude at all. I simply don't understand the “collective” system that apparently characterizes current Chinese thinking to the point that an injured sports figure is owned by one and all.

Where’s the aroma (and magnificence) of individual achievement, of the lonely runner on the hill, doing it for him or herself against all odds (with no “collective” support)? That’s the story I want to hear. That's what thrills the American me. Instead, I conjure up images of the Chinese government scouring the hillside for the thousands out of 1.5 billion who have a gift, followed by the years of training camps that discard anyone who sniffs of possible failure along the way. Thrown away children. Shattered souls. Human wreckage. Everybody keeps talking about how Chinese athletes don’t smile. Why would they?

Do I exaggerate? I think not. How else could a single country have so dramatically increased their medal take (they already have 40 percent more medals in 2008 than in 2004 – forty percent!!) And it’s only been four years!

Unless we're dealing with a super human race (wait, the Germans already tried that...) some serious pushing has been going down. Only a ruthless “collective” push can explain this achievement, and the major collective disappointment in poor Liu Xiang illustrates it. The real wonder is that any athlete from the United States – let alone Romania or Jamaica -- can beat the entire Chinese government at any game. But there’s a saving grace…

I was getting very depressed until D. pointed me to an article a few days earlier [China Loves Its Soccer. Its Team? Don’t Ask]. Here’s something about Chinese sports I can relate to. Here’s a familiar human reaction, thank God, to losing at a sport when your team can’t seem to win no matter what. Apparently, Chinese soccer fans are not only rabid; they’re furious. So why is this good news? Because they are blaming the system -- the coaches, the players, the corruption, the whole stinking mess. How human, how divine!

It's money, money, money – decadence, decadence, decadence – that the Chinese are blaming for the soccer’s team’s failure (in other words, capitalism). Reportedly, the Chinese soccer team (members of which make beaucoup bucks, just like soccer players do everywhere else in the world) doesn’t care enough about winning, say the fans. They’re lazy and the system is corrupt. Big money is the problem, complain observers, with many players having been caught with drugs and prostitutes (hey, so what else is new?).

Bottomline: These Chinese super-humans are human after all. Gifted, competitive, smart, yes – but human. Get the enforcers out of the way, give ‘em a little compensation, toss 'em a little STUFF, and watch the Chinese lock-step falter. And that's a good thing.

We simply cannot have human beings jumping over hurdles with puffy Achilles. That’s the work of machines. And we definitely can't have collective thinking, because then we don't have individual responsibility. Besides, it's just not any fun.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Never Mind the Girl; The Brain Can't Take It

This article in The New York Times gives a small idea how maddeningly complex the brain is. And -- as much as we love to hate "the pharmaceuticals" -- without this kind of research (albeit motivated by return on investment), probably we wouldn't be making any progress at all in understanding brain dysfunction.

Meanwhile, as we crawl out of the Dark Ages in our perspective on mental illness, the number and nature of disorders seem to be evolving much faster than we are, along with an explosion of brand new "crazies." Is it possible we'll discover that
none of us humans has evolved sufficiently to cope with life in the 21st Century? Is one or another brain drug in everybody's [not so distant] future? With the planet's increasing shift to multiple choice disorder, dizzying speed, repetitious tasking, sedentarianism, vast hours of frenetic sensory input, chemically-laced food, poor diet generally, pervasive social pressures, and fear of absolutely, positively everything -- maybe our brains simply can't keep up. Maybe the world we live in -- the world we've created -- is causing our various receptors to go haywire.

I asked several friends what they thought. One brilliant friend with a profound metaphysical bent, suggested that our growing mental problems are the result of poor nutrition. A second friend noted other environmental factors, saying, "I'm not sure what I would add to your list (it's pretty exhaustive!) other than a lack of sleep. As a society, I don't think we get enough sleep -- and isn't that recent research about breast cancer and light exposure at night interesting? I think (at least I hope) that we'll start to figure out that so much about the way we live is unhealthy, particularly the processed, chemical-laced foods."

Another friend -- a psychiatric nurse -- said, "Your premise is that modern life is causing an explosion in mental dysfunction of all kinds, by (indirectly) causing brain chemicals to go haywire. And your list of factors contributing to the problem is convincing and right on..... but still I hesitate. I'm not quite sure why." She went on to note that schizophrenia has "been around for centuries." She observed that though autisim seems to be on the rise, she suspects it occurs during fetal development. Eating disorders, she notes, are "a result of society's conflicting values... a modern life dilemma." She concludes, "When we talk about mental health, I'm concerned about what we're teaching young folks, without even being aware that we're teaching. I'm talking about violence as a form of entertainment. It's scary to me..... the way movies, TV, and video games glorify violence, and often allow the perpetrator to walk away without consequences."

In a terse one sentence response, a male friend agreed that life is making us crazy, but -- perhaps in concert with the posited nature of men to rush to solution -- mainly wondered "What can we do?"

A gifted eco-writer friend observed, "I see [the Internet] as an admirable idea gone wrong: technology intended to connect the world for noble purposes, hijacked by the less lofty masses for trivial, superficial pursuits. Media, once designed, again, to inform, educate and connect the world, now hijacked by commercial aims for pure profit. Corporate values that have severed the relationship between business and workers, favoring shareholders and thus, productivity and efficiency over everything else, leaving 'human resources' in cubicle mazes with mindless tasks to accomplish. To my mind, a particular type of person has gained control of our culture, and the rest of us are at their mercy."

A friend with two young children and a deep commitment to God, wrote, " ... we are on sensory overload on so many levels. Remember the axiom about early to bed and early to rise? And remember when food was wholesome and no one said you shouldn't eat it because it had too many carbs or too much fat or too many artificial whatevers? Remember when neighbors would help and talk to one another? Yes, we are overstimulated, but somehow underutilized as human beings. Where is the intimate connection? If a creative soul cries out for a 'stop the world moment,' we medicate them. Why can't they cope? Why can't they keep up? We are all racing but where are we going?"

Finally, one friend shared this: "With prozac, I gain weight, shop, and eat like a crazy woman. Add the Wellbutrin and the shopping and eating normalize. If that isn't a perfect testament to mind over matter I don't know what is. I believe our heads are hardwired-- and these drugs just normalize us, while sapping us of our sexual urges and creativity. If anything, the days of the Van Goghs and Hemmingways are done, replaced by well medicated intelligent beings who no longer suffer "needlessly". Needlessly being kind of a debatable word.

It's worth talking about, to be sure.

And, now for a *great* listen: "The Girl Can't Take It." Click HERE]