Friday, November 30, 2007
Teenagers are keenly observant and have excellent bullshit detectors. That's why the youth center where I work had our teenaged members conduct the job interviews for our new teen coordinator, asking their own questions and giving us their assessments of the applicants.
That is also why, in a high school auditorium in New Hampshire last week, Barack Obama was asked whether he ever tried drugs. This was not just a question about marijuana. Teenagers ask frank questions to measure your willingness to level with them.
In 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president, he spun one of his most infamous Clintonisms: "When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn't like it. I didn't inhale and I didn't try it again." If anyone in America bought this story, they weren't teenagers.
Here's Obama's answer in November 2007: "There were times when I got into drinking, experimenting with drugs. There was a stretch of time where I did not really apply myself...It's not something I'm proud of. It was a mistake as a young man."
So - he inhaled, right? "The point was to inhale. That was the point."
This is a good answer for reasons having nothing to do with marijuana. A candidate for president is asked a question about personal indiscretions, he admits to one while omitting unseemly details, and treats it as a teaching moment for young people instead of making some cheesy evasion.
During campaigns, I watch the candidates for clues about how they would address their constituents and how they view leadership. To what extent might this respectful and candid answer, uttered before a room of teenagers, say something about how Obama views the presidency?
A Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, might have revealed something of himself when he commented about Obama's answer about marijuana:
"I agree with the sentiment that nobody's perfect and most of us, if not all of us, in our youthful years have engaged in various indiscretions we wouldn't want to have paraded in the front of a newspaper. On the other hand if we're running for president, I think it's important for us not to go into details about the weaknesses and our own failings as young people for the concern that we open kids thinking that it's ok for them."
Mitt Romney's campaign theme is strength, strength, strength. He will be the toughest on drugs, on immigration, on security, on terrorists. He's campaigning to be elected America's strongman. He remarked on Obama's dialogue by saying a candidate should not be too candid about their past - and, presumably, he felt Obama was being too candid.
Romney the Strong is revealing the ragged edge of his views on what is "presidential." It might not be "unpresidential" to make mistakes in youth, but it is definitely NOT "presidential" to admit to them. Of his own indiscretions, not that he was admitting to any, he said he would adopt President Bush's strategy of silence.
He didn't say that in front of teens. Teens would have rolled their eyes at him. Teenagers know well that when an adult says, "I tried marijuana and it sucks, don't do it," they are not endorsing it. You can fool a teen once you've earned their trust, but they're not this dumb.
I'm not suggesting that the presidential candidates should clutter up the fake debates with personal exposees - please, no. I am only noting that one of candidates for president does not view candidness and honesty (when coupled with a positive message) as a "presidential" quality.
Romney the Strong would prefer to cover up the traces of inconstancy, of flaws and weakness. The President must be Strong. Presumably, this would apply more urgently while serving as President. Presumably, mistakes would also need to be covered over, kept from Congress and the public. Errors in judgment or military strategy, violations of international conventions, measures that violate the Constitution, might also have to be covered over so that the Strong President can do what needs to be done.
It is especially interesting, coming from Romney, since he has famously changed his mind about a number of issues. And I would hope so! Having lived longer, raised a family, and held a number of important positions in the private sector and in government, we should only expect that he has learned things and altered his opinions accordingly. But you won't catch Romney the Strong admitting he was wrong in the past or explaining to an interested public how, as a reasonable person, he came to change his mind. That, we assume, is not "presidential." ?
Teenagers have other reasons to turn away from Romney, but independently of that, I think they would smell a strong whiff of tyranny in these statements by Romney the Strong. Certainly I do.
Please, let us not have another "infallible President." Let us not have a leader who confuses strength with secrecy and control. No more of that. Let us have a leader who equates strength with accountability and upholds the truth. If Obama is such a man, let's sit down with our teenagers and listen to him together.
And whatever happens, ask the teens what they think. That means a lot to them.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
[INTERCOM] "SCOTT, DON'T SLAM THE DOOR."
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
There were memoirs here, here and here. My car even had a say about its experience. If you were here, you may remember reading about the interesting weather and some of the mischief I got up to.
And then there was the art, including a few pieces I photographed and described here. There was the explosive notoriety of this project, for instance, and the pure fun of climbing around on this towering sculpture.
Well, there's more, and I don't want to let too much time go by without telling you about a few more pieces, and sharing some pictures. Today, let's have a look at Peter Hudson's Humouroboros. And remember to click on the pictures for a larger view.
As a child, you may have played with a zoetrope. It sat on a table top, you lined the inside of the top part with a strip of paper with pictures on it, then you spun the top and peered through the slots to watch an animated image of horses running, or oil derricks davvening away, or whatever. The earliest animated cartoons came to us by way of zoetropes.
Humouroboros was placed way out on the playa, so that as you made the approach you were impressed by a free-standing metal tree, vaguely umbrella-shaped, whose "fruit" was a team of identical chimpanzees that clung to each branch.
This piece is really meant to be enjoyed at night, but by day you can enjoy the construction and design of the piece. Each monkey clung to a branch, and each branch had a green "snake" with a hand for a head, clinging to an apple. When viewed in zoetrope effect, the snakes wind progressively down the branches toward the chimps, crawl into the mouth of the chimp, and are swallowed.
At the base of the tree, there was a station of drums meant to be played. Late in the week, the drum heads had been smashed in, repaired with duct tape, and smashed in again. Here I am surveying the damage:
Suspended over each drum, hanging at eye level, were monkey masks for the drummers to wear while they banged away:
Finally, the tree was surrounded by several stationary bicycles:
This being Burning Man, when you see a bicycle on the playa, you are expected to get on and pedal, just to see what happens. When enough people got on the bicycles surrounding the Humouroboros, the tree began to rotate. As the rotation got up to a certain speed, strobe lights were activated. The motion and the strobe lighting created an animated scene of monkeys swinging from the trees as the serpents wound down the branches and down the chimps' throats. Ideally, while this happened people would be drumming furiously while wearing the monkey masks.
The video quality (which someone graciously posted on YouTube) cannot approach how much fun it was to view this scene in person, among the other revellers, but at least you get a sense of how it worked.
This piece was enormously popular, and there was often a party atmosphere hanging around the "monkey tree," as it was commonly known. Last I heard, Humouroboros was headed for the after-Burning-Man event known as Decompression, as it would be a serious contender for most popular piece of Burning Man 2007.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
First we drove to Deming, New Mexico and arrived in time to sit down and eat Thanksgiving dinner with my fiance's family. We were welcomed by her parents, her brother and sisters, and the most enormous German shepherd I have ever seen.
No, I mean truly. There are dogs so large they almost become not dogs anymore. You don't treat them the way you treat regular dogs. When a dog is of a size that it could swallow a Great Dane, we're not in dog territory anymore. This German shepherd in Deming, this is a dog that can fetch aircraft carriers. This is a dog you have to look up at to say hello. This is a dog whose paws are occasionally checked for missing toolsheds it may have stomped on. As some dogs bury bones, this dog buries cars in the backyard. When we arrived and got our bags from the car trunk, I thought I saw another lunar eclipse and realized that couldn't be right. Then I felt a bucketful of warm, happy slobber hit the brim of my hat and realized this was no eclipse.
Her name is Molly. And I am told she is still growing.
We sat down to dinner, and the house was warmed by the dog laying down around the entire house and engulfing it in fur. Sarah's mom prepared a surprise for me, a special vegetarian entree alongside the turkey and green bean casserole and stuffing and traditional Thanksgiving whatnot: fresh, spicy, home-made cheese enchiladas, armed with the hottest local chile peppers. The gesture brought tears to my eyes and a sniffle to my nose - not so much because of the sentiment, although that was surely appreciated, but because these were hot New Mexico chile peppers. And the sauce was delicious, which prompted me to keep eating, until my breath was starting to ignite the candles on the table.
Does this place have chile peppers? Deming is very close to Hatch, known internationally as The Valley of Scorched Tongues when its annual chile pepper festival inflates the village's population from 1,600 to 30,000 for one week. The place is a riot of hot red peppers hanging from every storefront, as we saw when drove through Hatch the following morning.
I had some business in Santa Fe and spent another five hours in the car, rolling up into big, fat flakes of warm snow falling on Albuquerque and Santa Fe. My appointment in Santa Fe consisted of coffee, a hot bowl of soup, and a conversation that took about 90 minutes. We had planned on taking a leisurely stroll through the Plaza but it was turning out not to be that kind of day, as the snow fell and fell. So we just got back into the car and headed back to California, that long drive across New Mexico, up up up into Flagstaff, back down another side and into the mojave desert.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
- Missed bills.
- Double bills.
- Double subscriptions (which means double billing, and the possibility of going into collections even though you've paid for a subscription).
- Name problems, address problems.
- Frequent billing for renewals - after I've renewed.
Recently I decided to subscribe to The Atlantic again. They just keep publishing articles I want to read, damn them. And the lunacy has begun right away: a couple of days after receiving my first issue, I get my first bill.
The bill says: "SECOND NOTICE" and relays a condescending message about how paying my subscription fee "must have slipped my mind."
Meanwhile, I've been trying to subscribe to their website to read the stuff they are putting up there. This appears to be a simple process: you just type in your 10-digit account number and your ZIP code. I can handle that. The problem is, the website looks over my 10-digit account number and tells me it doesn't recognize my subscription. It's sort of like the maitre d' who goes, "Hmmmm. I don't seem to have you on my list. Could it be under some other name, monsieur?"
So I wrote to the help desk: Hi. I put my 10-digit account number in correctly, but it doesn't recognize the account number and will not subscribe me to the website. Can you help?
And a few days later, I get this email back from them: Thank you for emailing us with your question. To subscribe, simply put in your 10-digit account number.
Are these magazine subscription people going to participate in the Iowa caucuses? If so, anything is liable to happen.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Meet my friend Ji Hyang, an American Zen nun for almost all the time I've known her, who follows her own trajectory in many senses, writes beautifully, and has a lovely blog following her travels.
We share taste in blog templates, it would seem...
Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Congratulations on your appointment. I know it got a little bumpy there when you said you weren't familiar with what waterboarding is. There are people who expect a candidate for attorney general to know something about this, as if it had a long and notorious history.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
In the meantime, perhaps you might enjoy a look at some of my friends' blogs.
There's always something excellent to read over at Theriomorph's site.
Dr. Lori does a wonderful photoblog of her life teaching english (and Zen) in a small New Hampshire town here.
K. writes hilariously about her obsessions here.
Jane Redmont, a theological scholar, writes about faith, good food, sports, and whatever else distracts her from scholarly duties here. She also posts her semons, which are quite good.
I keep up with news about energy and the environment here and here.
For non-partisan analysis of political lies, spin, and bullshit, I keep looking at FactCheck. Bookmark this one.
And, since it always comes back to the food, please know my friend Andrew is starting up a video blog demontrating basic cooking for guys who don't cook. It promises to be very funny.
See you all this weekend!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
This was a strange thing for me to hear. I have gotten very used to women keeping their own names upon marriage, and it hadn't actually occurred to me that Sarah would become Sarah D'Ammassa. Not that I mind.
When the current mayor of Los Angeles was married in 1987, he was still Tony Villar. Upon his marriage to Corina Raigosa, he spliced the names together and came up with Villaraigosa. Now they are pursuing a divorce - I don't know what they're going to do about their names now.
The approach wouldn't work for us, anyway. Willamassa?
Sarahnon Dilliassa? Algerah Williamma?
Sheesh. This is all a lot more involved than I ever imagined.
Monday, November 05, 2007
The Beast: Actually, the doctor said something about exercise. I was thinking we'd park down the hill at the supermarket and walk back up.
Sarah: Oh. Well, that's fine. You do look like you need some exercise, so go ahead and park down there. Then you may carry me up the hill.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
It's the kind of bright line politicians are loath to draw, and that is one reason we get so frustrated with them, or give up on them altogether.
When I look back on the presidency of Bill Clinton, I see a tragedy. I view his governance and his legacy as being tarnished by one whopper of a lie, told under oath. A lie that was not necessary in the first place. It was the decision to lie that turned a tawdry indiscretion into an event of enormous consequence, when the country had to endure the spectacle of a President being impeached because he lied about a blow job. My liberal friends out of principle (and bias)blamed the Republicans for this alone; but what of the stupid, unnecessary lie that armed them?
Clinton was (and is) so personally popular, he could have pulled off a mea culpa (as he had done during his first presidential campaign) that honored the truth and made the blow job go away. In a matter of weeks, the media would have moved on to other stories and Clinton would have to answer only to his family, not the Congress, for his cigar breaks.
Instead, he lied and you remember the rest.
Presidents lie and sometimes presidents do the right thing by lying or at least by being evasive. We accept that a president might not be in a position to tell us, for instance, details about diplomatic negotiations or national security. If a lie is justified by some greater good, by and large people are going to be flexible and forgiving. It is the stupid lies, the lies that are not necessary, the lies that are overtly oafish and self-serving, that hobble a leader.
I think of this when I consider Hillary's answer to a question about archival materials. A clumsy, reflexive, slippery lie about the national archives and Bill Clinton's request that the letters he and Hillary wrote to each other during his presidency be withheld until 2012. She was asked if she and her husband would withdraw the request and allow the documents to be released; she said, "It's not up to me." She could have said no. Or yes. Either answer would be an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and resolve, and return to the important issues.
Instead, the listener groans as one evasive answer, one clumsy dodge that wasn't necessary, over a peripheral issue, opens up a deeper conversation. Her political rivals cannot be faulted for asking a legitimate question: haven't we had enough of this?
I certainly have. I have had too much of this. No more, please.