Archive for June 2010

Thinking of the Constitution, Divine Writ, Elena Kagan

June 30, 2010

Sorry - this is a recycled picture of Good Old George

I have great respect for the framers of the constitution.  They were endowed with wisdom, prudence, foresight; not, however, wings.

They gave birth, as it were, to a nation;  this was not an immaculate conception but  a political process; i.e.  it involved wrangling and negotiation.  No one was struck dumb or hiked up to a mountaintop.  (Unlike the classic immaculate conception, moreover, there were no women involved.  Nope, not even when looked at through a lens of political correctness and revisionist history.)

I’ve been taught that they were good men and I believe it.  But, although some occasionally have gold radii painted around their heads in respectful murals, they weren’t saints.   Some owned slaves, fought duels, engaged in shady land deals.

Some, such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (though I’m not sure he fully counts as a founding father under Christian dictates), were extremely mechanically inventive; even so, the technology of the day was, well, the technology of the day:  George Washington was bled to death by his attending physicians in the course of their healing ministrations.

They knew of muskets, flintlocks, long barreled pistols; it is unlikely that they envisioned firearms that could shoot repeatedly for long periods at very great distances in crowds.

Our culture, of late, seems to love the idea of holy writ, especially when it can be used to justify a “no” to anything other than unlimited guns.  We all know about the movements to teach Creationism and to undercut that messy evolution stuff.  (Although, frankly, the Bible’s got some hodge-podgy sections.)    Creationist zeal also seems, at time, to apply to the Constitution.   It’s as if the document is our country’s very own manifestation of divine Intelligent Design.   (God didn’t just make the sea turtle, but also the Second Amendment.)

Many (such as Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina) use this argument to oppose the traditional  Anglo-American judicial practice of judicial precedent (so evolutionary) in favor of strict constructionism.  (DeMint characterizes the use of judicial precedent as a game of “telephone.”)

I admit that attorneys use precedent with great creativity.  But this is part of what keeps our law useful, applicable to changing circumstances; and precedent is, of course, rooted in the constitutional text, and in constitutional practices.

Of course, I’m glad that government officials protect, defend and preserve the constitution; and I want them to keep doing it.   But, as a woman, I’m also glad that it hasn’t always been viewed as divine writ,  unchangeable.   That malleability has allowed me the vote; and also (thank God!) has allowed one of me (figuratively) to sit up there in front of the Senate and be voted upon.  (Good luck, Elena.)

Clarification re Push-Ups (Prefer doing to wearing)

June 30, 2010

I am writing to clarify one point in last night’s post re anecdotal connections between the sales of assault weapons and push-up bras.

My concern about push-up bras isn’t based on prurience.  I do think that the culture is over-sexualized, but putting that aside, I worry about young (and old) women feeling like they constantly have to “fix” their physical selves.  (I thought we’d gotten over that!)  I’m all for diet and exercise, but the nearly bottom line is that I’m more in favor of doing push-ups than wearing them.  The bottom line is that anything is better than cosmetic surgery.  So, if push-up bras allay women’s desire for that–more power to them!

Anecdotal Connections: Assault Weapons – Push-up Bras.

June 29, 2010

I’ve heard two interesting stories about stores lately.  One, from my husband about a sports shop in upstate New York.  To give context to the story, my husband is a hunter, has been a hunter from the time he was a boy, was at one point (presumably before dues were required) a member of the NRA.

His memory of upstate sports stores from his youth, and even from ten or fifteen years ago (okay, dear—from his continuing youth), was of showcases filled with hunting rifles.  There might be a few pistols, but even those were, primarily, implements for hunting game–something someone might take on a camping trip.

On a recent visit to a sport store, however, in a very small, seemingly peaceful town, in the Catskill Mountains (prime hunting territory), my husband noted that about half of the store’s showcase was now given over to assault weapons.  These, he said, are not the types of guns one would use hunting animals==that is, non-human animals.  They are weapons modeled on the M-16s carried by soldiers, too heavy, too violent for game.   A couple of times in the store, my husband also heard the name “Nancy” as in “Pelosi” as in “getting one before she takes ’em away.”

The second store story arises from a friend’s recent trip to Victoria’s Secret in search of a bra on sale.  My friend has liked Victoria’s Secret in the past, not so much because of the sexy lacey-ness of its gear (well, maybe a little because of that), but mainly, supposedly, because of its large inventory of sizes and styles, particularly of bras.  On her recent trip, however, she found it impossible to buy:  every single bra was a “push-up” – so wired and padded that it was unclear how a human breast was supposed to fit in.    (It’s supposed to hover, presumably, someplace above the fabric, cushioning, metallic whalebonesque polymers.)

These are second-hand stories from reliable sources (I swear!), but, nonetheless, anecdotal.

Still, I can’t help but wonder about the connection: a seeming rise in assault weapons; a seeming rise in cleavage.

What does it mean?    That U.S. society likes things that are considered, non-aggressive, reserved, even less than usual?

That U.S. society is more than ever obsessed by bombast? Bimbobast?  Blastbast?

It worries me. (I’m sorry, I can’t help it–even the Victoria’s Secret stuff worries me–I’m a child of the Sixties.)

Whatever it means does not seem to bode well for Obama’s mid-term election results.

PS–the drawing above is not meant to imply that women in bras were buying the assault weapons.  I just wanted to put them both…errr.. all… in a single drawing.

Supreme Court Promotes Guns (With Elephants)

June 28, 2010

Winking at Danger: McDonald v. Chicago

From the Back Seat of A Broken-Down Impala: Long View of Bobby Jindal, GMO Salmon, Murphy’s Law

June 27, 2010

Back Seat of Chevy Impala

When I was a child, my parents bought a new white Chevy Impala with a sea green brocaded interior—by brocaded, I mean, covered with a roughly embossed pattern meant to repel or disguise the spills, crumbs, and other tidbits that attach like limpets to the insides of family vehicles.

The morning after the purchase, we set out on our annual summer trek from home in suburban Maryland to grandmothers in Iowa/Minnesota, a two-day drive.  Later, that same day, we sat by the side of the hot whizzing Ohio interstate someplace near Elyria, waiting for a tow truck.

This was a huge upset to my mom.  First, we were only in Ohio—Eastern Ohio!—when we needed to make it at least to Indiana to do the journey in the requisite two days.

Second, how much was it going to cost?!!  What if we were stuck?  Would the warranty cover anything?

More importantly, she fumed (in an increasingly accusative and hot-from-sitting-in-a-stalled-car way), the breakdown proved that the car was a lemon–a lemon!–which would need years and years of nonstop repairs and still never be right.

This brought up its own cycle of despair.  Why, she moaned (through a litany of  family machines) did these things always happen to us?

My father (increasingly defensive and hot from bending over a stalled motor) tried to explain to her that things just sometimes don’t work.

I knew my mom was being extreme.  Still, as the sea green seat covers imprinted their pseudo paisleys on the backs of my sweating thighs, so my mother’s sense of familial despair imprinted itself on my consciousness, enough so that any contemplation of a future major purchase in my own life has been clouded by a sense of doom.

In the last few years, however, I’ve slowly come to realize that my dad was right.  It’s not just my stuff that breaks down; everyone’s stuff breaks down.  The material/man-made world simply doesn’t work on demand.

There are many reasons for this problem–shoddy workmanship, cheap materials, careless delivery practices, “planned obsolescence,” questionable Chinese (but also global) cost-cutting and manufacturing measures, and (my increasingly curmudgeonly brain is certain) modern carelessness.   But even when products are presumably built with care—as in the containment cap of BP or the NASA space shuttle—the unexpected will have its day, Murphy’s Law endlessly waiting to enforce its mandates.

This brings up all kinds of age-old wisdom: don’t put all your eggs in one basket, small is beautiful, look before you leap, but also, today, two new thoughts: (i) Bobby Jindal is idiotic; and (ii) so is the idea of genetically modified salmon.

I bring up Jindal (amazingly still Governor of Louisiana) because of his whining complaints about the federal bureaucracy not jumping aboard his spill-containment plans, which appear to be flawed ab initio.   Jindal’s plans involve massive building projects which (i) will take too long to do any good (even under best case scenarios), and (ii) have serious risks of funneling the flow of oil in a manner that will make environmental damage more rather than less pervasive.   People complain about Obama’s caution; I personally am glad that he has not decided simply to nuke the well.    (To be fair, nuking is not Jindal’s proposal.)

I bring up the salmon because—geez—do you want to eat genetically bloated salmon?  How can fish farmers actually determine, in their short-term studies, that salmon engineered to have non-stop growth hormones will be safe for human consumption?  (Isn’t everyone already complaining about bovine growth hormones?) Also, how can the industry truly keep these salmon from the infecting the general population of salmon, much less, the non-genetically-modified marketplace?

Whenever I think of the possibilities of genetically modified livestock, all I can do is feel lucky that I genuinely like beans.

(As a final note—the white Impala was fixed by the next day; it did not break down more than usual in its lifetime; and for years afterwards, whenever we went by the exit for Elyria, Ohio, my father waxed nostalgic.)

Letter from a Hot Apartment (With Elephant)

June 26, 2010

Hating Air Conditioners

Letter From a Hot Apartment

Dear dear one,
I miss you tons.
I hope you are not too hot up there.

Down here, it’s hot.
Yes, I could turn on
the air conditioners, but
you know how I am.
I don’t believe in air conditioners.
I say it’s because of the war.
I say it’s because of the environment.
I say it’s because I’m so broke.
All of which is true.
But the greater truth is that I just hate
their buzzing hum, and worse, the vacuum that descends
when windows that can open
are closed up tight.
You could say that I
am a sensitive type,
with issues of

Though if you were here, I’d let you put
one on just as much as you wanted,
(for a few minutes at least.)
(No, seriously, for just as long as you wanted),
(as long as it wasn’t too long.)

Because despite what I am,
which is not
an air conditioner.
I really would do just about anything
for you, dear, whom I miss

Mixed Feelings About the City

June 25, 2010

Full Moon in City

It was a great relief, at first, to step into the warm summer evening.  Not only was it Friday evening—the air conditioning in my New York City office is cold enough to leave one, after a long day or week, chilled through.

In the embrace of the sultry air, I decided, on a lark, to walk all the way from mid-town on the East Side down to the West Village where I was meeting someone for dinner.  How wonderful, I thought, to live in a  city I could walk, a city with sidewalks, avoidable tunnels and throughways, a city that allowed for random exercise.

A few blocks later and I began to wonder  if the good effect of the exercise  was not counterbalanced by the negative effect of the pollution.  Plus my eyes were grainy with soot.

But I had told myself I was going to walk, and, as followers of this daily blog may sense, once I make a commitment, I am not readily shaken from it.

Soon, I was thinking of Horatio Hornblower, and how, in one of the novels, his feet become so blistered he can hardly hobble.

Still I kept a steady pace, even in places where the crowd was thick enough to warrant the regular dodge, and a hand clamped hard on my purse.   I kept it up through hoards of shoppers, cafe-gazers, people pushing into and out of subway entrances.  I kept it up even when my slightly rapid, attempting-a-light-heart pace, felt very out of place.  Although, truthfully, there is nothing like a walk in the streets of New York City to make almost anything odd about yourself  seem as run of the mill as an annual 5K at a Gold Medal Flour factory

“Characters” abound.  Some of them fill you with wonder; some pity; some dread.  Most you just don’t want to stare at too long.

Around mid-town, for example, there was the seemingly elegant woman wearing a fur-lined mad bomber hat.  Her walk stately walk was burdened by bags from such high-end stores that, at first, I wondered whether she was someone traveling from a Northern place, or, perhaps, in the midst of moving, someone, who, despite the 90 degree day, simply felt like wearing her mad bomber hat instead of packing it.  Then I saw her face.

Then there was the guy sitting on sidewalk, propped up against a mailbox, on an extremely crowded 34th Street.  It took me a moment to understand that a large black dog was lying (on its back) between his legs, its wandering muzzle seeking out the large slice of pizza he balanced on his chest.

After supper in the village, I felt so stuffed with Ethiopian food – there’s something about those spongey pancakes – I felt the need to walk some more.  It was cooler now that it was dark, less gritty though the wind had picked up.   A huge, beautiful, orangish, full moon hovered just above the shorter buildings, blocked by most others.  I pointed it out to one trio who waited with me at a stop light (they thanked me), did not point it out to the guy in the small park who, for no reason except perhaps to show off for his friends, called me a very nasty epithet (I figured that he wouldn’t thank me),  did not even think about it when I dashed across one street in Tribeca to avoid the darting dark shadow near my footsteps (yes, I know what it was and they terrify me!), and, finally, as the street corners became a little more open at the bottom of the Island, found it again.

Fell into a doze almost immediately when I finally got home, shoes off.  The cooling summer night that now wafted through my open windows felt somehow softer from the other side of a screen, from inside four walls, and I tried not to think too much about that man, that woman, that curse, that dog.

Isner as Elephant, Wimbledon 2010

June 24, 2010

John Isner, as Elephant, Wins Longest Match in History

Some people draw conclusions;  others draw…elephants;  others draw on incredible reserves of focus and stamina;  others draw on pieces of paper too small to hold their elephants.

Congratulations to both players for holding up.

If they can do it, we can.  Enjoy the heat!

Few Choices Re McChrystal – Not McClellan

June 23, 2010

General George McClellan

For all the talk about Lincoln keeping General George McClellan in his post as head of the Union Army despite his abuses and insubordination (at least until Lincoln finally replaced him with Grant), I don’t think Obama had any choice but to get rid of McChrystal.

It’s probably true that virtually all military top brass disdain their civilian superiors.  It’s probably also true that virtually all military low brass, or below brass, disdain their military superiors.   As the immortal Terry Pratchett writes of Sergeant Colon in Discworld: “-[t]he sane core of Colon was wondering if the purpose of officers wasn’t to stand between the sergeants and all this sh—this slush[i.e. paperwork], so that they could get on with sergeanting.”

When the shoe steps, floorboards squeak.  But McChrystal was a general who’d expressed his disdain just too many times, too publicly, too acidly.

Frankly , it seems to me that anyone who prides himself—or at least lets people know—that he only sleeps four hours and eats only one meal every day he seems custom-made for “disdain”.  McChrystal, however,  having problems connecting with his soldiers as well as his superiors, is not in a position to afford such disdain.

Even if McChrystal were more successful, his actions seem calculated to make it impossible for O’s team to continue to work with him with any kind of trust and confidence.  His presence would reflect a serious and continuing lapse in Obama’s authority.  (I feel somehow certain that people like Karzai, while pleading for McChrystal, would also not respect Obama for keeping him.)

The timing was especially unfortunate.  How could Obama let McChrystal stay, when, in the face of accusations of ineffectiveness, he has just proclaimed his ability to kick a–.  (He can’t get rid of  the leaking well, but he can damn well get rid of the leaking general.)

The whole situation  is just too bad for all concerned.

Robert Pattinson, Stanley McChrystal, Judge Martin Feldman – I know which one I’d rather think about

June 22, 2010

Short-haired Rob

I suppose that today I could try to find something charitable to say about General Stanley  A. McChrystal, the general who blabbed his discontent with various top level administration figures to the Rolling Stone (of all places), or, perhaps, something diplomatic about Judge Martin L.C. Feldman, the judge blocking Obama’s moratorium on deep-water drilling.  Unfortunately, I don’t have enough energy to quash the cynicism, despair, and plain old irritation that each of these figures raises in me.

So instead I’m going to focus on a proper Rolling Stone subject and a cinematic (rather than environmental) vampire, and one of this blog’s traditionally favorite people – poor/lucky/hounded/sought-after Robert Pattinson.

I am responding here not to anything that Pattinson has done recently–gotten a hair cut!  Awkwardly kissed Kristen Stewart on stage!  Seriously—a hair cut?!–but to one of the few articles in the New York Times that isn’t seriously depressing me: “His Cross To Bear; Heartthrob Vampire.”

The article discusses Pattinson’s fatigue with all things Twilight, including (quite understandably) the fame and the fame surrounding the fame, the phenomenon and the phenomenon of the phenomenon. (Our media is so self-referential that attention is itself a huge story.)

Poor Pattinson reminds me of King Midas, except that everything he touches turns to Twilight –no, that’s not right – everything Twilight that he touches turns to gold.   And everyone wants gold, right?   Rob seems a bit unsure at this point.
And yet, grateful, always grateful.   (Unlike some Generals we could name.)

The Twilight success has theoretically given Rob freedom to do whatever he wants, whether or not it makes sense (like some judges), but because his other projects have not, thus far, been terribly successful, they supposedly risk tying him further to Twilight, causing him to be the guy who is only deemed successful as Edward Cullen.

I, for one (smitten and non-McChrystally loyal), don’t believe that.  The problem with Rob’s other projects has not been his performance, so much as a quirk in the overall project:  any movie in which a Brit, an Irishman, and an Aussie, sit down to discuss the New York Yankees is going to lack a certain credibility for U.S. viewers.  (Remember Me performed much better overseas.)

Still, Pattinson’s been working non-stop for the last few months.  Can all the other films counterbalance his identification with handsome vampires:  we’ll/I’ll see.  In the meantime, there’s always Eclipse coming out on June 30th.   Yes, it looks bloated, overproduced, schmaltzy, draggy, and his eyebrows are way too thick.

But at least he’s not threatening pelicans, nor talking trash.