Friday, July 30, 2010

Anti-Defamation League Bigots: Spectacularly Unclear On The Concept

Actual quote:
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization whose programs "counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry," has released a statement excoriating plans to build an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero.
What better way to counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry than to whip some up against Muslims? But if the ADL wants to sincerely argue "No mosque should ever be built near Ground Zero because a miniscule fraction of the world's Muslims once committed a horrible atrocity there," I would suggest in turn "No synagogue should ever be built near Mount Calvary because a miniscule fraction of the world's Jews once killed Christ there." And ban all churches from Jerusalem; a non-miniscule fraction of the world's Christians committed some truly appalling acts there during the Crusades.

Collective guilt: it's a grand thing, ain't it?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Food Stamps, Tornadoes And Sweat, Oh My!

I witnessed local history last week and the experience utterly sucked: the first tornado in 25 years tore through four towns in my corner of central Connecticut, and although I was lucky – my home and car weren’t damaged at all – I lost power all day and night, and sweltered in a hot apartment with no air conditioning or fans. (When the power finally came back, I went online and ordered a battery-operated fan first thing. As God is my witness, as God is my witness, next time there’s a power outage I’ll be marginally less inconvenienced by it. Unless it happens before my new fan arrives in the mail.)

The timing was especially bad because I had to edit a new manuscript and write a new article for the Guardian, but could do neither without electricity or the Internet. The Guardian piece was an anecdotal story about what I saw at a discount grocery store after the state’s food-stamp debit-card system went down; I suggested we do away with food stamps and vouchers and coupons altogether, and simply give poor people cash.

But the piece didn’t run until today, since I was so late getting it to my editor. At least I had a moderately interesting excuse: the first tornado in a quarter-century raised hell in my corner of the world.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rush Is Awesome. Rush Fans Stink.

I saw Rush in concert last night -- one of the many fine cultural opportunities offered by Connecticut's Indian casinos -- and discovered another way the laws of etiquette fail to account for human necessity: there is, alas, no polite way to ask a stranger, "Sir, please stop raising your arms because the stench wafting from your armpits resembles a necrophiliac fish fucking a dead goat." (Even if etiquette did provide a polite way to do this I still wouldn't, because to get the man's attention I would've had to tap his shoulder, and no way was I going to touch any shoulder a scant few inches removed from the stench vortex of his armpit.)

The hell of it is, my sense of smell is extremely stunted; whatever scent miseries I suffered, people with normal noses felt ten times worse. My concertgoing partner had quietly complained to me about the stench soon after the stinking man sat down; since I didn't notice anything I could only give him a sympathetic smile and my standard witticism: "I'm glad I can't smell things, because the world really stinks." I noticed nothing until the band broke into "Freewill," which made the Human Stinkbomb so excited he threw his hands in the air and OH MY GOD THE STENCH.

Still, it wasn't too bad so long as the man kept his arms by his side. A few minutes later I felt a huge thump on the back of my chair, as though someone kicked it as hard as possible, and before I'd turned around to see what was going on I heard a mortified woman's voice saying "Sorry! Sorry! Oh my God, I'm so sorry! I'll buy you a new shirt! I'll go down and buy you a shirt right now!"

I thought this a rather excessive apology for one mere kick to my chair, until I realized she was actually talking to the man sitting next to me, on whom she had just spilled her entire cup of beer.

So the man next to me stank like sour beer through no fault of his own, while the man in front of me simply stank. And I discovered another way etiquette fails to account for human necessity: there is also no polite way to leave your seat at a concert (requiring everyone between you and the aisle to stand up), introduce yourself to a stranger sitting in the middle of another row, and say, "Sir, can I please have a couple hits off your joint there? It's not even that I want to get stoned, so much as I'm hoping to not-notice how many Rush fans in my immediate vicinity really, really stink."

So I didn't.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Baby Boomer Trend Story From The New York Times

“Man, I’m bored. What should I do today – watch a movie?” (Flips through channels.) “Nah. Nothin’ good on. Visit an amusement park?” (Flips through wallet.) “Nope. Not enough cash. Maybe experiment with new hairstyles?” (Flips through curls.) “Fuckin’ frizz. Can’t control it when it’s this humid.” (Sigh.) “What to do, what to do – hey, I know! I’ll cut all ties to my parents and spend the rest of my life as a person without a family!”

That’s not the train of thought which makes certain adults arrive at the decision to estrange themselves from the parents of their childhoods, but you’d never know it to read this New York Times blog post (a couple months old but only now did I find it) about a "silent epidemic" of elderly adults flabbergasted when their adult children sever all connections to them.

Dr. Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist who bills himself an expert in parental estrangement issues (being estranged from his own adult daughter for several years presumably gave unique insight into the issue) is the chief expert cited in the story:
[Coleman] says it appears to be growing more and more common, even in families who haven’t experienced obvious cruelty or traumas like abuse and addiction. Instead, parents often report that a once-close relationship has deteriorated after a conflict over money, a boyfriend or built-up resentments about a parent’s divorce or remarriage.

“We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,” said Dr. Coleman, whose book “When Parents Hurt” (William Morrow, 2007) focuses on estrangement. “But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents, who made mistakes that were certainly within normal limits.”
There’s no set formula to any human relationship, and we certainly don’t live in a just world where suffering is only inflicted on those who deserve it. Back when I wrote for local newspapers – back when you didn’t have to be entirely delusional to think career prospects still existed in that field – I sometimes had to visit bleak nursing homes for the occasional write-up of a centenarian birthday party. Only rarely did I see relatives visiting the inmates, and of course I had no way of knowing what those people were like in their prime: were their children selfishly ungrateful, or had the parents been miserable old bastards who drove their offspring away?

The Times story says Joshua Coleman refused to accept it when his adult daughter cut ties to him, though the story doesn’t speak to the daughter or go into detail over what caused the estrangement:
Dr. Coleman himself experienced several years of estrangement with his adult daughter, with whom he has reconciled. Mending the relationship took time and a persistent effort by Dr. Coleman to stay in contact. It also meant listening to his daughter’s complaints and accepting responsibility for his mistakes. “I tried to really get what her feelings were and tried to make amends and repair,” he said. “Over the course of several years, it came back slowly.” …. Dr. Coleman says he believes parental estrangement is a “silent epidemic,” because many parents are ashamed to admit they’ve lost contact with their children.

Often, he said, parents in these situations give up too soon. He advises them to continue weekly letters, e-mail messages or phone calls even when they are rejected, and to be generous in taking responsibility for their mistakes — even if they did not seem like mistakes at the time
Persistence is a virtue. How many dead romantic relationships might have been resuscitated had the spurned partner taken Coleman’s advice? “Often, the rejected partners in these situations give up too soon. He advises them to continue sending their exes weekly letters, email messages or phone calls even when they are rejected, and to be generous in taking responsibility for their mistakes – even if they did not seem like mistakes at the time.”

So if the parents really were good folk suffering unjustly at the hands of their children, Coleman recommends they take more abuse: “I’m sorry I made you brush your teeth, sweetheart. I was wrong to make you do homework when you wanted to play video games instead. You’re right – I should have given you money every single time you asked, and never refused when you wanted a new toy.”

On the other hand, if the children broke off with their parents who were abusive but refuse to admit it, Coleman suggests the parents compound their childrens’ anguish by nagging them with constant communication after their children – full-fledged adults by this point – made it clear they wanted no further contact with these people.

The story doesn’t address the question “What if my letters and e-mails and phone calls result in a restraining order?”

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

In America, Childhood Is Eternal

As a kid, I knew the world was filled with things denied to me, but the grown-ups could have them whenever they wished. Deal was, one day I'd be grown-up too, and then I could set aside childish things and embrace adult ones instead. But they changed the rules by the time I grew up, and now America is the land of perpetual childhood. I discuss this over at the Guardian, with a special shout-out to that uniquely American brand of idiocy wherein ostensible adults brag about taking advice from children:

Consider Phillipsburg, New Jersey, where a classful of determined seven-year-olds started a campaign which 19 months later convinced state legislators to ban the sale of novelty lighters. The kids, of course, are proud of themselves, and the politicos are behaving as though it's reasonable and even admirable for middle-aged lawmakers to seek counsel from people who still worry about the monsters under their bed.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Expectation Alters Perception: An Anecdote In Lieu Of Data

So I’m sitting on the couch typing away at my laptop, while next to me sat the Most Patient Man in the World (evidence being he’s lived with me almost a decade and is still in his right mind, more or less) typing at his. He turned on the TV for background noise and flipped through the channels before briefly settling on one calling itself “VH1 Classic” because that sounds so much better than “The Nostalgia Channel For People Too Old To Appreciate Stephenie Meyer.” I heard an obvious Journey concert, with Steve Perry caterwauling about folks going separate ways.

I glanced up at the TV just as the camera zoomed in on the singer, and cried out, “My God! What happened to his face? That’s got to be the worst plastic surgery I’ve ever seen.”

The Most Patient Man in the World explained that Steve Perry and Journey had long since gone their separate ways, and the band’s now fronted by an uncanny Perry soundalike from the Philippines. So I looked at the singer again – when I expected to see Steve Perry the aging Caucasian I’d recoiled in pity for a horribly mutilated human being, but once I realized this was a completely different person (and Filipino to boot) he wasn’t bad-looking at all.

Still, if Steve Perry goes under the knife trying to look younger and emerges looking like that, he should sue his plastic surgeon for everything he’s got.

Friday, July 02, 2010

From Financial Crisis To Sexual Panics

No matter how impoverished we get here in the USA, we can always find funding for however many bullets it takes to shoot ourselves in the foot. Over at the Guardian, I discuss a sampling of recent news stories showing politicians bravely tackling America's many problems by attempting to outlaw strip clubs, gay sex and any other consensual adult activities prone to pressing Puritanical freakout buttons.
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