Friday, September 30, 2005

Its Bjorn Time!

Bjorn is the name of this kid who is, for now, my favorite reality TV star. My fascination with him began when he first appeared in a promo for "My Sweet Sixteen" on MTV a few weeks ago. I had to see him to believe him, and after watching his episode on four separate occasions, I must say that I love this kid because he is so blissfully unaware that he is a walking caricature at the tender age of 16. One can only imagine what he'll be like at 21.

"My Sweet Sixteen" represents all that has gone wrong with parenting after 1980. This show features the pampered, over-indulged children of the nouveau riche who have been raised to believe that they can have, do and be whatever they want. In Bjorn's case, it appears that he endeavors to be some sort of gay icon and his family seems totally okay with that. In fact they celebrate this occasion with a lavish coming out/sweet sixteen party fit for a queen.

Call me old fashioned, but most parents would be embarrassed to have a teenaged son who carries a Chanel purse and refers to himself as a "Divo." No one wants a gay child, not even gay people themselves. Of course, there is no way his mother named him Bjorn and expected him to be anything other than an interior decorator, a fashion designer, a hairdresser or a mimbo... (Wow, in case anyone comes across this piece, this is me writing from the future in 2020. What I wrote here is horrible, and though I have the power to edit it out, I won't. Instead, I am issuing a sincere apology for having thought this way and ever giving voice to this type of homophobia. --ADH)

Bjorn and his fellow Sweet Sixteeners confirm every reason why people think this society is headed to hell in a handbasket. Take for example, Amanda, the daughter of a nightclub owner in Ocala, Florida. Her father gets singer Ciarra to perform at the party, so Amanda sells tickets to her party on the premise that people are actually paying to see Ciarra. How generous... Then there is Sierra, the daughter of Cee-Lo, some third tier rapper whose 15 minutes of fame have long since elapsed. She demands tributes of presents or money from the attendees at her ghetto fab Sweet Fifteen party (apparently someone can't count that good)... Another gem is the whiny Sophie, a spoiled chubby girl who hires a party planner and a stylist for her Moulin Rouge-themed bash. Her shining moment comes when she gets into a staring match with someone's mother and then bans the women from re-entering the hotel.

And you thought the Hilton sisters were bad enough.

There are some moments of redemption, but they are brief. For example, despite Amanda's grade-A bitch demeanor throughout, her one humanizing moment comes when she invites three poor kids in to her party after they serenade her with a bluesy rendition of Happy Birthday. And Sierra's diva attitude is no match for her mother's when the party is temporarily canceled due to a bad report card.

But the damage is already done--these children are ruined. The parents are so weak and useless that after years of caving in to their children's whims and desires, they probably think one more indulgence won't hurt. And the children proclaim that they always get what they want, no matter how bizarre. One girl wants to be Cinderella, so she arrives at her party in a horse drawn carriage escorted by a guy dressed in a Prince Charming costume.

The Sixteeners believe that by virtue of being born rich they are deserving of this unlimited excess. In fact the one girl who had not been born rich, but had been adopted into a rich family at the age of 14, also felt similarly entitled to a big party and a car to make up for all the years she spent in foster care. One would think that all those years she spent on the other side of the tracks would have given her some perspective, but she proves to be just as shallow as the other Sixteeners. As she makes out her invitation list, she declares that she would only invite the "best people" to her party--presumably the same people who would have ridiculed her when she was a poor orphan.

I have yet to understand MTV's motivation for this show, but I think it is meant as a cautionary look into the future if we continue to champion empty values and self-absorption. Do we intend to become spineless parents? Do we really want to raise horrible children like this?

Is it really Bjorn time?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Untitled Gobblety Gook

I had an idea, but by the time this page loaded, I had forgotten. My computer is sooo slow. But that is what I get for still using dial-up.

I am behind in pretty much every way technologically. I still listen to CDs. I still watch DVDs at home on the TV. I don't have TiVo, so if my VCR were hooked up, I'd still need to buy video tapes to record things. I just bought this computer two years ago, but it is already a dinosaur. All of these are signs of the inevitable--I'm getting old.

While I was waiting for this page to load, I am simultaneously downloading an accelerator program so that my computer will run faster. I think this is what we refer to as irony...

Anyhoo, there isn't that much to say because I forgot what I had intended to say, which was going to be pretty damn funny, so I guess it's just one of those things. I had intended to quote "Napolean Dynamite" too, which is a shame, because that would have made my little ditty for today a riot.

Speaking of that movie, why is it pretty much everywhere I go? Urban Outfitters is selling a coffee table book full of quotes from the movie and Target has t-shirts. Why?

This was such a stupid movie. So very stupid, yet my hub and a bunch of other generally sane people loved it. He bought me the "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt which I preceeded to wear at least three times before I actually saw the movie. That shirt caused a lot of questions from people, and it was a bit silly of me to say, "well this is from a movie I haven't seen, but I've heard that it's funny." Now when I wear it, I tell the truth, "this is from this lame movie about inbreds from Idaho."

On another note, I saw the LL Cool J "Behind the Music" special, and it again confirmed that my life was so empty without cable. If I couldn't learn the back story of old rappers and faded R&B groups from my childhood, I would probably be spending that time with my husband. Thank you VH1!

Well, I need to get going so that I can activate this accelerator program. I have a ton of other things to do today, so in some ways, it's good that I forgot my original subject. I am so anal that I would have spent well over an hour writing and re-writing it something that may or may not have been all that funny. Well, such is life.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

This is a Test

I had a glass and a half of wine this evening, so I want to see what effect it has on my writing. A lot of famous writers were drunks, and I've heard that some of the greats wrote better when they were drunk. Hence my little experiment.

So far, I've determined that I am just as conscientious about spelling and grammar mistakes as I am when sober. I am not actually drunk, but I have had enough to drink that I am aware of it.

So, in terms of an actual subject...I don't have one in particular. So this will be a quickie. Short and to the point (whatever the hell that is). Today, I took my husband to the airport and he is now in Seattle, a city that I am just dying to see. Unfortunately, I have class tomorrow night and I'm giving a quiz, so I think that means that I need to be there. Damn.

And after that, I hung out for a bit, bought some biker shorts, a reflector vest and some sushi. Then I came back home and did absolutely nothing but get ready for dance class. I took two classes today and Mrs. B was a beast. She's trying to make us performance ready, but I think she's trying to get us back into the shape we were in 15 years ago. Hello, but I'm 31 and I don't think my body can do what it did at 15. It can't even do some of the things it did at 25...

Like drinking. If I could go back in time to when I was in law school and could drink like a fish, this little bit of wine would never have made me sleepy. If this was ten years ago, I'd have drunk the entire bottle of wine and would still be eager for more. I've turned into a big married wuss.

That's why I'm going to a party on Friday night, probably without my husband. He'll be back from Seattle, but he'll probably be jet-lagged and frankly, I am not going to come home to watch cable with him. I'm dropping his ass off and I'm heading back downtown. I'm tired of being the predictable housewife.

OK, that's all I've got for now. I've gotta go teach my class (the one online) and I've got to do something else for my other class. I've got a lot of sh** to do, so this buzz I've got going will wear off and I'll go back to being my boring old predictable self.

Unitl then, Ciao!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Not Another March

I was driving and spotted a tattered sign for the upcoming Millions More Movement March scheduled for October 15, 2005. Once again, Min. Farakhan has issued the call for millions of black people to march on Washington.


Ten years ago, I was among the haters of the original march. I was offended that women had been asked not to attend. I thought it was irresponsible to encourage black men to skip work for a day just to hear a bunch of speeches. I felt it was a lame attempt by the many of the usual suspects of so-called black leadership to find relevance. I thought it was all a big sham.

And so I find myself feeling many of the same sentiments. This march is another wasted gesture, a false "movement" to mobilize black people to do something, yet no one is quite sure what that something is.

This time, the organizers are calling on black families, which means that this time around they want to include black women. Gee, thanks. But this summer when one of the organizers made openly hostile remarks about black lesbians and their attempts to ruin the black family, I guess that means that only certain black women are welcome to participate. So they've exchanged one form of gender discrimination for another.

At least this time the march will take place on a Saturday so no one has to miss a day of work or school to hear words of wisdom from the line-up of usual suspects: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Willie Wilson, Min. Louis Farrakhan, and now the new school hip-hop "leaders" Russell Simmons, and Kanye West. Of course, there is not a single woman in the bunch of leaders, so if anything this march is reminiscent of the original March on Washington (63) in that women are at least invited to show up, but are expected to remain silent...

I won't even deal with the Reverends because what more needs to be said about their "moral" leadership? Not that any of them should be perfect, but maybe they should have a shred of credibility. Among them, only Rev. Al has redeemed himself somewhat, but he still needs to do more than just talk. And lately, rappers have proven that their best forms of advocacy are self-promotion and misogyny.

Finally, I believe the whole thing is a sham. While the stated goals of the organizers are laudable as enumerated in the "Issues Statement," the real impetus behind this march is not social justice but economics. There are corporate sponsors. There are plans for vendors. There is a registration fee. Since it has been called by a bunch of preachers, there will probably be a collection plate. At the end of this, the volunteers will go home mobilized to do whatever it is that they already do, and the organizers will walk away with cash. At the last Million Man March, I saw men drop tons of cash into the hats that were passed around but I never heard whether any of that money went to any causes.

So if I am too cynical, then shoot me. I have been on the front lines of the social justice battle ever since the last march ten years ago, and I don't see very many changes. They say that black people registered to vote en masse, but where were they November 2004 when I was an Election Protection volunteer? The turn-out at my North Philly precinct was pathetic. They claimed that men returned to their families with a renewed sense of commitment, but ask my brothers about the parents who never show up to their children's schools. Or just ask me or any legal aid attorney to tell you stories of the absent fathers who refuse to pay child support. Or just watch Maury Povitch any day of the week to see the paternity shows.

Ask about the uneven statistics regarding black men in college. We get mad when we learn that more of them are in jail than in college, but have we ever wondered why? I drive through the city sometimes and see more men hanging out on the corner than going to work or school. I see brothers polishing rims and drinking all day, and then I am supposed to believe that the system is stacked against them? What about those black women I see on the Metro, what about the odds they face?

If you want to change things, then go into your community and do it. Don't bring all these people into my city to scream and shout about the ills of our community and then ship them back home to the suburbs where their biggest beef is the price of gas or how poorly they were treated at the Lexus dealership. Don't come here to complain about poor educational opportunities, but then go home to plug in your play station instead of a computer. Buy your kids books instead of sneakers, DVDs, and MP3 players.

You don't need to march around Washington to bring about change. You simply change.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Blog Blues

I have a dozen unfinished drafts waiting to be posted but I'm not sure if it makes any sense to try. I got accepted to that webring and I even got a few compliments. But now I'm in a writing rut, and I'm starting to think that this was all just a bad idea.

I am not that funny nor profound, yet I really want people to read my writing. I have great ideas for things to write, but by the time I get to my computer, everything is lost. Carrying a notebook to jot things down doesn't always help because it is hard to write while driving or when out and about doing all the things I do.

Like dance class. I start back tomorrow and then I have a meeting right after that. Then my hub suggested that we check out one of the end-of-summer festivals in the area and that means my entire day is booked up and over. When am I supposed to find time to write?

I am not a morning person, and after last night it is becoming clear that I am not much of a night owl anymore either. I am always tired. I wonder if I'm sick, but then my hub will accuse me of being a hypochondriac (sp?).

I've had a rough week, and starting back at school only added to my stress. It took me 90 minutes to commute from my house to this campus location in Waldorf, which means that this is what I have to look forward to for the next six weeks. Yesterday it took me two hours! My entire day must now revovle around getting to and from this class.

As much as I like to drive, I have come to hate it more and more these days. I spend most of my vacations behind the wheel of the car because Rick gets too nervous and erratic when he drives in strange places. He finally developed enough nerve to drive in Brooklyn, but anyplace else and he is riding shotgun. Just like the entire week we spent in Florida; I did all the driving, as if I knew how to navigate through Miami any better than he did.

I feel like my ass should be permanently indented in the drivers' seat of the car. The car should be contoured to my frame, but recently that doesn't appear to be the case. A few weeks ago, Rick and I were driving back from New York with his mother, and on the first leg of the trip he drove. We get to South Jersey to change over, but as soon as I buckle in, the seat belt light starts to flash. Now it does that every time I drive, but whenever he drives, the light stays off. So now I have this light flashing all the time to annoy me while I sit in traffic on my way to wherever.

I need a new routine. I need a mechanism for interacting with other humans on a regular basis, and so far, that is not happening. I have no where to go during the day becasue I have no money and everybody is at work. The other women my age who are at home are taking care of their children. Children are cute, but must I have one to rejoin civil society?

When this work-from-home experiment began, I ate outside of the house at least twice a week, just for a change of scenery. Eventually, eating out got too expensive and costly on other fronts--I ballooned to nearly 175 pounds and now my cholesterol is high. (I'm 5'10, so no one really thought I was fat, but once the number 12 became more common in the dressing room, I got my act together.) So enter the much ballyhooed bike, my big ticket item of the summer. My thinking was that I would ride all around the city and keep in shape at the same time. Wrong. From that vantage point, cars are instruments of certain death, so I ride on the sidewalk and look like an idiot because even the kids are riding in the street.

The latest is that I am not speaking to one of my brothers. My parents have the nerve to suggest that I am being unreasonable even though he was the one who acted like an ass. So the hub and I have agreed not to eat there on Sundays until he offers me an acceptable apology. Since that won't happen, this Sunday will be the first test of my boycott, and I am prepared to hold out until Christmas.

Added to all of this, I broke down this week after receiving a package from another atty on this pro bono case that I never should have agreed to take. My client is literally a disaster waiting to happen, and I am totally in over my head. What the hell was I thinking?

I am a mess. A grand hot mess. This might be the first time that my winter blahs began in September...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Options and Priorities

America is the land of opportunity, but opportunity is the privilege of those who have options. Take the hurricane; the people who left New Orleans when the getting was good were all of those who had options. They had a place to go or they had someone to stay with. Opportunity also makes itself available to those who can set priorities. For those who could leave the Coast, survival was their priority.

Those who stayed behind mostly had limited options. And while survival may have been a priority to them, it seems that we did not share that same sense of urgency. Anyone who saw those images should have known that the situation was dire, but that did not translate into immediate action.

Thus, in a way the classic American struggle between the haves and the have nots really can be boiled down to those two principles.

I have this preference for a certain brand of bottled water, and ever since it started to disappear from the shelves at Giant Food, I've now been on this crusade to find it at any and every grocery store possible. Today I bought four bottles of it, and tonight I learned that it is only available at the Safeway or at Whole Foods. This means that I have to make a special effort to have this water on hand when I want it (usually for dance class or for riding my bike).

Why not drink regular water? Because regular tap water in DC tastes aweful and bottled water is portable. It is better for me than soda, so my new thing is to keep bottled water all over the house, in the car, and wherever I am.

So, back to my point about options...designer water for certain activities and regular bottled water for everything else. I never even have to consider tap water.

People have been on the radio and TV talking about the animals that were left behind in the storm. One charity is raising money for the purpose of housing these strays. I think this borders on the insane.

Not to be cold, but if someone leaves behind a pet in a situation like this, it may seem tragic, but we have more important things to worry about. What about the million PEOPLE who were displaced by the storm? There are Americans who became homeless overnight and we are worried about where Fluffy and Spot are going to sleep tonight?

So, it takes three days to get to the people trapped in the Superdome, so some of them actually died in the middle of the street, but somehow the Humane Society can get TV time to plead for money to save stray pets? And we aren't even talking about livestock.

Finally, who gets the blame for all of this? Surely we can't shake our fingers or raise our voices at God. God is generally above blame. Acts of God are uninsurable events in which no one even claims liablity.

So the next person to blame should be those elected officials whom we charge with taking care of us--the President, the governors, and the local mayors. But these people have scapegoats who will take the blame for them. So I say that we blame Saddam Hussein. We blame him for everything else that's wrong. After all, if he hadn't invaded Kuwait back in 1991, then we would never have gone to war there, which would never have pissed off the Taliban, who never would have taken over Afganistan, which never would have encouraged Osama, who never would have carried out terrorist attacks, which never would have resulted in 9-11, which never would have caused us to go to war. If we accept that logic, then we're on the right track for making the world a better place.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New Orleans, cont.

This tragedy is overwhelming. I've been in contact with several of my old classmates, which highlights one of my points from before--how the more affluent among us had all the options. When the order came to leave, they might have hesitated a bit, but for the most part, they left. They are staying with relatives and friends, will likely have their jobs temporarily moved, and upon their return to the city, they will be able to rebuild from the ashes.

Not so with the 15,000 or more folks who were left behind at the Superdome.

Like many other African Americans who have helplessly watched the situation deteriorate in New Orleans, I am struck by the slow response to this crisis. I fault the media for sensationalizing the lawlessness and chaos, for it overshadowed the real tragedy of our sisters and brothers who were neglected for 36 hours and left to fend for themselves. Had this tragedy only been confined to the Gulf Coast (where many of the victims were white), I wonder if there would have been any stories about looting or pillaging. Well, actually I already know the answer to that--it would have been referred to as "the fight for survival."
I feel horrible for those people along the Gulf Coast because all of the attention has been on New Orleans. Along the vast stretch of miles that were directly impacted by this storm, there are millions of people who were in its path. More than likely, these people will continue to be overlooked in the media because of the enormity of the problem in New Orleans. Their struggle is no less tragic.

I can at least credit the media for throwing out the "chaos" scripts by Thursday, because by that point, several reporters began to openly question why relief was taking so long to arrive. On Friday morning, everyone was asking why, and by Friday night another levee broke when Kanye West offered this blunt assessment--that our government doesn't give a damn about poor black people.

West's comments were actually more harsh and direct; he said that George Bush doesn't care about black people. That statement is certainly less eloquent than what had been implied all week on black radio or what had been said directly by the Congressional Black Caucus on Friday afternoon. He might have tried to be more subtle, along the lines of the commentary provided this morning by Nancy Giles on the CBS Sunday Morning show. But the sentiment is the same--George Bush, show us that you give a damn!

Show us that compassionate conservatism is more than hollow rhetoric. People died on the streets of New Orleans after the hurricane hit. Mr. President, show us that your priorities are in line with helping our people (Americans, by the way) survive this crisis.

I am pissed, and the more I write, the angrier I become. We are in this mess because people have misplaced priorities. From the people who waded into abandoned stores to steal electronic equipment and guns to the president who spent time more at political fundraisers instead of with the victims of this storm, we all need to get our priorities straight.

All of us need to give more of a damn about human life everywhere. This hurricane serves as a reminder that life is fragile and has nothing to do with the stuff we accumulate. Life is the substance of our interactions with each other. We need to realign our values so that we place less emphasis on talking about faith and more on living it. God will not be found among the wreckage of flooded buildings and scattered possessions. God will be found in our hearts based on our tangible response to this tragedy.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans, pt. 1

I lived in New Orleans from 1994 to 1997. I haven't set foot in the city nor in the state of Louisiana since the day after my graduation from law school. It's not that I hated living there (because I got over that feeling in 1995), but I just haven't had a reason to go back.

I wish I had been back before now because I am heart broken by what I've seen on the news. The city and the vibrancy that I loved are now submerged under chest high water from the river and the lake. It will be years before the city recovers.

On Monday, I listened to some commentary on the radio as Katrina made landfall, and conventional wisdom was that New Orleans had dodged another big storm. Katrina had veered eastward, so her impact would largely be felt along the Gulf Coast, in Mississippi and Alabama. New Orleans would get some heavy rain (so flooding was inevitable), but it would survive.

Michael Wilbon suggested that if the hurricane had in fact hit New Orleans directly, the city would be washed away like the fictional island of Atlantis. As everyone now knows, New Orleans is below sea level, and the only thing that protects the city from the Mississippi on the west and Lake Ponchatrain on the east is the levee system. Initially, the worse case scenario was thought to be a direct hit from the hurricane, but instead, it was the breached levee.

I remember the first New Orleans flood I lived through. It was during my first year of law school, and it was during the beginning of hurricaine season. I think it was Andrew and we endured a few days of knee high water and no power. As the rain fell, I was safely tucked away on the third floor of my apartment building. A few of my exams were rescheduled, and our brand new law school got about a foot of water in its lobby. A couple of weeks later, everybody went home and life returned to normal.

Because we were students, we had nothing of value to lose. And if we did lose something valuable, we had the means to replace it. My best friend lost her car, so her parents got her another one. My downstairs neighbors lost some of their furniture, so they simply set it out in the trash, gave notice and sought apartments above the ground.

So I have mixed emotions about what I see on TV. When I saw the scores of people being ushered into the Superdome on Sunday night, I kept wondering why they didn't just leave. There was advance warning that this might be the big one, so it would make sense that everyone should have high-tailed it out of there. Then I began to remember what life was like for certain segments of the city, and it was clear to me that when you have very little to begin with, you hold onto it because it is your entire world.

I am upset about the slow response, pissed about the chaos, and irked by suggestions that race should not be mentioned as a factor. How else can we explain the slow response and references to looting and pillaging? Race is a large issue, and it is the issue that New Orleanians themselves have avoided for far too long. This is a city that acts ashamed of itself. Tourists see the French Quarter and the Garden District and marvel at how beautiful things are. No one ventures into the ninth ward, not even by accident, because to do so is to be confronted with the most squalid and hopeless conditions. It would seem totally unimaginable in the US in the 21st Century, but it is no different than the scene at the Superdome now. These people have always been desparate, so the hurricane only highlighted the problem.

I am venting because this whole situation has gotten me emotional. When I lived in New Orleans, I got defensive when the suburbanites referred to the city in animalistic terms or when people made overtly racist comments about city residents. I've had similar reactions to the media coverage of this situation. Yet when I lived in the city, I lived in the Garden District, went to school Uptown, and limited my contact with the depressed areas of the city, for fear that I would end up victimized. If I ventured too many blocks off the main drags, I was in another world, places so hopeless and desperate that I did like everybody else and buried my head in the sand. When it was time to graduate, it was a no brainer--I had options so I left for higher ground.

From my perch on higher ground in DC, it is easy second-guess the thought process of those who stayed. I have no doubt that I would have been among the first to evacuate. Call it common sense, but I call it the luxury of having options...