Sunday, February 26, 2006

An interesting idea from Christopher Caldwell in today's New York Times Magazine. Manassas, Va., passed some laws about what "family" means. This time it's not about sexuality but rather real estate. To wit, lots of folks living in a "single family home":

Whereas the old code defined "family" as pretty much any group of people related by blood or marriage, the new definition limited it to immediate relatives of the homeowner. Parents, children and siblings were family; uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews were not.

Which means that Alex's household is not a family, at least as far as Manassas is concerned (fortunately Scarborough has a remarkably relaxed view about families.) But back to Caldwell and Virginia:

For decades, the family has been at the center of America's culture wars. The traditionalist side takes the family for something natural, self-evident and unchanging, with certain absolute rights that no government can violate. The reformist side holds that the family is a "social construct" that is destined to change as individuals make choices and governments pass laws that reflect new mores.

But look now. The traditionalists are hoist with their own petard. When the real desiderata of American life — convenient parking and garbage-free sidewalks — are at stake, Joe Sixpack is as willing to meddle with the traditional family as are Heather's Two Mommies. And sheltering distant relatives in various kinds of trouble — the laid-off, the dropped-out, the pregnant — is what American (extended) families have always been for.

Whether we think the purpose of families is producing babies, fostering love, tending the aged or protecting chastity, they have one thing in common. They are organized to address concrete problems, not to dispense utopian malarkey. Governments can kick problems down the road in a way that families cannot — whether the problem is a husband drinking his wages away or housing prices that have lost their apparent logical relation to hourly pay. The immigrants in Manassas are behaving like families in this sense. They are adapting their city's "single-family" housing stock to the realities of the labor market — with an indifference to government say-so that used to be called Yankee ingenuity.

Manassas overturned the law, by the way.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I've been reading "The Natural," a book by Joe Klein about the Clinton presidency and he quotes Leon Panetta describing the southern courtliness of Clinton. "He never came out and told someone they were full of shit even though I know he was thinking it."

That's not a bad thumbnail description of southern cultural behavior where famously "bless your heart," can be kindness but probably is a fig leaf to disguise cruelty. "She's so ugly, bless her heart." It trips me up sometimes, that courtliness. It's confusing to others as well and I can see how someone might mistake "politeness" for, say, "interested."

Cultural difference can be a pain in the ass, no two ways about it. Why can't we all just get along? Sometimes it's because we can't understand why you or, even better, you people act that way.

Bringing me to what seems like journalistic genius AND a welcome service, Ask a Mexican from the Orange County Weekly, written by Gustavo Arellano.

From today's Los Angeles Times:

The column, published in 2004, was meant as a one-time spoof, but questions began pouring in. Why are there so many elaborate wrought-iron fences in the Mexican parts of town? What part of the word "illegal" do Mexicans not understand? Why do Mexicans pronounce "shower" as "chower" but "chicken" as "shicken"? Arellano has responded each week, leading an unusually frank discussion on the intersections where broader society meets the largest and most visible national subgroup in the country: Mexicans.

Arellano, a 27-year-old reporter and fourth-generation Orange County resident, has taken his "Ask a Mexican" personality to radio and other print outlets. He has found receptive audiences in unlikely places, even conservative talk radio. "Ask a Mexican" is historically and culturally accurate, in some cases painfully so, while pushing the edges of modern political correctness.

At times, it can also sound like the work of a graduate student — which Arellano once was. His response to the "shicken" question included references to native Indian languages and linguapalatal fricatives.

But under it all, "Ask a Mexican" is imbued with affection for Mexican immigrants, which may explain its appeal among Mexican Americans who might otherwise take offense.

Dear Mexican,What's with the Mexican need to display the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere? I've seen her in the oddest places, from a sweatshirt to a windshield sticker. As a Mexican, I find it a little offensive and tacky to display this religious symbol everywhere.

Dear Pocha,… I've seen her painted on murals, woven into fabulous silk shirts worn by Stetson-sporting hombres and — one holy night — in my bowl of guacamole. But while I share your disdain for the hypocrites who cross themselves in Her presence before they sin…. I don't find public displays of the Empress of the Americas offensive at all. Mexican Catholicism is sublime precisely because it doesn't draw a distinction between the sacred and the profane. We can display our saints as comfortably in a cathedral as we do on hubcaps.

Admit it. You may not have a question for A Mexican but you've got a question for somebody. Don't you wish you could ask?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How was my day? Why it was busy.

You name the question, "Busy" is the answer. Yes, yes, I know we are all terribly busy doing terribly important things. but I think more often than not, "Busy" is simply the most acceptable knee-jerk response.

Certainly there are more interesting, more original and more accurate ways to answer the question how are you? How about: I'm hungry for a waffle; I'm envious of my best friend; I'm annoyed by everything that's broken in my house; I'm itchy.

Yet busy stands as the easiest way of sumarizing all that you do and all that you are. I am busy is the short way of saying--suggesting--my time is filled, my phone does not stop ringing, and you (therefore) should think well of me.

As kids, our stock answer to most every question was nothing. What did you do at school today? Nothing. What's new? Nothing. Then, somewhere on the way to adulthood, we each took a 180-degree turn. We cashed in our nothing for busy.

I'm starting to think that, like youth, the word nothing is wasted on the young. Maybe we should try reintroducing it into our grown-up vernacular. Nothing. I say it a few times and I can feel myself becoming more quiet, decaffeinated. Nothing. Now I'm picturing emptiness, a white blanket, a couple ducks gliding on a still pond. Nothing. nothing. Nothing. How did we get so far from it?

from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal who lives in Chicago and totally rocks. (the NYT published this piece in 1999 in case it looks familiar.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Doing homework which means Looking For Procastination Facilitation.
If you are looking to kill a little time, take a look at the website for McDonald's India. This link shows the delicious looking McAloo Tikki.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Today was the first day of my internship. I mailed advertising rate cards which is intern-y and I played with Lucy, the Punk Planet dog. The Bird Machine shares space with Punk Planet and their dog is named Seth. He didn't feel like playing.

I came home with a big stack of back issues--they want me to write, so that's good.

We went to Hot Doug's--The Sausage Superstore for lunch. I wasn't psyched when this was announced. But I was totally wrong. Check it out. I had the Thai chicken sausage with sweet and sour sauce, pickled radish and roasted sesame seeds. Mmmm.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

From today's New York Times, Malcolm Gladwell on politics and national identity:

"I hate to be this reductive, but an awful lot of my ideology, it's just Canadian. Canadians like small, modest things, right? We don't believe in boasting. We think the world is basically a good place. We're pretty optimistic. We think we ought to take care of each other. And it so happens that to be a Canadian in America is to seem quite radical."