Archive for November, 2007

Next Year in Jerusalem

November 29, 2007

Sixty years ago today, the new international organization called the United Nations voted to partition the land of Palestine, creating separate Jewish and Arab states.

Having spent some time in modern Israel in 2000 and again this past May, I can tell you that it is a fascinating, if potentially dangerous, place; full of historical, political, racial, religious, and cultural tension. It is also a land of huge contradictions – the ultra modern beside the ancient.

Any thoughts on modern Israel – it’s history up to now and how things might play out in the future?

Chicken Wings

November 20, 2007

I know I’ve expressed my fascination with eating competitions here before. I love these things. People actually practice eating, exercise their abdominal muscles for the express purpose of being able to cram more food into their stomachs. And they get paid. They get to eat hot dogs. And pancakes and pies and all the other fun foods. They do so with apparently no consequences — these people aren’t fat. This has to be one of the purist sports going right now. It’s just everyday people who happen to be able to eat 4 pounds of chicken wings in 8 minutes.

Yup. 4 pounds. Chicken wings. 8 minutes.

So when you sit down to eat in a couple of days and you start to feel guilty about how much you’ve eaten and how many sit ups you’ll have to do to make up for it and will you be able to button your pants. Stop thinking those things. Take a breath. Sit back down and keep eating. You haven’t eaten nearly enough to win any prizes.

What To Do With a Slightly Used Elephant?

November 16, 2007

I found this interesting: The Consumer Paradox: Scientists Find that Low Self-Esteem and Materialism Goes Hand in Hand.

The upshot is that they’ve apparently established a causal link between low self-esteem and what I’ll call consumerism (both because it’s more descriptive, and because “materialism” has too many other meanings), though I don’t see any indication that they’ve demonstrated the mechanism. Low self-esteem causes people — young people, in this study — to buy more stuff. Events that raised those same people’s self-esteem caused them to buy less stuff. And the causation works the other way, too: consumerism causes low self-esteem.

If they’ve actually demonstrated a causal relationship there, this seems to me major news for the U.S.

Our whole society is based on consumerism. Our economy runs, almost purely, on consumerism. And not just ours. It’s a truism among economists that, “The American consumer is the engine that drives the world’s economy.” We aren’t just based on buying things; we’re based on selling each other things. We’re a marketing/advertising driven socio-economic system.

Consumerism is as central to our society as Leninism was to Soviet Russia. The thing Soviet Russia sold to its people above all else was Ideology. The thing America sells to its people above all else is Buying Stuff. There was a time when Work was the dominant American trope and ideology; now it’s the buying of stuff.

If, as this study apparently suggests, Buying Stuff is making us sick, we’re going to have to stop making it the core of our society. We’re going to have to stop selling Buying Stuff. The problem is, what then? In the absence of Buying Stuff, we don’t have an economy. Work isn’t there for us to fall back on, anymore. Nobody wants to work; we just want to buy stuff. Work is no longer seen as redemptive (e.g., the Protestant work ethic), or ennobling, or as giving purpose, or as worthwhile effort toward a socially valuable work-product, or as an expression of and outlet for character, or as providing, in itself, any other benefit. It’s just what gets us to Buying Stuff.

Buying Stuff, meanwhile, has become a good in itself. The point isn’t even owning things, it’s buying them. That’s where the pleasure is. There’s a phrase I’ve heard increasingly in recent years: “fun to buy,” as in, since the holiday season is upon us, “We could get Susie X, but that’s no fun to buy. Ooooh, let’s go to Cool Stuff Emporium and get her Y!” The point of the exercise becomes not Susie and the pleasure or use she might get from the gift, but ourselves and the pleasure of Buying Stuff.

The linked article references a Mad Magazine quote that’s been making the rounds on the internets lately: “The only reason a great many American families don’t own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.”

Exactly. Why? Because elephants are useful to have around the house, or add value and satisfaction to one’s life? No. Because if elephants were for sale, they would be fun to buy. Nobody would want to own an elephant, of course. But buy one? What a blast!

Does this new study indicate we’re moving toward making advertising a national health issue? It seems unlikely. Advertising is pretty much all we do anymore. The interests are too large and too entrenched and too general.

If consumerism is causing widespread degradation of mental health, though, what’s the appropriate response?

(NB: I couldn’t find online the actual study mentioned in the linked article, or even a complete cite for it. Here’s author, title, and journal: Lan Nguyen Chaplin and Deborah Roedder John, “Growing Up in a Material World: Age Differences in Materialism in Children and Adolescents,” Journal of Consumer Research.)

Some Things I Will Not Miss About City Living

November 13, 2007

So, there comes a time in many a young urbanite’s life when she has a baby and realizes that this whole city thing she used to love is just not going to work anymore.

Okay, truth be told, there were always down sides to living in an urban area. But before Casey, I was always able to overlook them, or justify them, or accept them. And then our house got broken into when he was two weeks old. And we were there (it happened around 4 a.m.). That is by no means the only catalyst for getting the heck out of dodge. But it might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, or something like that.

It’s a cliche, this whole having a baby and moving to the suburbs thing. And honestly I don’t think we would have even considered it had David not gotten a job in one of the far VA suburbs. But once that happened, I really started to see the potential pluses of moving out there. The only real negative is commuting costs, but that was more than outweighed by the numerous benefits. So we’re moving, and I am more excited about it than I ever thought I would be. Every day now something will happen — routine things, all, but more grating than ever — and I say to myself, not gonna miss that.

So, in honor of our move, a list of some of those things:

In no particular order …

1. Rude people. Drivers who speed up when you put on your turn signal, pedestrians who jaywalk with an irritating sense of entitlement and trust that you won’t run them down, people in Whole Foods who glare at you for taking up space, and everyone who does not smile at your baby even after he smiles at them. People in this city, as much as or more than NYC, are RUDE. I mean not giving up their seat on the Metro for an elderly man or a pregnant woman rude. The South has its issues, but we know about manners.

1b. People who hang out outside no matter how cold or hot it is and talk or play music loudly at all hours. Our neighbor’s place is the hangout house for all the teenagers in this area and sometimes they are obnoxious. Make that most of the time.

2. 45 minutes (or more) to travel 1 mile or less. Enough said.

3. Old house, creaky floors and stairs. Worrying about waking baby it took half an hour to get down with every single step.

4. Churches without parking lots whose parishioners take up every parking spot on Sundays and double park with impunity.

5. Taking baby for a walk in his stroller and worrying about all the exhaust he’s breathing in and whether the loud trucks are hurting his little ears.

6. Bad memories of a certain evil law firm for which I once worked.

7. The choice between spending an hour looking for a parking spot or paying $15 to park in a lot for an hour or two. (And yes, I’m aware of the environmental implications of free parking. Have a kid and get back to me on that.)

8. Having to drive 30 minutes to get to a Chick-Fil-A. 🙂

9. Street sweeping.

10. A general ethic that work is more important than family.

Hmmm, now that I look at this list, a lot of it has to do with cars and driving. Which is a symptom of congestion. Which relates to the whole thing about people being rude. I think the surliness comes from lack of oxygen.

Oh, I just remembered, and must add

11. Difficulty and expense of finding good housing and child care. I kid you not that in the city you have to be on a waiting list for 18 months to pay $1500 a month for day care. Out where we’re going, I found a spot immediately for half that.

12. Arrogance, snobbery, sense of entitlement, being caught up in the rat race and keeping up with the Joneses. There’s a lot of that in DC, and for this humble Mississippi girl it’s well nigh intolerable. Get over yourselves already, people, and figure out what’s important in life before it’s too late.

Of course, all the snobs are WAAAYYYYY too good to live in the town we’re moving to, and I say we’re well rid of them. We will not let the door hit us on the way out.

Compare and Contrast

November 12, 2007

Frank Rich gets it.

Meanwhile, the “I’ve Looked Into His Eyes” Test for identifying foreign leaders who share what are supposedly our values is on a spectacular ohfer streak. Maybe Vlad and Pervy had those cool, pro-democracy contact lenses in. Pret-ty sneaky, sis.

I’m Stealing This

November 8, 2007

from Harper’s. I doubt they care, but if they do, I’m sure they’ll let me know about it.

See, my nephew Joshy started school this year. As everyone who ever attended the school he’s attending (which is a couple other contributers here) knows….beginning of a school year means magazine sales. I HATE the whole idea of magazine sales. I think it’s a form of prostitution. Here are cute kids. Buy something from them so that we can MAKE MONEY. It makes no sense to me. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m a good uncle and bought a couple of magazines. One of them was Harper’s, and I got my first issue in the mail today. And like any good reader, I turned straight to the Harper’s Index. Because, I mean, really.

So I’ll share a couple of education-related thingys, since it was sort of an educational related thing that brought Harper’s to my mailbox.

First, there’s this: “Estimated amount that teacher turnover costs U.S. school districts each year in recruiting and training: $7, 000,000,000.” I’m pretty sure that’s billion, although I have no concept of that sort of money. Seems a pay-raise might help some of that. But maybe not.

Then there’s this: “Chances that a new public-school teacher in Philadelphia will leave within six years: 7 in 10.” Roughly 70% by my calculations.

And then: “Chances that an entering high school student will not graduate within the same span: 4 in 10.” Holy cow, that’s a lot of kids not graduating. In SIX years. A lot of kids. What, exactly, does one do these days without a high school diploma if they want to eat? Or, like, pay for stuff?

Depressing. That’s why I’m here. Wanted to bring everyone down today.

I Meant to Post This Yesterday

November 2, 2007

Or even the day before that. But I didn’t. I decided to wait until Friday afternoon.

So to possibly carry us through the weekend…

I usually don’t care much for sports journalism. It bores me. But occassionally there’s a sports writer who comes along and is the right mix of brains and funny to make ESPN interesting. Bill Simmons is (sometimes) such a writer. He’s a bit frustrating — like the kid who sits in the back of class and constantly cracks jokes and he does this so often that it is just about to really piss everyone off when he says something so funny that you can’t help but love him. That’s how Bill Simmons is. He cracks lots of jokes. Only some of them are funny, but the funny ones make you forget about the nonsense he just wrote.

Anyway. Simmons writes a regular column for ESPN called The Sports Guy. It’s always worth reading, even though I don’t care about most of what he talks about (fantasy sports and professional football). He is a Boston native and a huge Red Sox fan. During the playoffs, he frequently posted his thoughts on ESPN’s website. My favorite column was this one: There’s Only One October Diary

The entire column is worth reading, but I love what he has to say about Tim McCarver and John Couger Mellancamp. I’ll leave you with a couple of snippets.

About McCarver: I might not be able to describe what McCarver just told us without you thinking I made it up, but let’s try: Over the span of 45 seconds, he just explained that a leadoff home run leads to more multirun innings than a leadoff walk, only he made it sound like this was some sort of remarkable revelation or something.

And those stupid chevy commercials with that annoying Mellancamp “This is Our Country” song: Now it has gotten to the point when I look forward to belting the chorus out. Chevy has just beaten me down completely — it’s the only commercial that causes Stockholm Syndrome. This is ouuuuuuur country.

Hope everyone has a good weekend.