Sunday, December 18, 2011

Clooney, Obama, and political disappointment

Recently on Facebook I reposted this (click to enlarge it):

My friend Rob responded by posting the video that follows. His opinion: "None of that outweighs this."

Which started a lengthy discussion. My opening salvo:
I think the thing for me is that I'm not activist-y enough. I was friends with someone for a while who believed in the radical transformation of society, government, etc. because things were/are too broken to salvage, so we need a whole new plan. She also believed that the breakdown of capitalism and social chaos were nigh. Capitalism has looked especially awful in the last few years, but I wonder if it's really going to fall apart in the U.S. and yield to some new age of more enlightened social and economic structure. Inertia is a bitch.

All of which is to say, every president does terrible things. The comedian Bill Hicks once said that when someone is elected president, these shadowy figures take him (or eventually her) into a dark room and show him/her a version of JFK's assassination that no one's ever seen before -- the implication being that it was an inside job. The point being: Stray too far from a certain prescribed path, and you're toast.

I take this to mean that there's a limit to how much good a president can accomplish. Obama has made many compromises, as he kind of indicated he would by positioning himself as a moderate/centrist who would try to change the highly polarized nature of politics in D.C. Well, the GOP has never been more knee-jerk in its opposition to a Democratic president, as far as I know.

I'm not assigning all the blame for Obama's missteps to Republicans. I'm just saying that every president makes major "mistakes" that can either be seen as lapses in judgment or conscious betrayals of previously stated ideals. Maybe my attitude, that expecting a lot of consistent action powered by solid integrity, is expecting too much from a president reflects jadedness or laziness on my part. But maybe the position of president has enough inherent limits that there will always be great disappointments. (Clinton signed the DOMA, right? And he's supposedly one of the best presidents in recent memory.)

I think it's good to know what Obama's doing that we liberals consider bad. Clooney, however, seems to be saying that he's also accomplished good things, and if we think he'd be better than Romney for the next four years, we'd better emphasize those. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater might not be the best approach to presidential politics, you know? They're all gonna disappoint. But they're not all George W. Bush. The lesser-of-two-evils concept doesn't preclude actually going ahead, holding one's nose, and CHOOSING the lesser of two evils.
Rob came back with:
If what Senator Carl Levin says is true, Obama didn't compromise by moving to the right more than he wanted to, HE pressured congress to move to the right. Language excluding American citizens from indefinite detention was in the version of the bill that left committee, until Obama insisted that it be re-inserted.
Rob, do you think the next step is writing letters to Obama, or voting for a third-party candidate in 2012? Or some other action? The commentator says that if Bush had put forward a similar bill, "the left would have been in a rage." But what would that rage have resulted in? Our "rage" over Bush got Obama elected. Now it's fueling Occupy. I guess I hear guys like this get worked up and wonder what we should or can actually do. He's so angry. I dunno. I don't feel as much as he does. Al Franken voted for this bill, too, huh? Is everyone awful?
When conservatives during Clinton were frustrated that the Republican party didn't reflect their values, they didn't write letters to the Dole campaign, nor did they vote for Pat Buchanan. Instead, they got involved with the Republican party at the local level, got their values into the party platform, got their candidates on the ballots, and eventually took over the party and the country. They got G.W. Bush into office and turned the Democratic party so far to the right, they are nearly indistinguishable. (Compared to ending due process for all Americans, ending DADT is "throwing us a bone".)

We need to do the same.

My local Democratic party (36th Legislative District) holds its next meeting on January 18th at 7 pm. The meeting is open to the public. It's too late to do anything for this election cycle, but I intend to have a true progressive as the Democratic nominee in 2016.
And so on. I know reposting Facebook writing constitutes lazy blogging, but sometimes the informality of Facebook is more conducive to this type of "thinking out loud" writing. In other words, I wouldn't have written a blog post to this effect on my own, but the Clooney quote and Rob's reply inspired me to produce a lot of words, quite unexpectedly. In that way, Facebook beats blogging. I think one of the reasons I blog less these days is that I never developed a big enough readership to produce a regular flow of comments. And without dialogue, blogging can start to feel like talking to yourself in a deserted building. Whereas Facebook is like a crowded subway car. My last comment in this thread:
Some people think big picture, long term. I guess I don't have grand visions for a nearish future that's radically different from the present. There are exceptions, but social and political shifts tend to be gradual. Obama's election shifted things a bit in terms of our country's respectability in the eyes of the world. Healthcare reform, as meager as it turned out to be compared to what it could have been, put America's deeply troubled healthcare system in the spotlight, and Occupy is ensuring that it remains part of the national conversation.

Repealing DADT may be "throwing us a bone" in a sense, but I think a lot of gays and lesbians who are or have been in the military appreciate that it's more than a symbolic gesture -- it's a change in how the military does business. My upbringing led me to believe that not every positive change has to be really big to matter.

I think about this when I think of how movies, TV, etc. depict LGBT people. "Philadelphia," the '90s movie with Tom Hanks as a gay lawyer with AIDS, gets flak today for how chastely it depicted Hanks' relationship with Antonio Banderas, and for invoking the Gay Protagonist As Tragic AIDS Victim, a tired trope. But a movie that showed a same-sex relationship as healthy, happy, and strong, with major movie stars (Denzel Washington was also in it), from a big-name director (Jonathan Demme, who had won as Oscar for "Silence of the Lambs") and with significant studio money behind it? Holy cow, back then that was significant.

Similarly, "Transamerica" wasn't the radically transformative film that every trans activist was dreaming of, but it wouldn't have been made (with Felicity Huffman, anyway) in the early to mid-'90s. Progress happens gradually. By the time a "Brokeback Mountain" is released, the social, cultural, and political forces for good have advanced considerably on the ground.

I get that Obama's being the first African-American president is cold comfort when (some of) his policies seem terrible. But I still remember looking at the paper the morning after Election Night in 2008, seeing the Obamas on the front page, and thinking: "Wow. It wasn't just a dream. This really happened!" Eventually, hopefully, electing a president who isn't male, white, straight, wealthy, and/or Christian won't be such a big deal. But I think that future is a ways off.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lana Del Rey has something important to tell you

I first heard this on NPR's All Songs Considered. Now it's come back to really haunt me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An education

Fall quarter officially ends tomorrow, but I've finished all the papers and tests. Now I have time to watch Hulu and reflect on the last few months. I moved to Spokane on Sept. 1, and I've settled in well, all things considered. Sure, the construction next door has literally shaken my apartment building, but all in all this is the quietest place I've ever lived. That's a true blessing for someone who greatly values quiet, as I do.

I've gotten to know Spokane a bit since moving here, and I've found that the horror stories you hear from Seattleites who have never been here aren't accurate. In fact, they're about as true as the outdated, stereotypical impressions of Seattle that you sometimes hear from Midwesterners or East Coast residents. Seattle isn't a forest of grunge and plaid, and Spokane isn't a smoking hole in the ground that smells like meth. Crime isn't rampant here. I feel as safe in Browne's Addition as I did in Ravenna, and the neighborhood is probably safer than Seattle's Capitol Hill. I live across the street from a gastropub and a Tully's, and a few blocks from a lovely park, a grocery, and a yoga studio. This place is just as comfortable for me as Seattle was, and the people here are friendlier.

Wherever I move after this, I want it to be a place where strangers acknowledge each other. Seattle is full of smart, literate people, but it's not friendly enough for me. Too many iPads and iPhones, too much personal space. Spokane's combination of urban pleasures (art cinema, farmers market, co-op grocery, gorgeously landscaped parks) and small-town charm is pretty winning. Bellingham would have been great, but Spokane has everything I need at a lower cost of living.

Grad school is a little different from how I pictured it, because I was picturing a highly academic program, like film studies or Spanish literature. EWU's applied psych program is just that: It emphasizes the application of skills, not tremendous intellectual rigor. Self-reflection matters as much as, if not more than, research papers, although next year there's a hefty one to write. The program's goal is to make us examine ourselves while learning the techniques and attitudes we need to help others. It's a program that gives back what you put into it.

This seems like an apt introduction to the counseling profession, since being active in the field -- going to conferences, networking, finding ways to learn on an ongoing basis -- is clearly the key to a successful, fulfilling career. I like structure, especially the kind that's imposed from outside. I'll need to get better at structuring my daily life, not just my academic work, in order to realize my goal of having a private practice. I'll also need to keep improving my financial skills. I currently create a budget for each month, and I tend to follow those plans pretty well. But responsible planning and investment go beyond that basic step, and I know it.

The support I receive is humbling. Many of my classmates have to work much harder, and manage much more, than I do. They have spouses or families, and some work multiple jobs. I'm learning to respect people whose political and spiritual views are different from mine. If I'd attended Western, I would likely have been among a more liberal, less devoutly Christian crowd. That would have been a comfort zone, which I'm not sure is what best serves a master's-level counseling student. Spokane is more working class, religious, and Republican than anywhere I've lived. Better to experience this part of American reality than to remain in a liberal bubble. I can always visit Seattle, and I can move to a big city after graduation. For now, being in a place where the political spectrum is wider, and the things I'm used to taking for granted aren't necessarily true, may be just the education I need.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You know what's good?

Hot cocoa with a peppermint teabag in it. I thought I invented it, but then I realized there's a Facebook page devoted to it. Oh well. Back to the test-kitchen drawing board...

Look, ma, I'm on the teevee!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The new "Hunger Games" trailer is terrific

See for yourself:

Exercise isn't always the enemy

I went to Spokane's YMCA last weekend and watched part of The Matrix Reloaded while doing about 35 minutes on the elliptical machine. It wasn't too bad. I didn't do the machine's cardio-oriented workout, because it wants my heart rate within a certain range, which can lead to my overworking myself. My pace was steady and not too fast, but not excessively slow, either. A nice balance. I think this sense of balance is working its way into my general understanding of movement, which is what I'm calling exercise now, since the E word and I don't always get along.

I took a nice short hike today with a friend from the counseling program; it was uphill part of the way, and a moderate workout but not exhausting. (The photo above is one of the lovely views we enjoyed. We also enjoyed the antics of a playful dog, homemade cookies, and tea, thanks to my hiking companion.) This, I think, is how I need to do it: enough movement to feel it, not enough to make me want to run screaming. Someone in one of my classes has a coffee cup that says: "Pain is just weakness leaving the body." That seems a little too Western (and Protestant work ethic-y) to me. I like yoga's principle of ahimsa, which suggests that you can make gains without enduring undue pain. That fits me better.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I dressed as a crossword puzzle for Halloween

When I got to the party, literally there was silence. The music stopped, all conversation halted, and everyone looked at me. It was like something out of an '80s teen movie. On the other hand, there were cute dogs and chocolate-chip pumpkin cake and fancy coffee drinks. And nice people dressed as animals. So, good times.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mac 'n' NYF

Macaroni and nutritional yeast flakes (aka NYF) was a rib-sticking standby at Fairchild Co-op, my college dining hall/social hub/home away from home. So I was pleased to prepare a fine version in my own kitchen, with help from The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook. The recipe, which came to me via the excellent blog C'est La Vegan, is below. The photo above is of my finished product, which was delicious, if maybe a touch too salty. (I think soy sauce or Bragg's is enough; no need for the added salt. Oh, and substitute a clove of fresh minced garlic for the garlic powder. And, if you're feeling subversive, butter for the margarine. Shhh -- it'll be our secret.)

New Farm Vegetarian Mac n’ Cheese

3 1/2 cups elbow macaroni (or your favorite type of pasta)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons vegan margarine
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (you might need to use up to a 1/2 Cup if your roux is too thin)
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
pinch of turmeric
2-4 tablespoons canola oil (depends how tight you want your pants to get!)
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
Paprika to taste for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. In a saucepan, melt margarine over low heat. Beat the flour in with a whisk, and continue to beat over a medium flame until the mixture (roux) is smooth and bubbly. You may need to turn the heat up slightly.

Whip in the boiling water, salt, soy sauce, garlic powder and turmeric, beating well to dissolve the roux. The sauce should cook until it thickens and bubbles. Whip in the oil and nutritional yeast flakes.

Mix part of the sauce with the cooked noodles and pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Pour a generous amount of sauce on top and smooth out. Sprinkle with paprika to taste and bake for 15 minutes. And the end of the baking time, heat the broiler and broil until the “cheese” sauce starts to bubble.

Fall comes to Browne's Addition

Well, hell. If I'm not going to write, maybe this can at least be a photo blog. Fall has arrived in my neighborhood, and it's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blast from the past, part 2

Here's another post from the old MySpace blog. I wrote this one after returning to Seattle from New York in the fall of 2006:
So I saw the Pulitzer-winner [Doubt] at the Rep tonight, finally, after missing it on Broadway. Wow. Ran into an ex-Weeklyite (aren't they all, now?) who said this production's Sister Aloysius (the show's villain or heroine, depending on your point of view) was better than Broadway's. Broadway's was Eileen Atkins, but still, I kind of believe it, because this one ruled. Just when you wanted to close the book on her and hate her... you couldn't, because she did something funny and likable, so you were stuck kind of liking her again, despite yourself. The Stranger (consumed by the Segal resignation scandal!) said the production didn't make the priest's guilt uncertain enough, and I agree, but it was still a hell of a good show. It's nice to feel some sense of personal connection to the show; its message that doubt is a vital part of living but still hurts like hell seems very apt these days, as I begin to feel less resistance to ideas I might have laughed off years ago, or even one year ago.
As with music, some ideas get turned away when they come before their time. In college I took a road trip, fall of junior year, and my trip-mate played some Tom Waits. I didn't understand why anyone would want to listen to such a scratched-up old voice for even a minute. Then, later in the year, I asked for Waits' Mule Variations as a Christmas present, according to the principle that you ask for what you wouldn't buy yourself, because it's too "risky" to try something new on your own dime. Soon after, I was playing it in my room when my roommate came in and essentially said: Who would want to listen to a scratched-up old voice like that for even a minute? And you know what? I did.
You don't get it till you get it. And reading Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television is making me think I'm getting something I didn't get before. Then again, as Doubt also communicates, nothing is gained by dogmatism. So I'd better tread carefully and think through what's occurred to me (probably a better idea than jumping headfirst into a socialist guerrilla organization or whatever). Basically one big problem is how to sit someone down and tell him or her that your fears and uneasiness are irrational, you know they are, but you're uncertain of how to best fight that irrationality. Shanley's program notes for Doubt are exquisite -- I enjoyed them about as much as the play. Here's an excerpt:
It is Doubt (so often experienced initially as weakness) that changes things. When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he's on the verge of growth. The subtle or violent reconciliation of the outer person and inner core often seems at first like a mistake, like you've gone the wrong way and you're lost. But this is just emotion longing for the familiar. Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present.

Blast from the past

I recently unearthed a post from 2006, when I had a MySpace blog. A few years ago, I foolishly erased that blog when I deleted my MySpace account, so I was pleased to find this time-capsule slice of New York life:
What have I been doing?

Yesterday I revisited my Manhattan-shrink-in-a-highrise (yes, Virginia, New York IS just like a Woody Allen movie) for the second of three "consultation" sessions wherein she decides how to place me. I wish she could just place me with her, but I suspect I can't afford her -- she's a real, live psychiatrist -- and anyway, she's suggesting analysis, not meds. Apparently the mysterious power of the analysis couch isn't that it makes you more comfortable, and thus more likely to spill your long-hidden secrets -- instead, it simply keeps you from looking at your analyst, which apparently helps you Journey Within and pluck out the really juicy Freudian fuck-ups that led you to the sorry place you are today. So that's good to know. I'm learning so much here!

Post-shrink I had a nice big salad at a kosher pizzeria with my nearly-always-visiting friend Bob; then we went to some kind of university art space to look at a design exhibit. It was on the streamlining trend that began in the '30s and clearly consumed almost everything it touched (until you've seen a streamlined iron, you haven't really lived). I astutely observed that the teardrop shape that seemed to characterize a great many of the pieces in the exhibit is also the way airplane wings look from the side, when you do a cross-section diagram thingy.
Bob and I talked about the poignant nature of retro-futuristic design, which expressed such optimism about the 21st century but whose moment, aesthetically, sort of never arrived after all (hel-LO, Space Needle!). Although a remarkable number of streamlined items -- lounge chairs, room lamps, counter/bar islands in a kitchen -- actually continue to exist in contemporary homes. So maybe the moral of the story is that the idealism of the streamlining age, like all idealism, failed to make it to the present day unscathed, but that doesn't mean it didn't exert a profound effect on the design world.

Also last night I stood outside the famous Ziegfeld Theater in the cold and wet to harass people coming out of the world premiere of "United 93," the Paul Greengrass film that recreates, in real time, the doomed 9/11 flight that crashed in a PA field after its passengers staged a revolt against the hijackers. My first NY freelance piece, about whether New Yorkers are ready for the movie (which opens wide on Friday), required me to join the radio, TV, and press people in the gated-off media pit across the street from the theater, from which frazzled-looking moviegoers -- including quite a few family members of 9/11 victims -- emerged following the 7:30 p.m. screening. An AP guy who admitted he'd rather be at home in bed -- yeah, join the club, fella -- shouted at random emerging audience members: "What'd ya think of the movie?" I met a nice lady from BBC Radio who played me back a bit of her interview with Greengrass. I think when you're interviewing the director, your need to do man-on-the-street reporting is greatly reduced. (Accordingly, she left pretty soon after the theater exodus began.)
I'd never been in a media pit before, and lordy, is it like the ones you see in the movies. Inevitably some Armani-wearing dude is fame-hungry and steps right up into the hot glare of the TV lights (yes, the lights the TV people used actually emitted heat and glared -- this is not a figure of speech) and talks and talks and talks. There were three big talkers. While one held court, I stuck my recorder-holding hand through the cloud of correspondents and paparazzi and asked my key question ("Do you think New Yorkers are ready for this movie?"). All the other media people listened for the answer, too. It was weird and magical -- and slightly parasitic, but oh well. 'Tis the nature of the media beast, I guess. My story, all 600 words of it, runs this Friday in Downtown Express.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The bluest skies

Top 5 things I'm going to miss about Seattle:
  1. The Ravenna Kibbutz: I've been going to potlucks at the Kibbutz for more than three years, and it's been a time of great personal growth. I've met more wonderful people there, and eaten more amazing food, than I could ever have expected. Plus, for the first time since college, I found a community I loved, where I felt like I belonged. That's a big deal.
  2. My friends: From Reed and Judith, whom I met soon after moving to Seattle in January of 2002, to Ria, whom I just met recently, I've made lovely and lasting friendships here. Seattle is known for being hard to break into socially, but serendipity introduced me to people like Angela, still one of my best friends, and Patty, whom I met in 2005 at a coffee shop, re-met last year on Facebook, and keep close to my heart even though she lives far away.
  3. Saaz: My feline housemate, pictured above, has convinced me that I'm as much a cat person as a dog person, and that at some point, maybe even in Spokane, I should adopt a cat of my own.
  4. Smartness: People here are smart. Some are tech-savvy, some are socially adept (yes, even in Asperger's-prone Seattle), and some spent a lot of time on their Ph.D.s, work at Microsoft Research, and have intellects the size of newly discovered diamond planets. When a friend moved from Seattle to L.A. years ago, she called me and said: "Neal, where are all the smart people?" Say what you will about Seattle -- we have smarties in spades.
  5. The weather: Not the gray skies and spitting rain, but the moderate temperatures. Not too hot in the summer, almost never muggy, not too cold in the winter. Few places in America can boast such meteorological restraint. And yes, we don't get the dramatic thunderstorms of the Midwest and East Coast, but the abiding mellowness almost makes up for that. Spokane reminds me of my native Michigan, with its freezing winters and hot summers. That's good practice for a future outside the Pacific Northwest, but there's no question that as soon as I'm outside Seattle's marine climate, I'll miss the heck out of it.