As much as it is on the tip of my tongue to rant about the idiotic and infuriating brinkmanship playing out in Congress today, I will refrain. Hearing the announcement that “Boehner balks at the Senate deal” immediately made my head start to throb. Try googling “Congress balks at deal” and have fun reviewing the 1,500,000 results (0.23 seconds).

So I will save what will surely be a Congress rant for later in the week. Consider it part of the War on Christmas.

Instead I am compelled to write about a deeply personal choice that has come up in conversation four times in the last week. Whether or not women should color their hair.

The most recent discussion was a mini-rant by a craggy old woman at my gym. She does not wear a bra while working out, does not color her steel gray hair and looks as if she never understood all the fuss about moisturizer.

She was hectoring some of the middle aged women that they should just let nature take its course and not bother with hair dye. Her tone and her “pioneer woman” appearance was having the opposite effect on her audience. From the look on their faces I imagine they dialed the salon as soon as they got in their cars.

I was just contemplating some highlights to subtly blend the increasing gray in my dark hair. My husband says he likes the gray and he is the one who has to look at me after all, but…we will see. Having spent 10 or so years as a bleached blond, which was fun when I was 22 and clubbing, I wouldn’t do total color again.

For me hair dye is in the category of personal choice. Like abortion or keeping your name after marriage. It is easy for folks to forget that it is current societal norms that determine if a personal choice will be condoned or condemned. And those norms become shorthand for categorizing people.

Single pieces of information that seem to make people think they now know Everything About You:

  • If I say I have had an abortion
  • If I wear makeup, dye my hair or paint my nails
  • If I say I like historical romance novels
  • If I say I am a feminist
  • If I say I like Harold & Kumar movies
  • If I keep my “maiden” name
  • If I say I like The Red Green Show

There are endless examples – if there weren’t who would need Marketing Executives?

I know that personal choices help define us, but its a shame they are also the boxes we use to sort people. I really don’t care if crabby Jackie at the gym has never worn a bra or dyed her hair. I do care that her choices make her judge my choices as wrong.

Now if I could only work up some tolerance for the choices of people who keep trying to shut down the government, outlaw abortion and teach creationism in school, well then I would be a saint wouldn’t I?

I’m not sure I can take many more months of Newt Gingrich. The fact that he is a viable candidate for president is staggering.

When he was speaker of the house we had to stop listening to NPR in the mornings. The alarm would go off and Newt would be yammering about the Contract on America. How “personal responsibility” (i.e. women under 18 with children no longer qualified for welfare or food assistance) would encourage celibacy, blah, blah, blah.

I woke up outraged everyday.

And now he is back! I may need blood pressure medication. On the radio the other day Newt was praised for teaching poor people how to work for the first time with the welfare reform work requirement. And now he proposes that poor students do “non dangerous” janitorial work at their schools so they can learn to “show up on Monday”.

Today he is attacking the State Department saying that “they are “Arabists” who advocate “appeasement” of America’s enemies”.

Its like we live in looney land where truth is not just relative but is made of silly putty. Facts are optional and considered suspect unless they align with a preconceived conclusion. Science is that which agrees with the bible stories (S-T-O-R-I-E-S!) and doesn’t threaten the profits or plans of Koch Industries.

So with my jaw hanging in perpetual disbelief, I am not just flashing back to 90’s but to a more recent past when truth was optional.

My final thought for today is from a cartoon by the genius Dan Piraro that has been taped to my wall since 2004.

Last night my daughter was attempting to explain the Bitch Manifesto.

She read it in the book Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture, which she got at the library book sale. Probably a Women’s Studies class discard since there are several colleges in the area. When she volunteers for the Friends of the Library book sale, the “thank you” is a voucher for a couple of free books, or if you volunteer near the end of the sale, whatever you can fit in a bag.

We have a general policy that she can read whatever she can comprehend, Continue reading

I could have just as easily called this post “Doublespeak” or “Having your cake and eating it too”, but I am too irritated to be literary or historical right now.

I was listening a report on the Massey Big Branch mine settlement and a US Attorney said “Its a corporation. It’s not a life, it’s not a being. It can’t go to jail”.

I beg to differ. Corporations are just people you can’t touch.

Corporate Personhood has been a legal status for a long time in the US and the definition was stretched last year by the Supreme Court to show that corporate political donations are protected free speech (see First Amendment, Bill of Rights). The same free speech the West Virgina miners had access to before they died.

So which is it? Is the corporation a person with rights and protections, or an amorphous “thing” that can’t be punished. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I can appreciate Justice Stevens dissent on the ruling that fertilized the seed that turned into the Occupy Movement. Thats campaign finance reform in case the last sentence was too obtuse.

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558)

There is no amount of money that will satisfy the families of the dead miners. Corporations think in dollars, so Massey skimped on safety, people died and they pay a fine. That’s no kind of justice.

It is a strange time indeed.

People in the media (and in general conversation) keep yapping that they don’t know what the Occupy Wall Street folks want, ‘their demands are not clear’, ‘they have no agenda’, blah, blah and blah. I think their central premise is pretty clear and getting clearer every day.

Through social media, among other sources, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware that big business in the USA is more like the Russian oligarchy than anything that Carnegie or Rockefeller would even recognize. Maybe the OWS folks should resurrect the term “Robber baron” to make their point easier.

Because of the OWS protests people are paying attention to income disparity (even if they think its your own damn fault) and learning about the monumental influence of business on our government.

And because almost anyone can afford a phone with a text plan, information is harder to suppress and manipulate. Be a rebel – get a Twitter account.

A piece of news I hope goes viral is information about the banks – Wall Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis – that I consider scandalous in the full 19th century sense of the word.

We use words like outrage and disgrace all the time so even though they are exact descriptors of the reaction the bank scandal should evoke, I suspect we need something stronger.

Revolution

Things I do on vacation that I don’t do at home:

Wake up without an alarm (still before 7am. I would need 6 months off to break that habit)

Shave my legs everyday

Read USA Today

Ignore what time it is (the weekday time v productivity analysis is crushed by my usually repressed inner sloth)

Watch Cheers re-runs, the cartoon network and CNN

Have patience while driving (see entry on time above)

Of all of these, reading USA Today takes me out of daily life like nothing else I can think of. The amount of news is equal to how long it takes to consume a venti skim latte and a low-fat blueberry muffin. Very digestible.

The unreality in the way they present news snippets makes me feel like I am watching TV with the captioning on. Everything seems slanted toward celebrity, even stories on politics and business. Every vacation is a trip to middle America via the newspaper.

This is the what makes Vacation, vacating.

The full comment “Well of course you know that, because you’re so political”, was said to me after I explained a joke someone made about the Department of Energy. It wasn’t that esoteric, it was a Rick Perry reference and most people in the room got it. I made the mistake of remarking ‘it was all over the news’ and got the political comment.

I don’t consider myself a political junkie, but I do pay attention and get my news from sources other than Jon Stewart or Fox News. On the other hand, I can name several heads of state that are not monarchs, and know who the secretary general of the united nations is, so maybe I am “political”.

Not long ago I had a different friend accuse me of never doing anything frivolous. I don’t think she thinks this is a bad thing on its face, but it was clear from the conversation that I make her feel inferior somehow because I don’t consume pop culture the way she does.

It all started because I didn’t know Jennifer Aniston was pregnant. (I always figured a pregnancy is none of my business until I get a birth announcement in the mail.) I protested that I do in fact read the occasional “O” magazine or Real Simple, and was informed that those are practically work. Seems I need a Yahoo feed to really know what’s going on in the world.

This struck me as the kind of anti-intellectual sentiment that pops up in the media every now and again. Especially in an election year. Not that I call myself an intellectual. Actually I can’t think of a single “label” I call myself. More to the point, it seems like people view the fact that I don’t watch “E!” or read People magazine as some judgement about the fact that they do.

The only time I care what media anyone besides me consumes is when it’s time to vote. Maybe that’s why I’m considered “political.”

I feel like its kind of hard to miss big news like the Penn State scandal (which will have repercussions across higher education if not US society) or the EU debt crisis (which we are feeling here already). But I can’t really ask folks questions like ‘Don’t you read the newspaper?’, or ‘have you tried NPR instead of the “drive time show?’ because that sounds like a judgement about their media consumption.

But I am curious.

If I am considered a political, intellectual because I read books and pay attention to non-celebrity news, what does that make everyone else? I bet that sounds all judgmental doesn’t it?

It’s sort of like when people find out I’m a vegetarian. They get defensive about what they are eating, or aggressively insist that I can’t be healthy. Yeah, me and roughly 400 million other vegetarians are all starving to death while suffering from scurvy. I digress.

This is another bizarre situation. My being a vegetarian, is not a commentary on your steak. Nor is my reading the newspaper meant to induce guilt over your Live! with Kelly. Enjoy.

It will be 11 months before I give a flying…fig how people get their news & info. Then we can talk about how political I am.

I saw someone litter while I was driving to work today. They rolled down their window, tossed a wrapper on the ground, and kept on driving. I was kind of flabbergasted. How do you do that? How do you make your trash someone else’s problem?

This seems like a metaphor for society at the moment. The Occupy Wall Street folks are saying (and I loosely translate) that the dog-eat-dog, protect me & mine, profit at any cost attitude that has escalated in US society since Reagan tapped that vein in the 80’s is no longer acceptable. No longer acceptable to the people who live with (or are considered to be) the trash that is.

At the risk of sounding disloyal to the socialist hippies, the folks who toss the trash on the ground aren’t swayed by moral arguments about what is right. Calls for a “fairer society” sound idiotic and naive. Mentioning the distribution of wealth is stirring up those boys on the right that just been WAITING to get all that commie crap out of the closet. Fear based propaganda doesn’t have an expiration date, it just gets recycled.

I am hoping that the voiceless movement will allow the not-really-the-leader leader to bubble up to clarify the message. Socialism, anarchy, theocracy, communism, democracy – they are all words being tossed around without too much connection to meaning. Do folks want to change the political system or the economic system? It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

I think one thing that is a common thread, in words if not in interpretation, is the desire for personal responsibility.

  • OWS seem like they want the 1% to take responsibility for how their actions impact others.
  • The 1% seem like they want the 99 to take charge and bootstrap their way to the top like they (think) they did.
  • The Tea Party folks seem like they want everyone to succeed or fail on their own without help or interference by the government.

How do you do that? How do you realign an entire culture (especially the US!) to accept ideas like modest shareholder profit in order to retain jobs? How do we dream up a cooperative society in a nation that embraces the mythology of the “rugged individual”?

If the last 30 days are any indication, this will be a very engaging and frustrating election year.

Part of what was so shocking about the littering this morning was that I had recently showed my daughter the Sad Indian commercial on YouTube. YouTube is a great resource for cultural references. We also watched the I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing Coke commercial, but thats for a different post.

She had read something about Rachel Carson and somehow we got around to this commercial. I have very sharp memory of seeing it as a kid and getting choked up. Seeing it in 2011 it looks a bit cheesy and patronizing to Native people. I wonder if that campaign cut down on littering, paved the way for Earth day & the now ubiquitous recycling bins. It sure impacted me.

Maybe the current political turmoil just needs creative folks to step up. Or maybe the digital age will need something else. Like middle-aged white women and their anonymous blogs.