Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Monday, May 26, 2008


by Mistee Laurie, C.P.I.

Questions about McCain’s suitability for the Presidency surfaced again today, after it was revealed during a cursory look at his medical records that he still wets his bed.

A.P.’s Jeff Mungo verified the story, saying, “Despite my having only three hours to fan through 400 pages of his medical records, and not being allowed to photocopy anything, I did see urologist Leikkur’s note of December 14, 2004, which stated, ‘John complains about incontinence, especially while sleeping...wets bed on a regular basis.’”

Although McCain scoffed at the story and wheeled out his 96-year-old mother to back him up, he bristled when Hillary Clinton threatened to fuel speculation, with the claim McCain had revealed to her at a dinner party that he laughed so hard “he nearly peed his pants!”

McCain’s bed-wetting habit continued to reverberate in the latest news cycle. A spokesman for the campaign accused the “liberal media” of “trying to stigmatize a condition which millions of Americans suffer from and making John McCain the poster-boy for Depends.”

Thus, the slow-motion scandal of McCain’s secrecy over his medical records fast-forwards, as his campaign continues to withhold documentary evidence of his ability to bomb Iran without wetting his pants.

Dr. Leikkur was unavailable for comment.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

American Burqa

Thoughts on the hiding of American womankind, behind the veil of uniformity

     A family member once told me his wife “is going to need a face lift soon.” I had responded, “No she isn’t.” But he was adamant.

     I happened to come across a B movie the other day, one starring Melissa Gilbert in a role requiring her to speak in a foreign accent. Melissa, to my fascination, was nearly as unidentifiable in this movie as the accent she used. In fact, I am not exactly sure how I managed to recognize her, given how drastically some porcine-pawed plastic surgeon had transformed her face since the last time I saw her. This was not the Melissa Gilbert I knew, whose thick eyebrows and quirky, unique features had distinguished her from the pack. Instead, here was a generic female type, pretty, but somehow reduced, somehow absent.
     Here was a nose I call snout-nose, eyebrows reduced to near-nothings, and lips some critics of plastic surgery have described as “trout pout.”
     Trout is not the fish metaphor I would choose. But this one, to the right, whatever it is, seems an apt choice.
     To you plastic surgeons: this is NOT the look you want to give your patients.
     But they do. One web site advertises the lip-job their plastic surgeon performs as “Paris Lips!” “You can “plump up thin lips for as little as $475!” On the same website, we are treated to a before and after, where a middle-aged, intelligent-looking woman has been transformed into a middle-aged, startled-looking dim-wit.

     These are anecdotal examples, but they speak to something I have noticed in many different places. Something is happening to the image of womankind, as it is portrayed in the media, and it reflects the entire culture, even while it infects it.
     Consider an example from Fox’s House, M.D., where Hugh Laurie plays a genius diagnostician in a hospital, among a mixed cast of characters, both men and women. Well, it’s a good show. But that doesn’t keep me from noticing the something I am thinking of, which is revealed in the difference between the male characters and the female characters, that is, between the male doctors and the female doctors. Here is the difference: the males are interesting actors whose looks vary from bordering on ugly —Dr. House, in particular— to decidedly unattractive but intelligent looking, to one young doctor who is nearly pretty, he is so cute; but the female characters are ALL pretty, in conventional ways —you won’t see an Ava Gardener or a Meryl Streep there— and, if they weren’t cast as doctors, you wouldn’t think of them as especially intelligent ladies. They’re just pretty women, lacking any particular uniqueness or variety in their looks. That is, they are uniform in their bland, ordinary prettiness.
     What’s up with that? Why are the men allowed to be ugly, to be different, to be intelligent and interesting —to be free?— but the women are not? Why do the female characters seem so generic and without character?

     Leaving the complex analysis to those who enjoy such activities, I will sum it up this way: what we’re dealing with is the American burqa.

     American culture did not need a bearded patriarch to come at women with a stick, to enforce our second class status on us. No Taliban mantra was inflicted on us, to berate us, our nature, our unique selves. Physical bullying, corporal punishment—none of it was necessary to beat us into submission. Only a sexist reality was required, though a less stupidly expressed one than that in Taliban society, where the value of a woman is found only in her appearance, an appearance that must conform to a standard, a male-defined idea of feminine beauty, or she is without value. The eyes should be just so far apart; the nose just such a shape and size, within strictly defined parameters; the mouth must be “full,” “sensual;” the chin this and not that; forehead so high, so wide. She must be only so old, and no older. Should she stray outside this contemporary, American standard of beauty, she will not only be rejected in certain areas of life, but she will gradually learn to hate the way she looks and want to change, to hide, to become someone, anyone other than herself, even if it means becoming a nobody with an anybody face, a generic American female.
     Our culture did not require celebrity women to wear cloth burqas to hide themselves. Instead, culture provided casting directors who only cast according to the standard; then came the plastic surgeons to fix the errant, lidded eye, or the rebellious, fierce nose, those fully trained and conditioned doctors who would find the Barbie in the face and body of every patient, those who could render them invisible, behind the American burqa, a face and body distinguished only for its lack of individuality and uniqueness.
     The sickness is not restricted to celebrities. Somehow my family member experienced no shame in declaring his wife to be in need of lifting up, while gravity would be allowed to have its way with him all the way to his grave. It was the culturally acceptable thing for a husband to require, in fact. Apparently, he should not have to endure life married to a woman who looked her age; but he could look as old as he liked, and did.
     Another guy I know said he decided to marry the woman who eventually became his wife, because he could see all she needed was a make-over and new clothes. I guess she was a sort of fixer-upper.

     Once, while waiting in the doctor’s office, I heard two little boys talking about the details of a poster they were standing near. The poster contained photographs of boys and girls. Pointing to a child in a photograph, one boy said to the other, “Is this one human, or a girl?
     Is it possible a boy could grow up in our society, believing that males are human, but females are not, that females are another thing outside the notion of humanity, like animals?
     Does a woman acquiesce to such a belief, when she decides to have a facelift?


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Love Your Mother—Earth

Killing the lawn and other Earth-loving endeavors.

      I grew up in the 50’s in the suburban neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley —North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Panorama City, Woodland Hills— where lawns were as ubiquitous as the tract homes they adorned, or the dog poop in the clover. Something like that.
      Anyway, the fact of lawns was not something I questioned as a kid, except to grumble when it was my turn to mow the grass—pushing and pulling our reluctant, rusty lawn mower over stubborn, overgrown clumps of grass was not something I wanted to do on a Saturday, and neither was scraping dog poop off the wheels. That lawns were everywhere, like clean air and plentiful water, made them invisible as issues, as concerns. We never gave it a thought; we played on our lawns, that’s all, trading cards, playing Simon Says, cowboys and Indians, or horsie, rearing, bucking, grazing green grass like real horses.
      Everything happened on the lawn: our male dog, Buck the Airdale, got stuck for an hour in my uncle’s female dog, Leesha the Boxer, while she investigated the lawn, nose in the grass, oblivious of her panting caboose, while I ran to the adults, sounding the alarm about Buck’s predicament, and while the adults worked hard at ignoring me; Buck —there’s so much Bucklore— raised his leg behind my girlfriend’s clueless brother and took a piss on his pants (now a real-estate attorney), while we sat in the grass and giggled; I smoked a cigar I found there, a cigar my step-father had lost during one of his meandering, upside-down treks across the lawn on his hands, and I smoked it until nausea put a stop to my smoking days, once and for all.
      Still, as I remember one neighborhood in Van Nuys, our lawns were never kid heaven, compared to the vacant lot down the street. Well, it wasn’t really vacant; in fact it was overgrown with tall trees, bushes, and, best of all, hip-high (on a kid) grass, which we yanked up and out of the ground for our dirt-clod wars and for weaving into the sides and tops of our forts, for privacy. Of course, this was before home-owner associations, when nobody cared if there was a neglected plot in the neighborhood; it was also before the current days of paranoia, TV addiction and video games, when children could disappear for hours and nobody worried, when children actually played outside. (In my neighborhood now, I rarely see children playing outside, though children do live here.) It was the vacant lot, with its nooks and crannies, paths, jungle terrain, forts and faraway feeling that did the trick, allowing for stories to emerge—plot, character, adventure, places for childhood imagination, where all things were possible.
      The point is this: children and other living things do not need lawns.

      Now, here comes today. The air is unclean; water is now a finite, contaminated resource. Gasoline is finite too, as it is dirty, as we have come to understand; we are shocked, and some are ruined, by the price of gasoline. We buy our produce from super markets, or small, family-owned markets, or even local farmer’s markets, but many of us haven’t tasted a real, home-grown tomato in years, if ever; we are shocked at the price of organic produce. But lawns are as ubiquitous as ever, regardless—no matter the upkeep, no matter they require an egregious amount of water, gasoline to run power mowers, Round-up to kill the weeds and other unwanted things like birds, insects and human beings (cancer), fertilizers, so the green grass can grow all around, all around, so the green grass can grow all around. No matter that this miraculous soil is capable of growing everything, but it is allowed to grow only one thing—grass.

      I am certainly not the first to write about this. Far better thinkers than I have discussed how we are going to have to change to love our mother, Earth (links, below); but many of us are doing what we can for the sake of the environment: minds are changing, and habits are changing; some of us, those who can afford it, are going cold turkey, ending bad habits and “going green” in various ways; others are moving incrementally, while some still drag their feet, in denial but finding less and less support for such folly.
      As for me, I try, though I cannot afford to put solar panels on the roof or buy a hybrid car, and I haven’t much room on my little lot for growing vegetables. I do have two large pine trees —oxygen makers, carbon holders— and a variety of plants, mostly overgrown, a garden with indigenous plants, succulents, ice plant—but, no lawn. Some might say my pond is a problem, that is, running a pump constantly; I say I make up for it, not driving much and planning my errands and visits with conservation in mind, being a vegetarian, and recycling practically everything, etc.
      Lucky for me, my son and daughter-in-law in Normal Heights (we call them “the Normals”) in San Diego County, have decided to kill their lawn. Well, decided might be the wrong word. They have toddlers, and keeping the lawn watered was not a priority in the past few years; let’s put it that way. Let’s say the lawn died a slow, natural death, and the soil is in the process of returning to its original state, as you can see. But, the beautiful part is that they have decided to turn their substantial yard into a vegetable garden, not one with rows and regimented sections, like Puritans, but one with meandering paths and “rooms,” one with an organic design and shape, and one where there will also be space for the children to play.
      I say “lucky for me,” because, you know, they’ll probably produce more than they can eat, and that’s where I’ll step in...but then, they’ll probably have more work to do too, more than they can possibly manage, and, no doubt, that’s also where I’ll have to step in, which is fine by me, since I won’t have to mow the lawn.

      Happy Mother’s day.


Edible Gardening
Edible Estate
Michael Pollan

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On the Limits of Toleration

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the struggle for enlightenment

      I am reminded of a public service ad I saw awhile back. I’ll call it the El Wheato Ad, because those were the offending words spoken in it by the lead character in the ad, a bigoted white guy, to the hapless Latino who was serving him.
      Mr. Bigot, frustrated by having received something other than the wheat bread he had asked for, and mocking what he thought must be the waiter’s ethnicity, said, to clarify as to the kind of bread he wanted, “You know, el wheato?” Then, noticing that the other diners were looking his way, he said something to the effect that if these people want to work here they should learn the language, adding, “You know?” So the diner he addressed responded, “No Sir, I don’t know,” with an unsympathetic look on his face.
      On one level, I liked the ad. It reinforced the notion that one should not give positive reinforcement to bigots. When you witness bigotry, you should do something, say something. The values of toleration and respect should be exercised whenever possible.
      On another level, however, I am not so sure. How much toleration should we extend, where those with different cultural values disrespect and even violate, for example, our core values of secularism, human rights, animal rights, equality and individual liberty? Does not toleration, a profound liberal value, sometimes go too far? Shouldn’t the case for education and cultural assimilation be made, on behalf of core American democratic values and the rule of law? Not that the bigot in the ad was correct to be rude to the waiter for not having learned to speak English yet. But, what is to be done in another situation, where, for example, a doctor finds that a female child has been “circumcised,” her genitals mutilated by way of traditional Islamic cultural practice? Is it bigoted to oppose the ways of religious and cultural communities, when human rights within those communities are being violated?
      Is it bigoted to require immigrant cultures to assimilate, to require a broad education of their members in the values of the enlightenment, rather than allowing communities to perpetuate crimped, backward and ignorant values, where children are hidden away in private religious schools, never to know human liberty, never to make progress in their lives toward civilization? Would it be bigoted to expect citizens to come out of the dark ages and comprehend the notion of freedom?

      Have I taken a wrong turn to the right? I don’t think so. I am making a case for progress, a case for balance, actually. Excessive toleration is an out-of-balance path away from progress, in support of all sorts of evils—oppression, ignorance, abuse.

      I am encouraged in these thoughts by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of the memoir, Infidel. Despite her having gone over to the mad-capitalist side in her fellowship with the American Enterprise Institute (sad, but I understand, now that I have read Infidel. She was vulnerable and frightened, when the Institute came to her “rescue.” It seemed like her only option, if she wanted to stay alive, to live and work in Holland. Perhaps someday she will see what they’re all about and find the courage to leave them), she remains an authentic voice for the enlightenment of Islam, for freedom and the emancipation of women, children, and even men within the Muslim community. She understands the necessity of confrontation and resistance to the oppression inherent in the religion; she objects to the role of tolerance by governments and Western culture in the horrific violations of human rights, of women’s rights, that Islam commits in the name of Allah.
      It is tolerance that tolerates the crimes of this religion; without tolerance, progress could be made toward freeing millions of women, children and free thinkers from the burdens they bear, within a culture that does not value freedom, equality, education, individual rights, or the pursuit of happiness here in this life.
      I do not mean to say I approve of intolerance, of violent, cruel or hateful behavior toward Muslims. I do not mean to say I approve of the Iraq war, or the “war on terrorism,” as it is being waged thus far. I do not mean to say I am in favor of obliterating Islam.
      I do mean to say Islam needs to have a mirror held up to it, so that it can see itself and recognize the truth; it must begin a questioning of its ways, to initiate its own enlightenment. Islam, after all, has never had one, an Enlightenment. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has lived within the confines of Islam, has studied it, and she knows— the religion is stuck in backwardness. According to her, this infant must not be coddled. It has become a tyrannical, tantrum-throwing brat. We need to tell it, as we would a misbehaving child, “I understand: you want to do these things; but you cannot do them, because you are hurting people.”

      The same thing needs to be said and done with the Bush Administration, which is another tyrannical brat. Toleration of their crimes by Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, who keep insisting impeachment is impractical, is a kind of permissiveness that can only lead to abuse and the entrenchment of anti-democratic rule.

      Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a great read. You won’t be able to put it down.