Sunday, July 30, 2006

Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss

SINCE we're talking about The Who...

Did you hear this story from (I can't believe I'm going to link to it) The National Review? Ostensibly the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs, as compiled by someone with the appropriately tight-assed white-male name John J. Miller, it's really more of a wishful-thinking list. He takes lyrics that are so vague as to be almost uninterpretable (i.e., Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now" lyrics "I was alive and I waited for this...watching the world wake up from history.") and somehow construes them to be paens to the conservative cause. (Apparently that song is about the end of Communism - who knew?) It's almost worth reading just for the hilarious ways he twists the songs' lyrics to fit his mindset.

First of all - Jesus Jones? I mean, come on! A one-hit wonder from 1991 (and don't get me wrong, I have that album, I love that album, it's like the soundtrack to my entire high school career) is your Number 14 greatest conservative rock song of all time? Ranking higher than the Clash, the Kinks and Led Zepplin? That really makes me want to change my voter registration to Republican. Also on the list are those sure-to-go-down-in-the-Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame artists The Georgia Satellites, After the Fire, and Kid Rock.

Second of all, have you ever heard of artistic license, Mr. Miller? That's when an artist, whether it be a musician, a playwright, a poet, whoever, takes an idea or issue and examines it from a number of different perspectives, putting themselves in the characters' minds and trying to imagine what it must be like to be that person, to live that life. It doesn't for one second mean that the artist endorses that particular viewpoint or espouses that particular ideology him or herself. It just means that they're trying to put themselves in someone else's shoes and see what it might be like to think that way or feel that way or be that person. So taking a song's lyrics and shoehorning them into your little closed-minded right-wing puckered-asshole view of the world is kind of like taking one line from the Bible (like "an eye for an eye") and claiming it is the literal truth while ignoring all the other things in the Bible that directly contradict it (like "turn the other cheek") just because it happens to be what you want to believe. But then I guess that's something conservatives are pretty good at.

Third of all, and this is what really chaps my hide, you can't have The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" as your Number One Conservative rock song. I'm sorry, I just won't allow it. (You can keep the Eagles and Blink 182, however). Claiming "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the conservative cause would be like liberals claiming the sky for the Democrats because it happens to be blue. It's rock and roll, man, it doesn't belong to any particular party. Miller says that because the song "swears off naive idealism once and for all" it must somehow be conservative. As if jaded cynicism was only the province of the right. As if there isn't a president who claims to be a conservative sitting in office right now saying, "You can trust me, I've got our nation's best interests at heart" while he spies on us citizens and lies to us about it.

What I especially love is how Miller uses a quote from Johnny Cash to argue that politics has no place in music (Hey! We agree on that!) and then says, oh, but wait, some songs really ARE conservative. So, as long as he agrees with what he thinks the song is about, it's okay for the song to have a political viewpoint.

(My favorite looney justification for a song's inclusion on the list? It's Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun," which apparently is about how the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators. Can I just say ha, ha, and again, ha?)

KB and I watched the movie "Brazil" again a few weeks ago, and I was really struck by some of the similarities between Terry Gilliam's made-up crypto-fascist beaurocracy and our country today. At one point Jonathan Pryce, the hero, is taking a ride on mass transit (where none of the men in ties will give up a seat to a pregnant one-legged woman) and in the background there's a poster that says "Mind that package, you could save a life." (If you haven't seen it, and you should, part of the plot of the movie revolves around terrorists setting off bombs.)

So what do the posters on the T here in Boston say? They show concerned-looking citizens talking on cell phones and have slogans like, "If you see something, say something." and "Sometimes peace means having to speak up." In other words, please report any brown-skinned men with backpacks you see riding the T to your nearest policeman. Let's all fear and suspect each other and be constantly vigilant, or the terrorists have already won.

I know I'm not the first person to quote Ben Franklin on this issue, but it bears repeating: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Amen, brother.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

And all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity

I spoke to my Dad earlier today. He's back in Omaha, having been sped astonishingly quickly through his "outprocessing" procedure at Fort Benning. He's tired and out of whack, time-zone wise, but otherwise just fine. It sounds like our old chocolate lab Jester, who is 13 and sadly on his last legs, perked up at my Dad's return.

Dad's supposedly safe from being called back up by the Army for at least another six months, possibly a year, he's not sure exactly, but then after that he's fair game again. It was about three and a half years between the time he got called up to Afghanistan and this time, so maybe that will hold true again. I wish I could say that maybe things will be quieter in the world in a few years and there won't be such a need for our Army, but the way things are going in the Middle East (and with our doofus boy-king at the helm of this country), that's not looking too darn likely.

I started figuring out in my early twenties that my Dad and I didn't really agree on many political issues. It was a bit of a shock to me, because I've always looked up to my Dad and been proud of him (and still do and am), but then I guess it's always hard for kids to individuate from their parents and proclaim their own identities.

My Dad and I can talk about pop culture - movies, comedians, food, TV shows, music, all that stuff with absolutely no problem whatsoever, and our tastes are much the same. We both cackle at reruns of Monty Python and MST3K, we both like to slather hot sauce on a variety of unlikely foods, and we both believe that The Who circa 1969 could play rings around the Rolling Stones of any era.

But I'm afraid my Dad is a bit of a Republican (although he would probably describe himself as Independent, I'm guessing). He voted for Bush both times - mostly because of his ideas about money and taxes, I believe, but also because of his pro-military stance and aggressive foreign policy.

I still remember a telephone conversation we had when he was working as a Medical Director for an insurance company that was affiliated with a Catholic hospital system. Part of his job was overseeing the approval and denial of claims, and since it was a Catholic hospital, no abortions or birth control were covered by insurance. I asked him, "Well what are the women supposed to do, then?" and he said, "Well, I guess they shouldn't be having sex." and I was sort of flabbergasted by how unrealistic that was.

And I guess I shouldn't be surprised when it turns out we think differently about other things, too, but I still am, somehow.

So when I mentioned to my Dad today that the neighbors had sold their house to a development company that was going to put up condos, the way I phrased it was, "We've had some bad news." and then I told him what was going on. And he said, "Why is that bad news?"

And I just thought, "Wow."

I've been majorly, honestly depressed for the past two days since I found out about this whole thing. I've been working on fighting it, too, doing research and printing out flyers and talking to neighbors, but my overall mood has been one of near-despair. Kind of like the first few days after you get dumped by a significant other. You wake up in the morning, and for the first few seconds everything is fine, and then you remember, and you go, "Oh yeah," and the crushing black void descends on your vision. Like that.

So my Dad saying, "Why is that bad?" just made me stop and go, "Maybe our viewpoints are so different that I should just not even try to explain this to him." So I didn't.

Partly I felt like a chicken-shit, like I could have made him understand if I really tried, and partly I just felt like "Eh."

He's home. He's safe. Now we can continue to talk about meaningless trivia and silently agree to disagree on the things that really matter. Just like any family.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Then we'd say nothing would come between us two dreamers

Well, fuck.

We've just found out that the people next door to us sold their house to a development company which is planning on demolishing it and building three duplex condos on the lot.

We're talking right next door. Like, maybe 15 feet away.

We got a notice in the mail about the Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing, which is in two and a half weeks.

I don't know what the fuck to do. How do you fight something like this?

I don't mean that in a despairing "Oh woe is me" kind of way, I mean TELL ME HOW TO FIGHT IT. Give me tips, pointers, ways to get the neighborhood to rally behind me in that climactic movie scene where the unlikely hero has a big show-down at City Hall with the evil real-estate developer and triumphs to the strains of swelling violins.

I don't want to live next door to a demolition and construction project for the next year. I don't want my son to breathe construction fumes and be awakened from his naps by backhoes' engines grumbling to life (although, let's be honest, he'd probably love to stare at the giant trucks all day). I don't want ANOTHER friggin' condo complex on this street. There's two of them already on our tiny dead-end street and I don't know if it can support another one - it's not a very big street and the traffic is already a problem.

Plus they would have to raze all the property's trees all the way back to the stream that runs down behind the land. All those trees are lovely - their property is just to the right of what you see in this photo, which is of our property. I've never taken a photo of their property, although perhaps I should as it may not look like that for very long - it could all be gone. That would mean that all the birds and squirrels and such would be SOL, plus there'd be even less land to help absorb all the rainfall runoff, which was already a problem this year.

Even worse, I Googled the developer's name and got back a bunch of newspaper articles on previous projects of his that were protested by the communities he was building in. They had quotes like "[Developer's Name] builds the cheapest crap you can find. All [he] cares about is the almighty dollar." Fabulous. That sounds like just the kind of project we'd like to have in our neighborhood.

Even worse than THAT is that the developer's attorney is ON THE BOSTON ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS. He's on the fucking board! Doesn't that sound like an ethics violation to you? Doesn't that sound like cheap Hollywood melodrama? How can that be?

I really don't know what to do. I'm trying to keep this all in perspective, but it's very very hard.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

So kiss me and smile for me

My dad should be leaving Kosovo today. He'd been hearing from various sources for a couple weeks that July 18th might be the day, but he hadn't gotten official orders, so he was trying to be skeptical rather than hopeful. But I guess last week the orders came through, and he's scheduled to fly to Germany today (as far as I know). Then from Germany he'll come back to Fort Benning in Georgia for "outprocessing," which is a word that perfectly exemplifies the beaurocracy-speak of the U.S. Army. Who knows how long that will take, but the upshot is, he'll be back home in Nebraska in another week or two (and I know one redhead and one old chocolate lab who'll be very glad to see him).

I think he'll be glad to be leaving. In his e-mails he was sounding kind of tired and bored with staying on the base all the time, working in the ER in 24 hour shifts and not doing much else. But I guess in the last couple weeks he got to do a couple days of clinics out in the country, where they basically tell the citizens that they're giving free medical care and just treat whoever shows up as best they can. That's pretty much what he did in Ecuador last fall. I think he really likes those days. (That's my dad on the left treating villagers in Kosovo. The guy on the right is his translator.)

So I'm looking forward to hearing from him when he's home!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 07, 2006

You stink (tuba solo) but I love you

We had an amazing time in Vermont. Everyone in that entire family is friendly, down-to-earth, easy to talk to and lots of fun to hang out with. There isn't a black sheep in the bunch. (As Kathleen put it, in a tone of amazed pride, "None of our kids are losers!") We had our own little cottage to retreat to when we needed to nap (or Nolan needed to nap), but there were plenty of communal spaces to hang out in as well. KB got in several hotly contested games of ping-pong in the lodge's rec room, we got to have one adults-only dinner while Nolan was babysat, and we splashed in the lake and had several other outdoor adventures. It was excellent.

The thing that struck me is how much of a FORCE Nolan has become. He has a definite will and his own needs and desires, and he's not shy about expressing them. I think of him now as my own little physics experiment: he's entropy, I'm enthalpy. He rampages through a room knocking toys over and flinging things from end tables; I follow him around picking them back up and restoring them (as best I can) to the way they were before. I picture miniature villagers pointing up at him in horror and shouting (in poorly lip-synced English) "Oh no! It's Babyzilla! RUUUUUN!!"

When he's done eating, does he dab his mouth with a napkin, pat his belly contendedly and say, 'That was delicious! Thank you, mother.'? Um, no. He starts tossing bites of food over his shoulder with glee, smashing and smearing whatever he's eating into his hair, up his nose, and into his ears. Even as I tell him, "No" he makes eye contact with me and daintily picks up another bite as if to eat it, but instead flings it overboard. Then he's finished. Even if he's not finished, he's FINISHED, as far as I'm concerned.

So he's definitely his own person. Scary. Where did he come from? I look at him sometimes and just ponder the fact that there didn't used to be a Nolan, and now there is. Before: No Nolan. After: Nolan! I was looking at our wedding pictures a while back and I had the thought "What did we do with Nolan during the wedding?" Duh.

Thanks for reading.

(So obviously, when I said "No posts for a few days" last time I really meant "No posts for 12 days." It's so easy to get out of a habit even once you think you've gotten into it.)