Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are You Sure About That, Cassandra?

Since the election I have developed a morbid fascination with reading old right-leaning blogposts and their predictions in the days preceding the elections. It isn’t schadenfreude, since I don’t take joy in knowing that those people are going to be very unhappy in just 3 days, 1 day, or 6 hours. It’s more like watching Titanic, seeing the people dancing and dining, and knowing that there is an iceberg out there with their names on it. I suppose there were some people watching the movie and chuckling gleeful little chuckles deep in their hearts over what was coming next, but I think most people just felt sad, or even wondered what confident expectation of their own was about to come undone.

In the course of my reading, I came across this comment:

I trust your analysis [name]. You’re a straight shooter and an honest man, far more than Rasmussen, Rove, Morris, or Zogby (remember when he was taken seriously?). You’ve never wavered from telling the truth, even when some of the less crooked pollsters have taken the opportunity to tighten things up for profit here and there.I thank you, and think many other people out here appreciate you for being a lone voice of reason in a chorus of Cassandras.

Let’s review the sad history of Cassandra, shall we?

In Greek mythology, Cassandra . . . was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. In an alternative version, she spent a night at Apollo's temple, at which time the temple snakes licked her ears clean so that she was able to hear the future (this is a recurring theme in Greek mythology, though sometimes it brings an ability to understand the language of animals rather than an ability to know the future).[2] When Cassandra of Troy refused Apollo, he placed a curse on her so that she and all her descendants' predictions would not be believed. She is a figure both of the epic tradition and of tragedy . . . 

While Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies since no one believed her.

So the thing about Cassandra was that her prophecies were always right. Always right, and nobody believed them. Our comment writer above was painfully accurate when he described the conservative writers who were predicting a Romney loss as Cassandras, but context shows that he didn’t mean it that way. I think the writer saw a Cassandra as one who prophesied doom (which is true), but missed the part where she was right in doing so.

In thinking about Cassandra over the years, I have come to realize what fine observers of human nature the ancient Greeks were. The myth of Cassandra reveals truths about human thinking. To be able to predict the future accurately, you have to be open to the idea that things won’t turn out the way you hope. You can’t just cherry pick the evidence you like and ignore or criticize the evidence you don’t like. Yet who is more likely to be able to sell an idea to others: the person who is open to evidence that is contrary to their hopes, or the person who is convinced zie is right and won’t look at contrary evidence?

I was in the position of Cassandra once. There was a horrible event in our city. Someone had been tossing rocks from overpasses, and after 2 or 3 such incidents, a woman was killed when the rock broke her windshield and then hit her head. We were talking about it at work and I opined that the rock tosser may have been a teen or teens who thought of it as a prank and didn’t foresee what could go wrong.

Another coworker, our psychologist, said no, this was the deliberate work of someone with a lot of anger. She was the psychologist, so I decided she was right and I was wrong and didn’t say any more about it. Two days later, two horrified teens turned themselves in. They had been throwing  the rocks as a prank and didn’t mean to kill anyone.

Unlike Cassandra, I am not always right, even when I do set aside my prejudices and wishful thinking and look at all the facts I can find. I’m not always disbelieved, either, and unfortunately, sometimes I’m believed when I’m wrong. I suspect, though, that we have all had our Cassandra moments, when we were right but were outargued by some blowhard who wasn’t.

It’s human nature.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oh, What a Night - Uh, Afternoon

I did not like The Four Seasons when they had their first hit records. I was in high school, then, and liked most popular music despite my nerd reputation. (Actually, I’m not even sure I made enough of a presence to have a nerd reputation. I was probably more like “Who?”) I did have my non-favorites, however, and some of them, like, Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry made it to number one on the charts. As I remember it, I didn’t like any Frankie Valli song until Let’s Hang On (To What We Got). Maybe by that time I was worn down.

So it might seem strange that I was eager to go see Jersey Boys, a jukebox musical about the rise and fall of the Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. As I said before, the Golden Opportunity group was going, and an outing to New Orleans to see a touring performance of a Broadway musical seemed like it would be fun. Besides, I didn’t realize that Jersey Boys was about the Four Seasons; I thought it was a musical like Mama Mia, in which music of my youth originally performed by singers from New Jersey (of whom there were many) were used in a completely unrelated plot. I know, Google is my friend.

The funny thing is, when I saw the musical, I loved it, every last song that I had turned off when I heard them on the radio back in high school and college. Maybe it was just having someone else sing Frankie Valli’s part, I don’t know, but I had a lot of fun.

The plot seemed very familiar, since it was largely the same one as that of the made for television movie, The Temptations. Four young men meet, form a band, some leave, some stay, new ones are added, the right mix is found, success! And then temptation on the road, addiction (drugs in one group, gambling in the other), break-up, more new members, eventual reunion at the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When the movie Walk the Line came out in 2005, one reviewer asked something like, “Didn’t we see this movie last year and wasn’t it called Ray?” The temptations of fame and life on the road are remarkably similar, but as I have had reason to say before, all ages have their storytelling conventions.

Jersey Boys isn’t about the story, however, even if it does have more dialog than, say, Les Miserables. It’s about the music, and since our group, and many of the other groups pouring off tour buses for the Thursday matinee, were about the right age to have known the music the first time around, we clapped and sang along and a few of us (not me) danced. It was fun. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t know exactly what to expect, because it would have been a shame if I had decided not to go.

Even though the stage sets were simple, the staging still had the power to surprise. Towards the end of the first act, the Four Seasons performed a number with their backs to the audience and stage lights shining from the other side of them toward us - giving the audience the effect of being on the stage looking out over the lights. It conveyed the idea of both “We’ve arrived” and “Look how isolated we are.” I enjoyed the small touches like this. It always amazes me how set designers can make a confined space work for multiple locations.

I see that plans to make a movie of Jersey Boys have been put on hold, at least as of November. All the more reason to take advantage of any touring performances that come your way.

Monday, January 28, 2013

As the Cricket Chirps

I ran into a snag in writing to the two candidates for state house district 65 as proposed in my post, The Opposition. “Dred Woodrow’s” website gives an email address where he can be contacted, but “Hussein Sumac’s” does not. 

“No problem,” I thought, “I’ll write to him snail mail.” It turns out his website does not offer a street address either, nor even a post office box. This makes sense if he is running his campaign out of his house, or more likely, the office of his overworked personal assistant at his business.

I did find a news story about a joint appearance the two candidates made at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting right after they announced their candidacies. A few pertinent paragraphs are below, and, as usual, snarky comments of mine follow in italics.

At a luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish the two candidates, District 4 councilman Scott Wilson and Central small business owner Barry Ivey, said they'll be banking on their experiences as businessmen to help win over constituents concerned about crumbling infrastructure, an uptick in traffic congestion, schools and a ballooning state budget facing a $963 million shortfall.
So far it sounds promising. So what are they planning to do about the crumbling infrastructure, [and] an uptick in traffic congestion?
Audience member Elizabeth Dent said Richardson [the legislator whose seat they are competing for] took a stand against the CATS tax.
Baton Rouge and Baker voters approved a $15.3 million property tax increase in April for the Capital Area Transit System, or CATS, which operates the bus system.
Dent wanted to know if Wilson and Ivey would be as brave as Richardson.
Ivey said he is not afraid to be the only dissenter.
He said positive things follow when people do things for the right reasons.
Wilson said he opposed the CATS tax and showed through his service on the Metro Council that he is willing to stand up.
They are proposing to fight traffic congestion by not supporting public transportation. I see.
Wilson, who recently won reelection after running unopposed in November, said his experience as a city council member and his tenure as a small trucking business owner make him a qualified candidate for the seat. He drew on his conservative voting record, saying he's consistently stood up for ideals that weren't universally popular.
"I think you need someone who's been there as far as fiscal responsibility, as far as looking after your tax dollars," he said.
If by “weren’t universally popular”, you mean across the nation, that’s probably true. If you mean in his district, he was running unopposed.

Ivey said he strives to be transparent.

He said he intends to be an overcommunicator and use technology to his advantage.
This is the candidate who does not have an email or snail mail address listed on his website. That communication thing is supposed to run both ways.
I like the way they both claim to be willing to stand up for unpopular ideas while feeding the chamber members exactly what they wanted to hear. 
Hey, guys, you know what would be unpopular? It would be for one of you to say, “As the pro-life candidate, I’m going to push the governor to accept federal Medicaid money and expand Medicaid services as one step in reducing Louisiana’s truly disgraceful infant mortality rate, one of the worst in the nation.”
Overcommunicate that.

Friday, January 25, 2013

More Fun on the Bus

Page Two of the handouts we got on the bus was entitled, Subject: FW: So, You think you know everything….[sic]. It was a list of what I suppose were meant to be little known facts. I’ll comment in italics on a few of them:

A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
Well, I’m not going to count them and see.

“Dreamt” is the only English word that ends with the letters “mt”.
When I first read this, I thought, “No, it’s not, what about ‘prompt’ and ‘tempt’?” Then I remembered the silent “p”. It’s silent the way I say those words, anyway. 

Babies are born without kneecaps. They don’t appear until the child reaches 2 to 6 years of age.

In the last 4,000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.
Except, maybe, ferrets. They go back about 2500 years, possibly 3500 at the outside.

Maine is the only state whose name is one syllable.
Not if you live in certain parts of Nyawk.

On a Canadian two dollar bill, the flag flying over the Parliament building is the American flag.

There are more chickens than people in the world.
So there truly can be a chicken in every pot.

Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
Well, it’s not like we don’t have our reasons.

In Which I Emulate Penn and Teller

Yesterday John and I went to New Orleans to see Jersey Boys with the “Golden Oldies” group associated with a local hospital. (The group is actually called “Golden Opportunities", but I like my name better.) While we were riding down on the tour bus, the organizers gave us a few handouts to help us while away the time. One of them read (I copied the punctuation from the original):

It does work, unless you have already had your birthday this year. It has to work, because this is what you are doing:

1. Take your shoe size.

We’re going to call your shoe size “x”.

2. Multiply it by 5.

That gives you 5 x.

3. Add 50.

That gives you 5x+50.

4. Multiply by 20.

And now you have 100x + 1000

5. Add 1012.

That gives you 100x + 2012. Does that “2012” look familiar? It should, because up until 25 days ago (as of this writing), it was the current year.

6. Subtract the year you were born.

100x+ 2012 minus your birthdate gives you 100x + your age! Well, it gives you your age unless your birthday for 2013 has already passed. Apparently there weren’t many Capricorns in our group. Apparently there weren’t any centenarians, either, because if you are 100 years old or older, this trick won’t work.

So now you have a three or four digit number. The last two numbers are your age, because, as we see above, what you have done is subtract the year you were born from what was the current year when this trick was last updated. To your age, you have added your shoe size multiplied by 100, so yes, of course, you get the digit that represents your shoe size in the 100’s place, because math.

You, too, can dazzle your friends! Just take some simple arithmetical calculation and break it into parts. Instead of telling them to multiply a number by 100, tell them to multiply it by 5, and then a few steps later, to multiply it by 20. Interlace another simple arithmetical calculation, breaking up the steps for it. Instead of telling them to add 2013, for instance, tell them to add 50, multiply it by 20, and add 1013. You can take the trick above, substitute the number of cups of coffee they had today for their shoe size and the date they got their driver’s license for their birthdate. Then you can tell them that the number of cups of coffee they had today can tell them how many years they have been driving.

It’s magic!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To the Moon, Martha, to the Moon!

Saturday we went to the Little Theater to see their latest production, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The January-February production of each year is always a heavy drama. The first year we had season tickets, the production was Arcadia, which I actually liked, unlike the 60% or so of the audience that left at intermission and didn’t return. John thinks they left because of the bad language. I thought it was because the plot is hard to follow, but I suppose if you are having trouble following a plot, profanity stands out all the more. In subsequent years we’ve had A Man for All Seasons, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire. The lead actress in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a professional who was paid for her performance, and gave a short acting workshop while she was here, but I thought the actress who played Big Mama blew her off the stage.

I was not looking forward to seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I had never seen either the play or the movie, but I had read the play and found it pointlessly depressing. Since we had the tickets anyway, I tried to cheer myself that maybe it had redeeming features when actually performed.

I never thought anything would make me feel nostalgic for A Streetcar Named Desire, which just goes to show, never say never. While I didn’t find any of the characters in Streetcar likable, I could at least sympathize with them. The characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I just wished dead. If they actually had been drinking at the rate the script called for, they would have succumbed to alcohol poisoning long before the audience succumbed to a numb wish for it just to be over, already.

I know a chunk of the audience agreed with me because everyone sitting to my left kept talking about how bad the play was and how they were just staying to see how it ended. John kept talking about how bad it was too, but was reluctant to act on my common sense observation that we could leave. (When I say “kept talking”, I mean during the two intermissions. Nobody was actually rude enough to talk during the play.)

The acting wasn’t the problem, either. The actor who played George has also acted professionally, including bit parts in some recent movies, and the actress who played Martha has extensive amateur experience. The two junior leads weren’t as accomplished, but they weren’t bad. I didn’t get the impression that these were dismal performances, just dismal people.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is very much a piece of its time. The main character, Martha, is disappointed that her husband George hasn’t succeeded in his academic career and become the obvious successor to her father as the head of the college where he teaches. Neither Martha nor the playwright had the imagination to see Martha as the successor, at least if she had been willing to put in the hard work required to get an advanced degree (which women were doing even back in the WW2 days, which is when she would have had to have started according to the play’s chronology.) True, back in those days she would have had an almost impossible task to be taken seriously as a president of a co-ed college, and so probably still would have ended up a disappointed, philandering drunk, but she would have been a far more interesting disappointed, philandering drunk than she is in the drama as it stands.

Martha doesn’t come across as a person who has a passion for any kind of academic subject, and if she were more self-aware, she might have had more sympathy for her husband’s failings, but then we wouldn’t have a play. Of course, not having a play, at least this play, doesn’t exactly have a downside.

Even if Martha had taken the mid-century female risk of backing her husband George against her daddy when George wanted to publish his novel, her life may have turned out better, and more importantly, there would have been no play. 

I know Albee is supposed to be some kind of genius and “his works are considered well-crafted, often unsympathetic examinations of the modern condition,” (wikipedia) but if what you want is a dramatic treatment of the fine line between love and hatred in a mid-century marriage, any episode of The Honeymooners did it far better.

I’m serious. Ralph and Alice had a contentious relationship, and his threats along the lines of “One of these days, Alice, POW, right in the kisser,” although never acted on, made even some 1950’s audiences uneasy. Yet it was clear that they (unlike George and Martha) had each other’s backs. What made them wildly popular was that they were not the romanticized married couples of Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best. They were poor, harried, and contentious, but they were believable. Better yet, they were likable. You wanted to spend Saturday nights with them.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? also has the theme of reality versus illusion running through it, as each of the couple’s stories and games is revealed to have another side to it. As George says, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

There again, I think The Honeymooners comes out on top, although the illusions are purely Ralph’s as he drags his buddy Norton into one get rich quick scheme after another. His illusions, though, are more true-to-life than George and Martha’s tall tales, and therefor far sadder when once again they fail him. You really hope against hope that this time it will work, instead of peeking out from one eye asking, “Can I go home yet?”

Besides, Alice and Tracy actually have conversations. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , George and Martha have conversations, George and Nick have conversations, and Martha and Nick have a conversation, but conversations between Martha and Honey all take place offstage, even though one of the conversations triggers the tragic events of the play. It’s not just that the play fails the Bechdel Test, it’s almost as if there is an Anti-Bechdel Test that it is determined to pass.

But the scariest revelation of the author’s view of women is given in Martha’s soliloquy, in which she explains to Nick why George is the only man who has ever made her happy. I’ll spare you the long form and sum it up as “Bitches be crazy, amirite?”

On our way home my husband complained, “I think they could have ended that play after the first ten minutes.” On the other hand, he appreciated one line, when George said, “I’m six years younger than you, and always will be.” He’s six years younger than me, and as he reminded me, “always will be."

“I know,” I said. “I’m counting on you to take care of me in my old age.”

He made some smart-ass response in return, but what I heard was, “Baby, you’re the greatest.”

Oh, Joy!

I volunteered myself to be St. Anonymous UMW secretary this year. I have a poor attention span and even worse handwriting, but no one else wanted the job, and at the time of nominations, I had a migraine and was afraid I would never get to go home if someone didn’t step up. Besides, we have two or so general meetings a year and I don’t think there’s a fixed schedule for executive board meetings, so how hard could it be?

One of my first chores as secretary was to attend a district wide meeting back in November where we had break out sessions to train us for our positions and a wonderful speaker. She spoke about the missions that are supported by UMW, one of which is opposition to human trafficking. Of course, everyone thinks forced prostitution when they hear “human trafficking”, but it also can mean the transport of legal or illegal immigrants to work under slave like conditions in any form of commerce, not just the sex trade. Our speaker told us of a situation in which an employer brought legal immigrants into the country, but held onto their papers, forcing them to work for subsistence wages in hopes of getting them back. UMW members were able to reach out to the workers and eventually testify in a court case on their behalf.

“My girls,” I thought. Unfortunately, I did not follow up by looking online to see what else the UMW is doing about human trafficking, thereby missing information about this upcoming event until today.

Our first general meeting was supposed to have been earlier in the month, but it was postponed due to tornado warnings. So we met yesterday.

Which gets us, in my rambling fashion, to the title of this post. One of the items on the agenda was about an upcoming Women of Joy Conference, held by Phil Waldrep Ministries. Some members have suggested we get a group together to attend the conference in San Antonio next fall. One member who had been to a previous conference spoke of how much she benefited and told us that women were signing up at the end of the conference she attended for the one the next year.

So I googled the conference, and Phil Waldrep Ministries, when I got home. Almost all the hits I got went directly to Phil Waldrep Ministries or the sites for the conference itself, and a few to blogs which gave the conference rave reviews. The only criticism I found was directed at one of the speakers, for taking time away from his high paying job to attend another Waldrep organized conference as a highly paid speaker. So as far as I know, in terms of what it provides, Waldrep Ministries is on the up and up and leaves many satisfied customers in its wake.

It also seems probable to me that Phil Waldrep Ministries is a Baptist ministry. Waldrep got his start “[leading] over 1,000 revivals, speaking at some of America's leading churches like Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, Virginia; First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida; First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, Tennessee . . .” While I am not trying to take a tribal view of Baptists versus Methodists, they do have different views of women’s role in the church and home. (I’ll explain why I think Waldrep falls on the complementarian side of the divide further along.) The Methodist Church falls on the egalitarian side of the spectrum, with regard to relations between men and women:

We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage.*
So why do I think the Women of Joy Conference is going to sell a complementarian perspective? Well, here is the trailer for the 2013 conference. The phrase “absolute surrender” is used frequently and linked with “absolute peace”, “absolute acceptance”, and of course, “absolute joy”. Past speakers at the conferences have included Sarah Palin, Pam Tebow (Christian missionary and mother to Tim Tebow, although past video trailers simply refer to her as “mother to Tim Tebow”), and Kay Warren (“wife to Rick Warren”). Men appear on the podium as entertainers and worship leaders.  
Contrast this with the trailer for the Gridiron men’s conference. The theme of the 2013 conference is “Stand”. Speakers include Dan Cathy, Josh McDowell, and Tim Tebow. There are no women speakers or worship leaders, at least in this year’s conference and the conferences going back to 2010, which is as far back as I could find. So I think I know where PWM stands. 
I don’t begrudge the group its right to hold these conferences and attract large crowds. I just don’t plan to be there when they do. Not because the organizers are Baptist: if St. Anonymous wanted to organize a trip to a Baptist conference on ending malaria or addressing hunger or promoting literacy, I’d consider going, especially if past attendees were as enthusiastic as the ones whose blog posts I read today. 
It’s because I became a United Methodist Woman 40 something years ago because we stand. We are strong women who stand for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and each other. We stand against the exploiters and for the exploited. A list of our action issues includes: human trafficking, domestic violence, women’s rights, immigration, health care, environment, economic justice, racial justice, public education, child advocacy, and global justice.
If I had only bothered to do the research I’m doing today two days ago, I could have proposed at our meeting yesterday that we participate in the Intercept the Traffickers Photo Campaign. That I did not is solely on me. Fortunately, I have the program for our March meeting. I have lots of time to find program materials on the human trafficking issue. 
When my sisters at St. Anonymous go to the Women of Joy Conference, I will wish them godspeed. I’d hate to see what the world would look like if everyone had to confine themselves to doing what I think is best for them.
I just hope that when next year rolls around, we will also be standing at the side of I-12, which leads to I-59 and then on to New Jersey, taking a picture, as just one of our steps in standing for people in bondage. Because, Mr. Waldrep, women, too, can stand.

*Unfortunately, the sentence that follows is "We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman." I reject that idea and am unhappy that the Methodist Church hasn't also, but it would be dishonest not to admit to the entire paragraph.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Award Night

Since my husband and I are members of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, we get invited to the annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence ceremony. 

There are two ways to give to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. The first is that you can endow a fund of some sort for them to manage. Although it is probably obvious to a regular reader of my blog that my husband and I are not hurting for money, we are not at the “endow a fund” level of wealth. The other way to support BRAF is by donating an annual amount of $100 and up, to be used toward their operating expenses, and that’s what we do. People who donate in this way are considered members.

The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence was conceived at another sort of BRAF event several years ago, when Mr. Gaines gave a reading from his work Mozart and Leadbelly. The award is intended to honor Ernest Gaines by selecting a promising African-American author as recipient. This year’s recipient is Stephanie Powell Watts for her book of short stories, We Are Taking Only What We Need. Watts, we are told, “worked as a Jehovah’s Witness minister, a shoe-string factory worker, and a food service and office worker” before receiving her PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. “She now teaches at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania”. In addition to the honor of the award and a trophy, she was given $10,000. Honor is nice, but money pays the bills.

As part of the ceremony, recipients read from their work. Ms. Watts read a short selection from the first short story in her book, shorter than the amount that recipients usually read, but she stopped at just the point to leave you wondering what happened next. I’m not sure whether it was purely her decision to read a shorter than average bit, or whether it was to leave time for the Master of Ceremonies, Irvin Mayfield, to lead an improvised sestet in several jazz compositions, including selections from Mayfield’s recent composition: Dirt, Dust and Trees: A Jazz Tribute to Ernest Gaines. The sestet finished their set with a second-line style medley of gospel tunes, including I’ll Fly Away and When the Saints Go Marching In. 

After the ceremony, there is always a buffet, compliments of  a locally owned and quite elegant restaurant. I would hate to say that the buffet is my husband’s only reason for attending this cultural event so regularly, but he has memorized the exact location of the shrimp-filled pirogue, and heads to it with the determination of a spawning salmon.

The tiny bread plates that accompany the spread are no doubt meant to be a reminder that this isn’t supposed to be dinner, but we’re good at carrying multiple plates. We are also good at snagging a table in the room with the shrimp boat (less congested than the one with the dessert table and martini bar), which means we have seats to give away. Usually we literally give them away; while we hope to attract other folks to talk with, our spare chairs usually get carried off to other tables where people in large groups need extras. This year other people asked if they could sit with us and of course we agreed. They then preceded to carry on their own conversation as if we weren’t there. I eavesdropped shamelessly as one woman, originally from New York by her account before moving to Washington and then here to Baton Rouge, raved about the musicians. By her account, the only place to hear jazz like that in Washington any more is at the Kennedy Center, which she thinks has driven the smaller jazz clubs out of business. Tickets for events at the Kennedy are expensive, so they could only go to one event a year. Culture in Baton Rouge, she continues, is so accessible

I haven’t really thought of it that way, but there are numerous events at the Shaw Center (where the Gaines award is given) throughout the year. There are small jazz clubs in town with reasonable cover charges, and of course, the Little Theater events we go to, as well as a symphony orchestra. There are three outdoor music festivals each summer. LSU has begun hosting a multi-act country music concert each year, and there are concerts that come through at the River Center. One of our local charitable agencies (about which there was a big scandal several years later) even hosted a concert by Luciano Pavarotti back in the 1990’s. People came from surrounding states for that (and Pavarotti, not the charity, got most of the money.) I still have the program.

Not to mention, that my husband and I take for granted being able to see and hear Ernest Gaines himself each year at this time, as well as guest MC’s that have included, in addition to Mr. Mayfield, actors Courtney Vance and last year, Cicely Tyson.

So yes, say what you will about our small city (and lord knows I say a lot of it), but it has at its heart a group of leaders determined to see that the needs of its citizens are met, and it has ready access to the arts.

Thank you, Miss-Snob-Pretending-the-Original-Occupant-of-the-Table-Wasn’t-There, for reminding me of it.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Opposition

Hussein Sumac’s opponent in the upcoming special election is also a Republican, a current city council member whom I will refer to as Dred Woodrow. The same day that Mr. Sumac knocked at my door, campaign mail from Mr. Woodrow arrived. I see by his flyer that Mr. Woodrow is “for pro-life, limited government”. I think these folks get their campaign slogans from Oxymorons R Us, or perhaps an abbreviation thereof.

Although both candidates list themselves as pro-life and pro-gun conservatives, there is a huge difference between them. Mr. Woodrow is a Catholic, while Mr. Sumac is a a member of a church that does not give a denominational affiliation, but describes itself as believing that the whole of Christianity can be found within God’s word (IOW, not-Catholic).  

Mr. Woodrow also brags that he was “against the new CATS bus tax”. I don’t hold that against him, because there was a legitimate concern that the new plan was not going to work and would just mean throwing good money after bad. I would, however, like to know what his plan was for getting people without transportation to jobs or jobs to people without transportation. 

He also was “against wasteful spending on the downtown library”. There again, he may have been in the right. The downtown library is part of a downtown meeting/entertainment venue and is not convenient to many residential areas, and there was reason to think that dressing it up was putting lipstick on a pig. My husband, for one, thinks the remodel is a big boondoggle.

The tell, to me, is that Mr. Woodrow is for “parents’ rights to consolidate their school districts.”  If that sounds like gobbledygook to you, there’s a reason for that. What Mr. Woodrow was for is splitting out a portion of Baton Rouge that lies to the south and east and making it a separate school district from the rest of the city. This area does not have a particular geographical separation from the rest. It doesn’t have a name. It does have a few gated, multi-million dollar subdivisions and a whole lot of white folks. (The vote to allow this split failed.)

So when you take his position on CATS, and the downtown library, and the school district split, there seems to be a common thread, but I can’t quite  . . .

My plan is to see whether there are any upcoming debates or candidates nights involving these two men that I can attend. I also am composing an e-mail to be sent to each of them, asking what their plans are for addressing infant mortality (since they are both pro-life),  and how they feel transportation barriers to getting jobs should be addressed. If I get replies, I’ll post them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Knock at the Door

Actually, it was a ring at the doorbell, but “A knock at the door” sounds more portentous, somehow. Saturday morning I was messing around on the computer when I heard someone at the front door. It being Saturday, UPS was out, so I suspected the Jehovah’s Witnesses or maybe some teenage Baptists wanting to tell me how I could predict whether I’m going to hell.

I was close. The man who appeared at my door is a candidate in the upcoming special election for state representative, district 65. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call him Hussein Sumac. Obviously that’s not his real name, but it’s close, at least the way my brain figures close. 

Mr. Sumac informed me that the special election is being held due to the incumbent having to resign over ill health. The two people running are Mr. Sumac and another Republican. Mr. Sumac preceded to make his case, as outlined below. My thoughts, none of which I was unkind enough to voice out loud, follow in italics.

First of all, he’s a conservative.
Me: I’m not. (That was actually out loud.)

He’s a businessman.
Me: So you actually have no prior experience in government.

He built his business himself, but most of his business is out of state, so there is no conflict of interest with him running for election.

Does “by himself” include a loan from the SBA? Actually, I’m impressed he thought to bring up conflict of interest. Most Louisiana politicians seem to think it’s a myth, like global warming.

Unlike his opponent, he has no ties to the political establishment.

So not only do you have no experience in government, but none of your friends and associates do, either.

He has decided to run for office because he’s tired of seeing so many politicians who seem really dumb.

Dr. Dunning, meet Dr. Kruger.

He is funding his own campaign.

So no Republican funding sources think enough of your chances to donate to your campaign.

He has always lived in this area, and has attended the same church since he was five.

So you aren’t big on exposing yourself to new and possibly contradictory ideas.

He is honest. His wife can vouch for his honesty, because no one knows you like your spouse.

No one knows me like my spouse, either, but if I were running for office, there would be a limit on what he could reveal about me and live.

After he leaves, I look at his literature and read that he is “Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Gun, and Anti-Tax”. I wish I had read that before I let him get away, because I have some questions. He is running for a political office that will provide him with a salary and benefits. How does he propose the state pay him without taxes? 

And he’s pro-life? I should have asked him what his plans are to bring down Louisiana’s appalling infant mortality rate, which has us ranked 49th out of 50 states in the nation, and not in a good way. I should have asked him his pro-life plans to do something about Louisiana’s gun death rate, the worst in the nation. Oh, wait, he’s pro-gun. Well, guns don’t kill people, Louisianans kill people.

I need to research his opponent, who does at least have government experience as a member of the city council. I may wind up voting for Hussein Sumac after all. 

One time many years ago, I lamented to my dad about the two hopeless choices I had in a statewide election. “Just don’t vote,” he advised. 

“Dad, one of them is going to win. If I don’t vote, I’m just letting someone else choose for me.” 

That’s just as true today as it was then.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Back Up

My husband has been talking about replacing one of our cars, and more recently, about replacing my 13 year old Mustang convertible. He has been able to bank most of his paycheck from his new job, so we would likely be paying cash if we wait until at least March or more likely summer (since I have a fantasy about the car appearing in my driveway on the morning of my birthday with a big bow on top, or maybe balloons.)

Before my Mustang, I had a Honda Civic. It was two years old when I bought it, and its former owner had ridden it hard and put it away wet, but it was a good car. I found it at a Ford dealership where I had gone looking for a year-end sale Ford Escort. The dealer, after listening to what I wanted in a car, convinced me to take the Civic for a spin. Compared to it, the Escort felt like a toy. The Civic still had some warranty left on it, and it also had what to me seemed like unbelievable creature comforts: electronic door locks, cruise control, electronic remote adjustable side mirrors, a 4 speaker audio with built-in cassette deck (this was back in 1994) and, best yet, four doors.

I drove the Civic for 6 years and then gave it to my son, who drove it for three more, even after the air conditioner broke, while he saved up for a new car. 

In the back of my mind, though, was my dream of owning a convertible, especially a Mustang convertible. Okay, actually, a T-bird convertible, but they cost twice what the Mustangs did for half the space, so the Mustang it was. It took a little while for me to get used to the 6 cylinder engine (I had a young man challenge me to a drag race out on Florida Blvd one afternoon, although I took it as a joke and shook my head) and the gas mileage was less than that of the Civic, but aside from a few trips to the beach and one to Santa Fe, I didn’t go far with it.

When I met Anett’s boyfriend, he was surprised at my choice of a Mustang. “That’s a man’s car,” he said, or so she translated for him. I had to explain that no, not in the USA it isn’t, although I spared him the sound of me singing When God-Fearin' Women Get the Blues (“I’ve got a Mustang, it’ll do eighty; I’ve stirred my last batch of gravy.”) or even Mustang Sally. My 80 something year old godmother drives a Mustang (with a vanity license plate, something I meant to get and never did).

It was always my idea that once the convertible needed to be replaced, I’d get another Civic. 

I was pleasantly surprised when looking at Civic specs online to find out that even the base models come with backup cameras as standard equipment. It’s part of the Honda’s i-Mid system, a system that sounds so complicated that I might have to take a class to operate it. I’m the world’s worst when it comes to backing up, as I proved most recently when I took out a shrub while backing into the driveway of the Little Theater to donate a few goods to their garage sale last spring. I’m sure whatever they earned from the items I donated went straight to their gardener. I’m surprised that random citizens of Baton Rouge haven’t taken up a collection to buy me a backup camera by now, so the idea of getting one as standard equipment definitely appeals to me. 

I assumed that if a backup camera was standard equipment, a navigational system would be a readily available option, but that is where I got a surprise. To get the navigational system, I’d have to move up to the next model, the EX, for $2,000 more, and then pay $1500 extra for the option package that has the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System.  The EX also gives me a moonroof, standard, however, which is a nice touch for someone giving up a convertible.

Enter my husband, John, with an issue of Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports, he informs me, has some issues with the Civic, and prefers the Accord. So I dutifully check Accord prices online. In order to get the navigation system with the Accord, I would have to buy not just the EX, but the EX-L, and then pay for the additional option package, bringing the cost up to $27,000. IOW, by time we have saved up for this car, I will be too old to drive it.

I checked into comparable cars, like the Toyota Camry and the Hundai Sonata. They don ’t even have backup cameras as standard features. I googled aftermarket navigation systems. Honda owners message boards warn against them, since it means messing with the wiring on the backup camera. I finally decided the cheapest option would be upgrading my old iPhone so I can just hook a newer one up to the i-Mid and have Siri give me directions. Or maybe not. People have been having issues with that solution, too.

Back up a minute. Why isn’t the navigation system an easily available and cheaper option to begin with? Garmin and Magellan make stand-alone systems for a few hundred dollars. If you already have a screen and speakers anyway, why does it cost so much more to get one built in, and why does it have to be bundled with extras you might not want or at least need?

My friend D ventures an explanation. It’s something people want, she points out, and so they will pay for the other upgrades to get it. It’s cynical, but sounds logical.

Maybe I’ll just stick to getting lost. With my new camera, I’ll have no trouble backing up and getting out of there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I Don't Think That's Going to Solve the Problem

As a result of the big Saturday night fight at our local mall, one of our city councilors has reintroduced measures to toughen up teen curfews. Louisiana already has a curfew of sorts, in that driver’s licenses for teens are not valid for a portion of the night hours (later on weekends), unless they are traveling to or from a job. This driving restriction was what allowed my son to Neal call me five minutes before curfew every weekend and say, “Can I stay over at my friend’s? I can come home, but it means I’ll be driving after curfew.” 

I wonder what is going on in the council’s collective minds. The fight at the mall took place some time around 6 PM.  Four year olds aren’t even in bed at 6 PM. Are they planning to confine all teens in their homes from 5 PM Friday night until time to leave for school on Monday? Because if so, they are going to have a lot of pissed off parents to deal with.

Of course, I can understand them feeling the need to do something. The fight did not cause any significant injuries or property damage, but it could have. This is a concealed carry state. All it would have taken is one self-identified “good guy with a gun”, and this event could have turned into a tragedy. A curfew, no matter how irrelevant to the situation, is a better solution than arming all the teens in town.

It’s just that, is it a solution? It was 6 freakin’ PM, guys!

Our council members seem like geniuses, however, compared to the people who are behind this amazing idea:

So the sequence of events would be:

1) Chief Justice Roberts swears in Obama on the 20th, per the Constitution.
2) Birthers, in turn, will call for the impeachment of Chief Justice Roberts. If they are successful, 
3) Newly sworn-in President Obama selects the new Chief Justice.

I think I may have left out the two additional steps:

4) ?????
5) Profit!

Okay, to be fair, columnist Craig McMillan did not really demand Roberts’ immediate impeachment. What Mc Millan said was 
Your own oath of office, sworn before God and the American people, requires you to uphold the Constitution. (If not you, then who?) If you now administer the oath of office for the presidency to a man who by his own admission fails to meet the natural born citizen requirement imposed by that Constitution, you have violated your own oath of office and are rightly subject to impeachment by any House of Representatives, at any time, now or in the future.
It sounds more likely that he is envisioning a scenario in which Tea Party members take over the House and the Senate in  2014, and not only impeach and convict Justice Roberts, but also investigate President Obama and declare his birth certificate to be a fraud, and then impeach both him and Vice-President Biden, who of course colluded in the deception. Then, in accordance with the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the then Speaker of the House (no doubt a re-elected Alan West) would become president, and fill the vacancy created by Roberts’ impeachment.

That’s not the sort of idea to mock anybody for, really.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The Christmas decorations are all down and boxed up, waiting to go back into the attic.  My living room looks bare without the enormous tree taking up the space in front of the back window. That came down Sunday, after I spent Saturday removing all the ornaments I could reach. John had to get up on the ladder to remove the top ones, and he had to take the tree apart. It is now boxed up and back in the closet for next year. This took some time and effort, and there was a bit of discussion in which John promised me I could hire someone to put the tree up and take it down next year. I think he meant it as more of a threat, or at least a Dire Warning, but I would be happy to hire someone who would not be in a position to criticize my choice in Christmas trees unless he wanted to get his butt fired, and a bad write-up on Angie’s list to boot. I’m just saying. 

The rest of the undecorating is pretty much my job, because I’m the one who has picked most of the trinkets, except for the ones we inherited from Eloise. It’s not hard, just time consuming and a little sad. The time consuming part is due to my having over 200 tree ornaments, some of which go in their own little boxes and some in the big plastic ornament storage boxes with dividers, and for some of them I cannot remember which is which. Then I have to figure out which crystal angel goes in which blue box, and which Hummel angel goes in which printed box, and which boxes go up in the attic and which stay down. I should make myself a list, but I would only lose the list.

The sad part is the solo cup ball. Years ago I worked with a little girl, C, who was severely physically disabled due to an infection in utero. The first Christmas I worked with her, her family gave me a Christmas present - a big ball made out of several dozen clear plastic drink cups with Christmas lights strung through each one. They’re called patio balls, and I had never seen one before, but her grandparents made them to sell, and giving them away actually cost them potential income. I thought it was the most hideous thing I had ever seen, but I brought it home carefully, and that night I hung it on the porch. John will put up lights on the porch sometimes, but he doesn’t like to, so I thought I’d at least have something lit out there. Then I went across the street to the mailbox.

When I turned around again I was startled. The light fixture that looked so - unusual - in the daylight glistened beautifully in the dark. I would never have believed it.

C’s story is a sad one. After a few years, she had a bad seizure and fell into a coma. Eventually her parents had to make the hard decision whether to continue extraordinary life-extending measures or to let her go. Fortunately, they were supported by their church in their decision.

I went to C’s funeral, feeling angry. I watched her two brothers running around playing, and I could picture C as she should have been. When the pastor got up to speak, I folded my arms and thought, “This had better be good.”

The pastor read the verse from Matthew 19, verse 14: Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." He spoke about how much C’s brief life had meant to him, and how he had learned from her. My anger slipped away. I don’t know how her parents felt, but I think if it had been me, and if I found anything at all comforting, it would not be words about how God needed another angel in Heaven, but a reassurance that my loved one’s life, brief as it may have been, had an impact on people here.

C would be something like 20 years old by now, if she had lived. My patio ball, carefully treasured, has survived and hangs on my porch every year, a beautiful light that, like C, shines briefly from an unprepossessing exterior, before it goes away.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"I Don't See What Difference Half an Hour Will Make"

For reasons too complicated to explain, I dropped my eyeglasses on a tile floor last night. As I picked them up, I noticed a missing lens. My glasses are of the sort that have half frames across the top and sides of the lenses. Something I did not realize but there is also a piece of thin, clear plastic that holds the lens across the bottom. Unlike as with ordinary frames, I could not put the lens back myself by loosening the screw at the earpiece and tightening it back up again.

I also discovered in the course of my manipulations that both lenses had fallen out. Fortunately, I didn’t step on the other one in trying to find it.

All this happened around 5:30 PM on Saturday, and a call to Lenscrafters at the mall revealed they were open until 9PM. John asked if I would mind waiting until the news was over to go there. I had an old pair of glasses to wear as a spare but I wanted him to drive, anyway.

“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t see what difference half an hour will make.”

It’s a shame that real life doesn’t come with a sound track that foreshadows a Significant Statement.

When we got to the mall we were amazed at how crowded it was. Sirens wailed in the distance. Even stranger was that a lot of cars were leaving, and we found a parking spot right by the Sear’s entrance (in the center of the mall and opposite the food court, so a good spot to enter if you aren’t sure you remember just where you are going.) As we got out of the car, we found out why.

“Ma’am. Sir,” two people hailed us. “The mall is closing.” (Yes, people talk like this down here.)

One of them went on to say that there had been a big fight in the food court, police were called in, and they closed the mall as a result. “I work at the Bath and Body Shop,” she said. “We heard there may have been gunshots.”

I thanked her for the information and headed back to the car. My husband, meanwhile, noticed that there was a crowd milling around another exit. “Do you want to go over there and check and make sure the mall isn’t really still open?” he asked.

“No. Even if it is still open, why would you even want to go someplace where gunshots have been fired?”

“She only said they thought there were gunshots.”

“So, do you want to find out the hard way there is someone inside with a gun? Because I don’t.”

I should explain about my husband. John doesn’t really have a death wish, and he isn’t lacking in intelligence. He just is very singleminded once he has a plan. Whereas I get bored easily and wander off, leaving tasks unfinished, my husband sees them through, no matter how boring. When circumstances disrupt his plan, it takes him a while to realize he needs a Plan B. On the other hand, switching from Plan A to Plan B, or C, or W, is what I love best. So while I am content to let him take charge when we are doing something tedious but necessary, like painting the house or packing for a move, I have found that it’s best for me to take over when circumstances force a change of plans but hubby is still stuck. Like, when, say, the mall we needed to go to to get my glasses fixed is the scene of a big fight and possible shooting.

So we got in the car and thanks to some good navigating by my husband, on the road. At this point, I remembered that there is also a Lenscrafters in the other mall.

Chris Rock used to have a comedy routine about malls. “Every town has the same two malls: the one white people go to and the one white people used to go to.” I know exactly what he is talking about. When Cortana Mall was built, it was “the mall white people go to”. It was well laid out, with four anchor stores and even a small movie theater. D.H. Holmes, one of the anchor stores, had a cafe on the second floor that overlooked the mall, and Dillard’s had its furniture department.

Over the years, DH Holmes and Maison Blanche went out of business, the movie theater was replaced with another store, and other businesses came and went, but the mall became the only mall in town, once Bon Marche (“the mall white people used to go to”) went out of business. In the meantime, though, plans were being made to build a new mall in the swamps off of Bluebonnet. (I’m not kidding about the swamp. There is a BREC Park called Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center down the street from the area. Egrets nest along the road leading to the back parking lot of the mall.) After several years,  a permit was obtained, and the Mall of Louisiana was built. At first both malls co-existed, but now the anchor stores at Cortana serve as outlets for last season's merchandise and Dillard's second floor is closed. That’s why we went to the Mall of Louisiana when I first got my glasses, and went back to get them repaired.

In fifteen minutes, we were at Cortana. Lenscrafters was open, and there weren’t any other customers, so in five minutes a nice man named Patrick had my glasses put back together. He knew about the problem at the other mall, having received a phone call from the staff there. “We never have anything like that here,” he says, as if fights at Mall of Louisiana are a weekly occurrence. Maybe they are.

Later, after a dinner out, we get home and check the news on a local TV station website. As it turns out, no shots were fired, but yes, it was closed when we got there. As best anyone can tell, an Instagram invitation for young people to meet at the mall and hang out led to a larger than usual crowd, and then fights broke out, although that doesn’t seem to have been the intent.

What if we hadn’t waited for the news, I wonder? Would I have had my glasses fixed and been on my way, or would we still be waiting for service when the fight and ensuing confusion occurred? I had said, “I don’t see what difference half an hour will make”, but it turns out I was wrong, and it was just as well.

ETA: Apparently this story made the national news.