Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day flowers

...for this once-every-four-years event!

(P.S. Spring begins in less than one month! It makes my day just thinking about it.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Valley of the Handicapped

Last week, I traveled to a certain valley. Most of us will visit this valley at some point in our lives. An unlucky few will go there and never return.

It is the Valley of the Handicapped.

On Friday, February 17th, I performed thirty deadlifts (3 sets of 10) with eight-pound dumbbells. I felt a little sore afterwards, but not too much. I had done a dance workout earlier (I think it was Soul Sweat with Chantal Pierrat - FYI, an excellent dance workout), and I wanted to augment the workout with weights at the end.

During the following weekend (which was Presidents’ Day weekend), I still felt sore and had other things to do, so I didn’t exercise on Saturday or Sunday. On Monday, I thought it was high time for a workout, so I did a Prevention walking video in the morning.

Tuesday was when the problems started. Sharp pain would bite me in the side like a hungry animal. I was unable to stand up straight. Two Dogs and I had planned to go to a friend’s house to jam and do laundry (guess which one jams and which one does laundry), but he called to postpone.

Wednesday I felt a little better – enough to go out to get Chinese food for ourselves and our guests. But that was all I did. My injury not only took away walking, but errands and using my desktop. My only Internet access was on my smartphone. (First World problems.)

Thursday it got so bad that I called our family doctor, and Two Dogs drove me to the office (fortunately, not so far away). My doctor prescribed two painkillers, ice, and heat. I spent most of the rest of the day in bed – which I felt ambivalent about. On the one hand, this is one of my favorite fantasies – being in bed with nothing to do. On the other, I felt guilty about being idle. Why is it so hard to allow oneself to be still? Puritan work ethic, the societal requirement for women to be the caretakers, a personal need to meander.

What is the Mouse without Meandering?

After Thursday, my injury began to heal. I had a relatively pain-free weekend, and as of today (February 27), I feel almost back to normal. I am not sure when I will be able to walk and exercise as normal – my doctor said that it should take one to two weeks to recover, but I think I will be walking before that.

I must not end this post without mentioning how superbly Two Dogs took care of me during my ordeal. He insisted I stay in bed, brought drinks and snacks to me, and kept me in the pumpkin shell, so to speak. No one has cared for me so well; I will be grateful always and hope to do the same for him if that time comes.

Some will read this and say that I should be grateful that my time in the Valley of the Handicapped was brief. Believe me, I am.

Some will read this and ask why I am complaining when other people have it so much worse. I do feel for those who have it worse – and that number is too many. But a loss is a loss, and we have a right to grieve as we see fit, whether the loss be large or small, permanent or temporary.

I have learned a few things in the past few days. It is okay to allow my husband to care for me sometimes. It is okay to be fallow. It is not okay to do deadlifts with straight knees.

I would like to say I will never take painless mobility for granted again. But I probably will, because human nature defaults to thinking normalcy will last forever. If it didn’t, we’d spend all day feeling nothing but grateful, leaving no room for anything else. I can say that my first meander after the injury will be a great one.

I can’t wait (but I will for safety’s sake).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A (most unpleasant) tale of two talk show hosts

In your opinion, which is worse?

1. Radio talk show hosts revealing the private phone number of an activist on the air, subjecting said activist to extreme verbal abuse from their fans.

2. Radio talk show hosts saying something tasteless (but frankly unsurprising) about a dead celebrity.

If you’re KFI AM 640 of Los Angeles, you have chosen #2. Last week, John and Ken, the popular and game-changing afternoon hosts (some say that they sent Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California governor’s mansion), were suspended until February 27 for saying this about the late Whitney Houston:

At some point you’re just sick of it all, and so is everybody else in the industry. All her friends and hangers-on; everybody who knew had to deal with her.

“It's like, "Ah Jesus . . . here comes the crack ho again, what’s she gonna do? Ah, look at that — she's doin' handstands next to the pool. Very good, crack ho . . . " After a while, everybody’s exhausted. And then you find out she’s dead. It’s like, "Really? Took this long?"

(Audio file here.)

Is that a good thing? Certainly not. No evidence has surfaced that Houston had ever prostituted herself for crack cocaine - and even if it had, it’s just so ghetto to use the word “ho” (unless, of course, you’re playing Santa Claus or a pirate).

However, Houston is dead and thus unable to feel the sting of insult anymore. Not so the Muslims, illegal immigrants, government workers, teachers, Occupy protesters, gays, grocery store cashiers, etc., etc., whom John and Ken have unfairly painted with a broad brush coated in mud. It’s not funny, just painful.

(FYI, I have listened to John and Ken before, most often in the car when there’s nothing else to listen to. Perhaps it’s high time to get an iPod.)

If John and Ken don’t like you, they will get down and dirty, doing deeds that Karl Rove would envy. Last year, they found the personal cell phone number of Jorge-Mario Cabrera, Director of Communications and Public Relations, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and said it over the air several times. Surprise, surprise – John and Ken’s immigrant-baited listeners called with the worst kind of invective. In 2010, John and Ken did the same to Nancy Meza, a UCLA student who was brought here from Mexico by her parents when she was six. Because she was an illegal immigrant (even though it was through no fault of her own), John and Ken also urged listeners to call ICE so Meza could be deported.

This, dear readers, is what they should have been suspended for.

(An aside: it’s stories like this that make me think that it may not be a bad idea to “imagine there’s no countries,” as John Lennon wrote. No countries = no illegal immigration.)

In other words: you can expose non-famous people to harassment, and pin ugly stereotypical tails on all sorts of (usually marginalized) groups, but it’s the stupid joke about a recently deceased celebrity that gets you suspended?

It reminds me about the fable about the scorpion and the frog : “It is my nature.” You hire a couple of guys to piss on things, don’t be surprised if they end up doing it on one of your sacred cows.

(P.S. I know this happened last week, but I haven't posted this until now because my computer time has been limited for reasons I will tell you in the next post.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

If this makes me a snob…

The nobly snobby Meandering Mouse enjoying quality cappuccino

Lately, the media has been making a giant fuss over Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray wisely added the “white” qualifier because he co-authored a book called The Bell Curve, which insinuated that darker-hued skin correlated with lower IQ.

In a nutshell, Coming Apart says that poor and working-class whites are mired in moral and social decay (which Murray interprets as meaning out-of-wedlock births and low male employment). It is the duty of those in the upper classes to proselyte the benefits of marriage, education, and work to those in the lower classes and not be so fashionably nonjudgmental.

The book includes a quiz that purportedly reveals if you’re in the upper-class “bubble.” I had a score of 37, which makes me either “a first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents” or “a second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person who has made a point of getting out a lot.”

Technically, I am not (yet) an upper-middle-class person. But it appears I think like one. I read the New York Times, listen to NPR, choose literary fiction for my reading list, shun country music, think that car racing isn’t a sport (if it was, most of us “jog” weekdays to and from work), think that Sundays are for brunch, not church, watch movies with subtitles, avoid “family” restaurants, prefer wine to beer, and never, ever hoot.

Virginia Postrel, a Bloomberg News columnist, recently wrote a feature about Coming Apart which showed that America was never as culturally cohesive as Murray claims:

The truth is that during Murray's golden age, a lot of smart people were constantly irritated and angered by what they saw as America's lowest-common-denominator bad taste."A vast wasteland," Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, called television.

Some critics wanted to impose their idea of better taste on everyone. Others simply wanted to pursue excellence as they saw fit. Either way, mass culture offended people with refined or idiosyncratic preferences. They may not have lived next to each other or constituted an identifiable social class, but these people definitely felt different from, and in most cases superior to, their fellow Americans.

Hence all those scathing reviews of "The Beverly Hillbillies" – and all those midcentury books about the horrors of mass culture, consumerism and other-directed conformism. These books were written by and for a self-selected elite. A blockbuster like Vance Packard's anti-advertising tome "The Hidden Persuaders" might sell a million copies, but even that represented barely half a percent of the population.

With five decades' distance it's clear that books as seemingly different as "The Organization Man," "The Lonely Crowd," "The Feminine Mystique" and "Atlas Shrugged" were really all about the same thing: the alienation and discomfort of gifted, independent-minded individuals in a society in which the "normal" ruled. The "cognitive elite" felt left out of or oppressed by the country's culture and, as a result, scorned it.

That’s me. I have refined and idiosyncratic preferences, and I feel alienation and discomfort when something trashy gets too close. Yes, I used the word “trashy.”

All cultural artifacts have a right to exist in a democratic marketplace – but these artifacts will not be equal in quality. There is a significant difference between, say, PBS’s Frontline and Jersey Shore. Between the Sun magazine and the Star tabloid. Between a literary author who yields, at most, one new work a year and a romance writer who pops off seven books annually.

If knowing what quality is – and choosing it over trash – makes me a snob, well, I’m a snob. And a proud one who knows that life is better this way.

This is the definition of noble snobbery. Noble snobs do not put other people down for doing the “wrong” things, but insist on quality experiences for themselves.

Example: suppose I went to a grocery store to buy the needed ingredients for a small gathering for three of my friends and myself. After buying some fruits, cheese, and chocolate, I have only nine dollars (not including tax) left to buy wine. What do I choose? This 4-liter jug of Carlo Rossi chablis…

…or this 750 ml bottle of Estancia chardonnay?

I would pick the Estancia, even though that would yield only one glass each for my three guests and myself. It is far better to drink one glass of good wine than two of bad.

It is no sin to choose the best of everything that you can afford. If you have a radio, it doesn’t cost more to turn on All Things Considered than John and Ken. At the library, there is not an extra fee to check out the classic instead of the potboiler. Quality experience is not just for the rich – it is available for everyone who cares enough to find out exactly what that means.

So go out and look for quality today, my nobly snobby friends.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Things other people can’t teach you…

…because you just have to find out for yourself.

1. You’ll get over the boy/girl who broke your heart.

2. Your favorite Saturday morning cartoon is badly animated and poorly written.

3. The Academy Awards are not the zenith of motion picture excellence. The best films/performances/directing/writing/etc. don’t always win – or even get nominated. Example: how many of you have seen Citizen Kane? How many of you have seen (or even heard of) How Green Was My Valley? Guess which one is a Best Picture winner? In the long run, a classic is a classic is a classic.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

4. Fast food is not great food.

5. With few exceptions, celebrities just aren’t that interesting.

6. Tight pants are not worth it.

7. Other people’s behavior is not your fault.

8. Life goes on no matter who is President.

9. Eating outdoors on a warm day is an undervalued joy.

10. Nightclubs are the same all over. Go to one, and you’ve been to them all.

11. The life of a groupie isn’t all that glamorous.

12. Famous and/or handsome men aren’t necessarily great (or even good) in bed. (The same goes for hot chicks.)

13. Getting wasted isn’t much fun.

14. You don’t really want to eat sweets all day.

15. Heroes aren’t perfect.

qthomasbower / Flickr

16. Famous people don’t die to teach the rest of us a lesson.