vendredi, avril 28, 2006

Blood sports

The partisan divide afflicting Capitol politics has spilled out onto the Washington Mall, where Congressional staff members' springtime frolic of softball games after work is degenerating into ideological hardball. Complaints that easygoing Democratic players prefer "softball welfare" and that hard-sliding Republicans are into "class warfare" precipitated a schism. More than 100 teams have broken away to form a league of their own led by a Republican commissioner, abandoning 80 other teams to fend for themselves on the greensward.
The sticking point, according to The Wall Street Journal, is the championship playoff system long run by a Democratic commissioner — a bleeding heart approach, in the view of Republican batters. It forces the teams with the strongest records to risk playing one another in the opening challenges, rather than letting them feast first on the weaker teams, as in the great American way of professional sports. New York Times, April 28

I have a confession to make.

I am a Democrat..hang on, that's not the confession! I am a Democrat who likes to play softball with Republicans. Actually, I don't play softball. I have no aptitude for team sports. Tennis, anybody?

Let me be perfectly clear. If I did play softball, my Republican friends are the first ones I'd invite to be on my team. Almost all of the Republicans I know, (which doesn't include members of Congress or the present administration), have a strong respect for rules. They not only talk about personal responsibility, but usually display it. Rarely has a Republican buddy owned up to not paying a parking ticket or taking office supplies home.

My Republican friends are also unlikely to make sartorial faux pas like wearing loud checked shirts and Indian print skirts to work or to bring up controversial political subjects at cocktail parties. I think. I could be wrong about that, because I have not been invited to a lot of cocktail parties recently. Perhaps it's the way I dress. By and large, they also live in lovely homes, and I like to visit them there, when I am invited.

In other words, with the exception of some strong disagreements on social issues, my pals on the right are people I am proud and honored to call friends. When I read about a hardball/ softball war raging in Washington, I have to wonder whether Congressional staffers have any idea what normal people (OK, semi-normal) like me really care about.

By and large, we get along with each other. We want to see bipartisan collaboration and creativity in addressing issues like global warming, jobs for the poor, and international crises in Iran, the Sudan and other hot spots. Silly displays of hostility reflect a level of peevishness and immaturity that is not only vexing, but scary. Apparently the aliens in DC have forgotten the most basic rule of sportsmanship-play fair. After that, let the best pitchers and runners determine who wins. Or is that baseball?

mercredi, avril 26, 2006

Is fashion so over?

You could not call my son Colin a fashionista. He flatly refuses to wear anything with long sleeves unless he's got to attend a funeral, go to church on Sunday morning, or make a de rigeur appearance in Philadelphia high society once or twice a year. When he does wear long sleeves, they are casually draped over a t-shirt with some exotic Japanese comic book characters inscribed on the front. He is, however, starting to notice girls, so all of this may change. When interrogated last week by his elder sister, Colin 'fessed up as to how he liked a girl in his second grade class named Julia. "She's got pretty hair and pretty eyes but....let's not go into the details" he said with all of the life skills of someone who has a sibling. At eight years old, let's hope there aren't too many more details. Still, any tender feelings he's got for Julia have not affected his obviousness to certain standards of dress. Tonight, as we cruised through some blogs, checking out the ones written in English, Colin and I came upon one entitled "The Sartorialist." Viewing the pictures of men, women and children posed in stylish rainment on the streets of that ultimate stampeding ground of high fashion, New York City, Colin hooted with laughter. "This is all about...clothes?" he said with amused incredulity. We might as well have been viewing a site devoted to teaching Venusians how to grow turnips. For children his age clothes are purely functional. Even my daughter, who will be eleven next week, constructs an outfit as an exercise in creativity and flair rather than as an imitation of something she has seen on television or on the body of some other girl. The fact that she has to wear a uniform during the week helps curb her access to fashion, but not by much. When I was younger, I would slavishly read the New York Times articles on fashion. It wasn't that I thought I could afford to buy the Ralph Lauren jacket or would someday have the body for that Gucci dress. But as a middle class New Yorker I had the sense that to be educated I needed to know what I was missing. In other words, knowing what was hot among the socialite set, who was wearing what, and who would be wearing what, meant something valuable. Yet among my middle and upper middle class friends today, I see almost no interest in trends. It's not that they go out of the house looking trashy-far from it. But my women friends, by and large, have found a sense of style that expresses who they are inside, and not whom anyone else thinks they should be. Men are another story (aren't they always?) I've known some would-be metrosexuals, who combine the preppy look with fashionable cars and designer dogs, but I cannot think of one male friend who admits to following the trends in suits or shirts or even socks. As for me, I love buying clothes. I find it hard to resist good quality velvet jackets, or slinky silk skirts. The only fashion dictum I follow is whether it looks good on me or not. Somewhere along the way I simply shed the need to be on top of what was trendy. Colin, who cannot believe that anyone would spend precious time perusing photos of pretty people in lovely clothes under any circumstances, resents the fact that I have taken over his closet with my colorful summer frocks, lacy blouses and off-price designer skirts. But if he wants part of the space back, he's got to become a more adventurous shopper. Somehow, I think I'm safe, at least for the moment. Does anybody care to voice an opinion on whether fashion, as we knew it when we were kids, only matters now to the ultra rich and those hired to cover them? Does anybody out there keep up with the latest trends? If so, did you notice anything that we can all afford to buy (though if we can all buy it, why would we want it)? Can a fellow explain what goes on in a guy's brain when he steps into the men's department of a JC Penneys or the higher plane of Nieman Marcus? Does he have a plan of attack? Does he break out into a cold sweat? Does he look at what other men are buying? Start with those, gentlemen, and we'll try you out on some other, harder questions later, like: why don't men bring a good book with them when their wives go shopping instead of sitting amidst racks of cheesy nightgowns looking like they are frogs slowly being cooked in a pot of hot water?

lundi, avril 24, 2006

The sword of righteousness

I would rather not pay him much heed. Frankly, I cannot bear to see such hatred. But Zacarias Moussaoui is once again front page news. Now that the closing arguments are ending, the jury is debating whether he should be put to death for his complicity in the plot that ended in the firestorm at the World Trade Center, the deaths of innocents at the Pentagon, and the loss of all passengers on Flight 93 when it crashed in Pennsylvania, probably on its way to Washington. Nobody much likes Mr. Moussaoui. Even his defense lawyer seemed to indicate that he thought of him as a lower form of life. The prosecuting attorney said that there "was no place on earth" for someone like him, a man who rejoiced in the death of the almost 3,000 victims and the suffering of their relatives. On the other hand, said Moussaoui's defense attorney, putting him to death would make him the martyr that he wished to be. The decision is "more about us than it is about him" he said. If I were a betting woman, I would wager that the jury goes for the death penalty. Perhaps members might see that as some kind of recompense to the relatives of the victims. Possibly they may agree with the prosecutor that he is simply too awful to live. Although I hope I am not right, my guess is that few will wonder what the decision to put a man to death means about them. What is the connection between Zacarias Moussaoui and the recent flap over the Gospel of Judas? It is this. Two thousand years after it was written, scholars and other sympathizers have risen to the defense of the Gnostics. For anyone who has had their head in a bag the past couple of weeks, Gnostics are those (and there have been many Gnostic sects throughout the centuries) who suscribed to the idea that there was were levels of truth not available to everybody. Why do they receive such sympathy? Partly because they lost, and losers are more interesting than "winners." But they continue to fascinate too because they were eradicated, not only from congregations but from much of the historical record. As Christianity became the state religion, as it acquired institutional power, the impulse to enforce orthodoxy became too great too resist (perhaps memories of Roman persecution were short). Over time, Christians, even when we have righteousness or truth on our side, have had a tendency to enforce it with means that are coercive instead of merciful and irrational instead of exemplary. Oftentimes we were intolerant of diversity when, if we truly trusted that God was in charge, we would have let error fade away on its own. It is scary how fast we can begin to think of ourselves as agents of the forces of light instead of servants saved by faith through grace. In hindsight, the pious weren't always too careful about who we chopped up, burned or tormented. But throughout the history of civilization, the wheat has been mixed with the tares. In the light of our history, I am reticent to be too quick to think that by putting one man to death we will eradicate that for which he stands. I also do wonder what it says about me, and about you. In assuming I am taking a stand against evil by killing a man like Moussaoui, I may be, in fact, become more like him. God is the only true and absolute good, the only One who is capable of deciding an appropriate punishment for the crimes to which Moussaoui has confessed. Is it not up to Him to make the final judgment? No one I know would argue that Moussaoui is a martyr. Many of those I know had friends or relatives, or friends of friends in the Twin Towers that unforgettable morning. But in our understandable zeal to rid ourselves of him and his hatred, we reinforce an unfortunate tendency to arrogate to ourselves that which is God's alone. In the process, the medicine we administer may, in fact, become that which slowly and subtly works its poison on us.