calling all Divas…

As I was working out at the gym this morning and having my brain assaulted by a relentless stream of better-left-forgotten 80’s pop hits (how many times should I really have to hear Europe’s “The Final Countdown”?), I suddenly had a brainwave. Now, not all my ideas are great ideas — as comedian George Carlin describes, these are thoughts that “probably kept me out of the bigger schools” — but they keep coming if I like it or not.

As VH-1 is beating the whole “Divas Live” program franchise to death and their entire prime-time of late is full of repeats feeding the need for 80’s nostalgia, I had two ideas for future editions of “Divas Live”:

  • Divas Live: the one hit and two hit wonder edition– Time to go find Denice Williams, Kim Carnes, Bananarama, Bonnie Tyler, Tara Kemp, and Samantha Fox and get them out on stage! At least we know that they’ll finish on time, because let’s face it, the audience is only going to be interested in at most one or two songs.
  • Divas Live: the women of Prince edition– Yes, you got it! All the women that Prince has produced and/or slept with, including Carmen Electra, Appolonia, Vanity, Sheena Easton, and Wendy and Lisa. For an encore, his royal badness can come out and take a bow wearing that yellow jump suit that shows his butt.

Diet Dr. Pepper?

And lest you think that all my “little gray cells” have been thinking of nothing but politics (e.g. my previous entry), consider the following:

I saw this television commercial over the weekend that was a parody of a famous sequence from the Dudley Moore/Bo Derek film “10”. In it, two people run toward each other on a beach only to turn around and head back the way they came when each sees how ugly the other is (they call this “3”). After this sequence, the commercial ends with the tag line “Some things aren’t as good as the original. Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like original Dr. Pepper”.

This always leaves me with a question: Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like original Dr. Pepper than what?

Oh, grammarian me.

turn your head to the right and cough

Ilonina was good enough to send me a rather long e-mail to comment on some of my entries from last week. In particular, some of her comments about my entry last Wednesday (the fat, lazy bastards in office, drunk on power) tapped into a long series of thoughts about the political shift from left to right at the end of the 1970’s. Rather than confine some of those thoughts to an e-mailed response, I thought I thought they would make an interesting follow-up entry here.

I tend to believe in what could be called a Theory of Political Relativity. In it, there is no absolute political “center” about which the viewpoints of the “left” and “right” derive their position because we live in an abundant universe where issues and circumstances constantly change. Instead, there is a more statistically friendly “center of political gravity”, a conditionally existent point by which the viewpoints of the “left” and “right” each distinguish themselves from the other. This political center of gravity can therefore move, depending on the issues and circumstances used to create the narrative framework that forms public political debate.

Since the 1970’s, that center of politcal gravity has clearly moved in a more conservative direction. I think that a number of fundamental political principles are involved in that shift. Most notably, I think that the liberal politicians and interests of the time were morally and intellectually bankrupt and unwilling to change in the face of a changing world. When I think back on my dim memories of those years, liberal interests became merely consumed with retaining a status quo largely established during the previous 30 years. This included the maintenance of the power of trade unions in large, profitable industries in decline such as the automobile and steel industries, the promotion of the welfare system as a “one size, fits all” solution to a myriad of society’s problems, and the declining, but still frequent, tendency for liberal “mass movement” political marches and demostrations. Public perception of these ideas and institutions shifted from seeing them as positive and necessary to seeing them inefficient, ineffective, chaotic, and espousing ever more radical doctrine that increasingly seemed out of sync with economic and moral realities. Rather than gradually move away from these traditional bases of power and expertise, liberals still instinctively look to these political bases and ideas, even though their power and momentum have long since vanished.

Devoid of the central political and ideological power base that declined in the 1970’s, liberals in this country increasingly find themselves incapable of using language that inspires and motivates the “man on the street” in this country. What can liberal ideology really speak to in this day and age? Political correctness, a form of intellectual fascism that proposes to eliminate evil using the Orwellian premise that oppression cannot exist if the words implement it are eliminated from the lexicon? An embrace of “alternative lifestyles” unfamiliar to many or rejected by them, leading to a perception that liberalism does not encourage a common set of societal manners and is attacked as opposing “family values”? After the chaos and upheaval of the 1960’s and 1970’s, a generation at once responsible for that upheaval has shifted from being the property-less to the propertied and shifted from interest in disorder and change to interest in some common sense of order. The prevailing language of liberalism cannot address these concerns without first touching on terms or concepts that are out of place in the modern political landscape.

With that said, the Bill Clintons and the Tony Blairs of this world have done little but arrest the decay by adopting a stance that has one foot planted on each side of the political center of gravity. While some may see this as a prevailing hope for liberalism, it merely arrests its decay. It does nothing to change the language of debate surrounding political issues, or shift political emphasis away from the issues where conservative approaches to problems are beginning to prove fruitless. Worse yet, it does nothing to call the now conservative establishment to account. All it does (at best) is say “hey look, we can be more conservative too.”

Ultimately, I think that liberalism espouses some very worthy goals. Among them is the notion that there is more than one way to think, live, and express yourself. There also is the notion that we must use societal institutions to bring the greatest amount of economic and social benefit to the greatest number of people, including those who would otherwise be oppressed or disenfranchised. Ultimately, liberalism is about optimism and the hope that the best solutions will not be found simply be reproducing the solutions and ideas of the past, but, rather by finding new and original solutions in the future.

In the midst of all these charged musings about the history of liberal and conservative politics, I happened to catch a televised forum with Gary Hart on CSPAN last night. His was the first voice I’ve heard in a while discussing the Democratic point of view. It turns out that he has set up a web diary of his own at www.garyhartnews.com. I can’t say that he has all the answers, but given that Democratic critique of the present administration has all but non-existent lately, it is nice to know that there is someone out there thinking about issues.

whao nelly! I could have had a pimp juice.

I’m working from home today; my car is at the dealer for its semi-annual warranty visit. After taking it to my friends in the service department, I sat down to have a bowl of cereal, turned on the TV which happened to be tuned to MTV, and was absolutely floored, shocked, and amazed by the majesty, the artistry, the emotional depth of the Nelly opus entitled “Pimp Juice”.

I cannot contain myself. Let me share the lyrics, so that all may feel the joy that flashes across my brain like lightning in the summer sky:


[Intro]
One pound for the hoe,
that’s all we need baby
Just one for the hoes.. c’mon

[Chorus]
Pimp juice – oooooooooh-ooooooooh-hoooooooo
I think I need to let it loose (might think I need to let it loose)
Let her loose, let her loooooose
She only want me for my pimp juice (that’s all she want me for f’real)
Not my pimp juice, I’m talkin new pimp juice
I think I need to cut her loose (it’s time for homegirl to recognize)
Yes I do, yes I doooooo-hoooo

[Nelly]
I’m in that, seventy-four, Coupe DeVille
With the, power seats, leather, wood on my wheel
One-touch sunroof BUT leave it alone
Hoes see it can’t believe it – “It’s goin back on it’s own”
Oooooooooooooooh, shit, that’s how we do it baby
“Every day like this?” Seven dayy-ayyys.. I tell you three-sixty-five
Winter spring and fall, in the summer we ride
You actin like you never seen it befo’
Like them country boys ain’t got no dough
Bitch please – GET OUT – but don’t you slam that do’
DUST YOUR SHOES OFF – befo’ you touch that flo’
Cause you wanna put your feet on my rug, don’tcha?
You really wanna put your feet on my rug, don’tcha?
You’re in a hurry – SLOW DOWN – and I might letcha touch it
You ain’t from Russia, so bitch why you rushin’?

[Chorus] w/ minor variations

[Nelly]
Now I’m – clean as a whistle (yeah) sharp as a razor (uh-huh)
In anythang from Timberland to Gaines
Now listen – I play the haters (ooh) like they should be played
And uhh – I love the ladies (ooh) like they should get laid
That’s why I – I got my fade everybody had braids
And now they – switch to fades and I’m thinkin ’bout braids

And he is thinkin’ about braids. How wonderfully profound. And his ’74 Coupe De Ville. How amazingly deep. And turnin’ out his ladies. Oh yes, such a refined, textured thought. And checkin’ his flypapaper. The subtlety! The subtlety! And bitch slappin’ Darlene’s lazy ass ’cause she’s been playin’ but they ain’t been payin’, know what I mean?Keats or Shelley could not do better!!!

I’m sorry. I guess I got carried away in the character of the song for a moment there.

Anyway, all I could think after seeing the video while eating my breakfast was: “*head slap* Whoa Nelly! I could have had a Pimp Juice!”

Rosalind Franklin and racing for the double helix

Girlfriend S. was over at my place the other night wrapping a wedding shower gift for a friend in Chicago, when she saw me get very agitated at the TV. When she asked why, she got a 30-60 second spiel about how I was watching Nova on PBS and they were talking about Rosalind Franklin — the pioneering X-ray crystalographer who made invaluable contributions to the understanding of the structure of DNA and the structure of viruses. A bit taken aback by this outburst, and by a few others that followed, she told me to turn the TV off because it was obviously getting on my nerves a little too much.

Before proceeding further, I feel that I must note a few things about Rosalind Franklin. The discovery of structure of DNA is generally attributed to James Watson and Francis Crick. While the ultimate explanation of this most important of molecules was ultimately theirs, they were, to quote Sir Isaac Newton, “standing on the shoulders of giants”. One of those giants was Rosalind Franklin. She basically did all the research lab work that provided the data used by Watson and Crick to discover the structure of DNA. That she did not make this discovery on her own was simply a matter of time (she was a brilliant scientist who would have eventually made the discovery herself)… and due to the fact that Watson and Crick managed to see her research data before they were fully published. As such, many feel that she should be credited as a co-discoverer of DNA… a feeling compounded by the fact that she could not share the Nobel Prize won by Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins because she died years before the Prize was given, and it cannot be given posthumously. Modern feminist critics can also hold her up as an example of the brilliant and capable woman scorned and turned away by the “old boy” network, left to languish instead revered for her accomplishments.

I think that my irritations at that particular episode of Nova were clearly of the moment; I had just asked for my girlfriend’s engagement ring the day before, and I was still a bit off balance emotionally. At the same time though, I have since reflected that the example of Franklin’s life also resonates with me for some deeply personal reasons. Those resonances now leave me with some questions about my own field of study and how women are treated in it.

My parents were both chemists who met while working for IBM. As my mother was completely the professional equal of my father, I think I grew up with the basic assumption that women could be anything that men can (though would I want a woman fireman who can’t meet the physical requirements developed for men? thats an interesting question). So, this perhaps makes me unaware of what women face out there in the world from men who don’t think as I do… not through any lack of sensitivity, mind you, but just because I look at the world a certain way and don’t always understand when others look at it differently.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in the “ivory towers” of higher learning. I understand how awfully petty professors and researchers can be to each other… and how political and polemic research can be. The academic environment where this “field study” in academic behavior took place is an EXTREMELY leftist and politically correct University, where narratives of the repression of women by male hierarchy are sought (and often “found”) behind every tree. My advisor there, D., got into a major spat with an incoming female faculty member because, as some have put it, he helped her assemble research to get established and put her into contact with people with research money, only to discover that she was unwilling to share any of the grant money obtained from those contacts. He was, therefore, very concerned that a number of factions on campus would see this is as a gender-related conflict… when the problem was, perhaps, more purely personal.

I also work with computers, a largely male dominated field. This is something I would ideally like to change… but the causes of this imbalance are highly debatable — ranging from the “hierarchical, pro-male way that math and science are taught” to “the inherently male qualities of the computer interface”. Add to this the observation by some of the women in the computer science field that they are up against an “old boy” network when it comes to promotion and advancement, as well as the “male competitive” nature of the publish or perish academic environment and I… feel lost.

Rosalind Franklin’s case tends to resonate with me because I can, in some important ways, see where she was. It cannot have been easy being a woman trying to establish yourself in a nearly all male field — especially when you are better trained and more brilliant than some of your male peers. It also can’t help that you are simply trying to carry on a research program, when some of your younger, brattier colleagues (like Watson & Crick) seem to be obsessed with winning rather than learning, like little boys trying to win a race.

At the same time, I work in a male dominated field and I feel rather blind as to how the system really works today. I’ve always tried to regard my female co-workers and colleagues as my equals, and therefore deserving the respect that arises solely from their merits. But I have the feeling that things are still tough out there for women… or at least they feel that they have to change more to work with the system, than the system has changed to work with them.

I know that a couple well-educated women read this diary on occasion… perhaps they can tell me what it has been like out there for them.

the fat, lazy bastards in office, drunk on power

After the recent announcement by Karl Rove that the Republican National Convention in 2004 is to occur in early September (days from 9/11) in order to capitalize on George W. Bush’s re-election campaign themes of “national security” and “national strength”, I find myself feeling angry about the present state of national politics in the United States. This feels unusual for me. Though I have never completely agreed with the aims and goals of the Republican party, I always maintained a sense of reserve that kept my opinion hovering somewhere around the American equivalent of “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” rather than “fat, greedy, bastard children of shiftless, lazy whores, drunk on power”. While it is true that Republicans such as Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich always were dreadful irritants, I always assumed that more moderate elements of the GOP could be more practical and that some sense of compromise in the national interest was possible. With the news that the Republican right wishes to further co-opt a day of national tragedy for all Americans to favor an opportunistic political agenda, well, it turns my stomach and makes me re-consider the lineage of Mssrs. Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz et al.

Yet, there is another part of me that recognizes that this phenomenon is a natural and inevitable feature of the national body politic. The right wing of the Republican party has been complaining for 20-25 years that they have been unable to enact their vision for the United States because of the dreaded influences of liberals, Democrats, and secular humanists. Each setback in their attempt to implement this vision only seemed to distill the right wing message, forced it to mutate, and made it find a form that seemed “kinder and gentler” than it had any hope of being. In 2000, that message finally found enough traction to bring George W. “The Shrub” Bush into power.

The power and potency of that message must peak at some point. Writer Hunter S. Thompson sums up this feeling in regard to the previous cycle of liberal, leftist Democratic politics of the 1960’s in his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In it, the novel’s protagonist Raoul Duke comments:

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run…. but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant….

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda…. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning….

And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave….

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

I keep hoping to see some sign that the wave of right wing Republicanism currently embodied in the fat, lazy bastards drunk on the power of office is about to break. I need to feel that though things may not be exactly to my liking, things are headed in a positive direction and that some sense of national sanity can be achieved. Moreover, I need to feel that the mass of the American people is committed to something higher (or at least different) than the vain glory of “prememptive” wars abroad and the opiate of blind patriotism at home. I would like there to be some spirited debate about issues that doesn’t resort to the term “treason” in regard to criticism Presidential policy. I want to see a balanced budget and a healthy economy. I want to feel that my government does not lock up its citizens and throw away the key. I want to feel that the United States can in its strength and character be a useful citizen of the world, and not simply an agent to shape the world in the American image.

In this regard, I carefully note that events in Iraq have begin to deviate from the vision put forth from the Bush Administration. In particular, the Shiite minority has proved to be more effective at organizing than the best brains in the White House thought (or more likely didn’t think), and are far more anti-American than anyone thought. Perhaps these are the seeds that will eventually bear fruit to bring the Bush administration to account? We shall see.

the best laid engagement plans of mice and men…

I’m sorry that I haven’t had a chance to update this space for several days. A big change has been brewing in my life for some time now and events over the weekend formed a big step in making that change occur. Dealing with all this has drawn my mind away from mundane tasks like diary writing.

First, let me start off with the big news: I have obtained an engagement ring, and plan to formally propose marriage to my girlfriend sometime in the next few weeks.

The plan to get the ring was supposed to be fairly straightforward. Girlfriend S. wants to have her grandmother’s engagement ring from the 1920’s as her engagement ring. Seeing it now, I can understand why. It’s platinum or white gold from a well-known jewelry maker with a substantial diamond and plenty of art-nouveau detail on the setting — in short, far better than anything I could probably find in a store right now with plenty of sentimental attachment besides. This ring was in the family safe deposit box with the rest of her late mother’s jewelry. To get it, I needed to ask her father for it, and he would give it to me. After that, I would take it to a jeweler friend of the family. He would clean it, size it properly, and strengthen a shank weakened by years of wear. I would then surprise her with a formal proposal at some point.

The actual execution of this plan proved to be more complex. I finally screwed up my courage enough to approach Girlfriend S.’s Dad and Stepmom on Sunday to declare my intentions and ask for the ring. That went reasonably well… but S.’s Dad didn’t know which ring in the safe deposit box was the ring in question. Furthermore, rather than saying “we can go later this week and try to figure out which ring it is”, he, being the good but inscrutable man that he is, said that he wanted to take Girlfriend S. to the bank with him so she could get the ring herself. This spoiled plans to a certain extent.

As a side note, I should point out that all this occured shortly before Easter dinner. After asking for the ring, I then had to try to deal with this experience while in the presence of about a dozen people who will now become my in-laws in the not-so-distant future. I spent much of the dinner drinking wine and trying to get past feeling shell-shocked because I finally asked for the ring.

Sleep on Sunday night proved impossible to find. This was not because of any sense of panic or misgivings about proposing marriage, but rather just because I knew it represented a major turning point in my life. The experiences I guess I can relate it to best are those like getting on a plane to travel to the other end of the country to attend graduate school, and then moving away after finishing grad school and taking my job. My heart just wouldn’t stop pounding and my gut wouldn’t stop churning just because of all the excitement.

Barring a few bumpy parts in regard to obtaining the ring, the rest of the experience was rather positive. Girlfriend S.’s Dad and Stepmom have been nothing but encouraging and seem glad to have me. Girlfriend S. is also fond of saying that she doesn’t doubt that I truly love her — dealing with her father like this is more than proof enough.

Now we need to think about wedding plans… and that is probably going to constitute several journal entries entirely over the next few months.