Wrestling with Stupid

This one almost doesn’t look real, does it?

So, I have this cousin who lives in the South. For you non-US types, when I say South with a capital “S” that refers to the states in the southeastern part of the country. Pretty much anything east of Texas and south of the Mason-Dixon line, which is an old demarcation, and people will argue with it (just as many people would argue that east Texas counts as the South), but it works in general. The South has its own culture, way of speaking and values. These values tend towards strong belief in Christianity and a fundamental racism that continues to persist in the white population.

For example, the last time I was down South, visiting an old friend, her teenage son asked me why I put brown sugar on my oatmeal because “only colored people do that.” I was shocked speechless. I suspect he thought that, by not using the N-word, he wasn’t being racist.  Being fundamentally polite and a guest in my friend’s home, I didn’t point out the multiple flaws in his argument. Still, I was terribly bothered that my intelligent, open-minded friend had raised a son who would think and say such things.

At any rate, my father is from the South, so I have family there. I’m not terribly close to them, since my father died a long time ago. Once my grandparents passed on, there was less connection. But my father’s younger brother had two sons and I’ve always valued my relationship with them, though it’s grown progressively more tenuous over the years.

On a visit about ten to fifteen years back, my younger cousin had a whole bunch of questions for me. He was a teenager at the time, with a keen and restless mind. I’m kind of an object of curiosity for them, having grown up out West in the Rocky Mountain states, with liberal ideas and a fancy education. There’s also a sort of mythology around my dad, who was selected to go to the  Air Force Academy back when they took two guys from every state, based on academic record and a senator’s recommendation. It was a seriously big deal for my small town father, whose parents quit going to school at 12 and could never have afforded to send him to college.

My cousin asked if everyone out West was really smart and talked like I do. He wanted to know if I thought all Southerners were stupid. He said he saw people walking around with t-shirts that had fingers pointing to the person next to them saying “I’m with Stupid.” He wanted to know what I thought of that. They were good questions and I tried to answer them honestly. We had several good conversations about who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life.

Later, he decided to go to Seminary and become a minister. His parents called to tell me the news and how terribly proud they were of him. I was surprised, but hoped he’d do well.

He and I talked on Facebook here and there. He studied languages and old texts, which made him happy and we had fun talking about those things. Now he’s a practicing minister and engaged to a pretty blond girl from his home town. I ignore the preachier things he posts. Sometimes I’m tempted to comment. I rarely do. Keeping the peace.

But, the other night, during the State of the Union address, he posted “Obamar got purdy werds.”

I haven’t shaken the crushing sense of disappointment yet.

I wonder what happened to the boy who thought wearing shirts that say “I’m with Stupid” lowers people. The guy who worried that the way he talked made him sound dumb. I really wanted to ask if all that study of Latin and Greek had made him forget how to spell in English.

Now, I should say that I know plenty of people who don’t like President Obama’s policies. I’ve had interesting debates with people and they often present cogent, articulate arguments for what they don’t agree with. But for this guy, who I know is smarter than this, to appeal to his buddies by lowering himself, just makes me sad. Worse, I know that a huge part for my cousin is that Obama is one of those colored people.

I don’t know that I have a point to this (now very long) post. I didn’t reply to the comment, so what I wanted to say to him has been burning in the back of my throat.

No, sweetie, not everyone in the South is stupid. Just the ones who choose to act that way.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

I dreamed about Barack & Michelle again last night.

I know — it’s so dumb. But I did. For the second time now. No, I’ve never dreamed about the President and First Lady before. I’ve never dreamed about any politician, really. Not even my friend, Pat Kiovsky, and I was her campaign manager when she ran for Wyoming legsislature last fall. All of this makes me sound like a political gal and I don’t think I really am.

Of course, I come from an Irish-Catholic family, so political arguments over dinner are kind of a staple for us. I once brought down the house when I was ten and tartly informed my stepfather that he wouldn’t vote for Jesus Christ if he ran on a Republican ticket. To which he immediately rejoined that I was right on the money. So, you kind of had to be up on things, just to hold your own conversational ground in our family. But I have a low tolerance for news. Never watch it on TV. Don’t read any newspaper. Skim the news articles online.

The first dream, I was part of Obama’s team. I was riding around with him in a limo, taking notes, coordinating vague but important things. It felt good to be part of what he was doing. Last night, Barack and Michelle showed up on one of my work trips. I’m a private consultant doing contract work for EPA and they wanted to have lunch with me, to discuss important changes to EPA. I was excited in my dream — and couldn’t wait to call my mom and tell her who I got to have lunch with.

It might be partly because I get emails from them, Barack and Michelle. Also Joe and Cindy. More so during the campaign than now. Much has been said about the innovative nature of Obama’s campaign, how they drew us in and made us intimately involved.

I’ve always scoffed at my mother’s affection for Kennedy. Her idealism seemed part of her youthful past to me. I tired of hearing how the assassination affected everyone. But I kind of understand now. I feel so much hopefulness at the changes occurring. I enjoy the conversations, even here in my stalwartly Republican state.

I’m not much of one for idealism, but apparently I’m feeling the dream.

A Font of Useless Information

So, did you guys know there’s this whole campaign to ban the use of comic sans?

No, really. There is.

Maybe saying “whole campaign” is a stretch since, so far as I can tell, it could be just one guy representing himself as a movement. But there is a website dedicated to it. Of course, anyone can throw up a website and start a “movement” to ban, say, the use of the color yellow.

I first saw the “ban comic sans” manifesto in one of the offices I visited this spring. That’s one of the interesting parts — okay, maybe the ONLY interesting part — of visiting a different cubicle farm every-other week in different parts of the country: seeing what people post on their hollow fabric half-walls. I should post some on here, actually. It was particularly interesting over the course of the election year, to see what people in different regions were het up about. But I digress.

Anyway, the ban comic sans manifesto — and I’m 99% sure they’re serious and not just really good at deadpanned satire, but I’m willing to entertain correction there — explains that the font (you knew this was about a font, right?) “comic sans” was created for cartoons and has enjoyed this extended life for which it was never intended. The people excited about this are the typesetting nostalgics.

Me, I’ve never cared about font that much. Except, hey, yes I use comic sans in my email and IM. I picked it long ago (15 years ago?) because I liked the way it looked. My only other opinion on font is when people make you use Courier, which is a nonproportional font and is thus ugly and inefficient for an electronic age, IMHO.

I have one friend who’s written about her father being a typesetter and the smell of ink, but I’m not sure she cares so much about font. Another friend gets really excited about font and spends a fair amount of time on which ones have which little doodad (I know there’s a real term for it — I forget what it is, this is how much I don’t care) at the top of the “l,” say.

We all need our causes, I suppose. And far be it for me to say someone’s cause is, well, insignificant in the grand scheme, when I have a special place in my heart for frivolous enterprises.

But I just keep thinking about bread & circuses.

I said something about bread & circuses to someone the other day and she didn’t know what I was talking about, so I think it bears repeating, just in case. The phrase was coined by Juvenal, a Roman satirist, referring to the observation that the people won’t care about politics as long as they get food and entertainment.

This is such a pivotal time. There are so many really important changes underway.

And we’re concerned about a font?

(P.S. I tried to format this in comic sans, but blogger won’t allow it!)

LIMITED Lifetime Warranty

Surprised? No, of course not. You knew when you read my post the other day that this is the kind of answer I’d get. Don’t deny it — I heard you all snickering that I asked McKlein why their lifetime warranty doesn’t cover a faulty zipper. Several of you emailed me with suggestions for luggage repair places, gently preparing me for this moment.

This is the (now typical) garbled email answer I received:

You would be in charge of the shipping cost to us and back you and also the cost
of the repair. This no longer covered under McKlein warranty is limited lifetime
warranty which only covers one year only that’s the reason of the charge.

Thanx & Best Regards,
Nancy Usueta

Company, LLC
P: 773. 378. 5400 x 30
F: 773. 378. 5800

Alas. Should I even be annoyed that they play these games? That they believe they can add the word “limited” before “lifetime” to mitigate the meaning of lifetime to “one year?” Obviously they can, because I have no power to affect this. And it’s old news to all of us isn’t it? You pay the money for something of high quality, but it means nothing. I do believe if you buy the cheapy thing and it falls apart in a few months, you get what you deserve. That’s the whole basis of the disposable society, isn’t it? Cheaper to buy a new one than to repair the old one. Since I get to be “in charge” of the shipping costs (this reminds me of being in charge of cleaning the erasers in the classroom, a very dubious honor), I’m guessing I’d be out around $150 by the time we’re done. Now, however, even the high-quality, high-dollar, lifetime guaranteed stuff falls apart in a couple of years and the manufacturers are deliberately obtuse and obstinate about repairs. Clearly they don’t care about selling me the next bag.

It’s the first 30 pages syndrome, all over again. All marketing today seems to be based on this sale, this quarter. The sale next year, down the road a few years doesn’t matter.

And it really should.

My friend, the writer and photographer RoseMarie London, reminded me that it’s up to the writer to make sure the book is good after the first 30 pages, if she wants readers to come back, since no one else apparently cares. She has a good point. So who’s out there making sure I buy another McKlein bag (which I obviously won’t)? Where are the craftsmen? With all the focus on the stimulus package and rescuing our cancer-ridden economy, I wonder if anyone is thinking beyond next year. President Obama, with great honesty and integrity, I thought, said we won’t see major changes in the economy for a year. But we can all see that changes are happening: my friend who works at Hewlett-Packard reports that all employees are taking a 5% pay cut starting next month. The CEO is taking a 20% cut (on a $24 million salary, so there’s some cynicism there, but nevertheless). We’re wondering if the unions will fall before the needed revisions in the way we do business; I’m surprised by how many very liberal folks I know hope they do.

I heard on All Things Considered that the mobile phone industry promised to standardize phone chargers by 2012. So, that we don’t have to get new ones every two years with our new phones. Along with new car chargers. So that we don’t have to pitch the now-useless old ones. It’s a great move. Oh, except Apple isn’t participating.

Times they are a-changin’. Is it too much to hope that we could go back to having craftsmen repair our perfectly good stuff, rather than bowing to the forces that just want to sell us more inferior shit that we’ll toss into the landfill in a year? Maybe Apple will feel the social pressure and join in on this eminently rational plan.

Still surprises me that I’m idealist at heart.