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Archives for Politics

And Still About Sarah


If you’ve just gotten back from an interplanetary voyage, first, welcome back to Earth. Second, you might not know that Alaska governor and mom Sarah Palin has gotten a bit of news attention since she was revealed as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Palin’s the “fun” choice so everybody’s been weighing in on her. This is partly because talking about someone else’s babies and family details is a lot less depressing than trying to sort out a war and the economy these days.
So she’s a mom and we all like to talk about other moms, but away from the sound and fury I can’t see that her being a mom means anything. The fact that both Palin and I fit in a category of “moms in their 40s” shows just how meaningless that category is, because as far as I can tell, she and I hold opposite views on just about everything except possibly the pleasures of Alaska salmon, but she’d be fishing it first and I’d just take it straight from the grocer. After all, what does being a mom mean (besides having a child)? Being nurturing? So is that supporting policies that protect the environment, or that make sure you can defend your home with a machine gun?
Over in Spain, as I’ve mentioned, the defense minister is a new mom, and coincidentally this weekend the Sunday magazine of the leading national newspaper had a cover story headlined “Mother and Minister” with a cover shot of Minister Carme Chacon cuddling her baby. Here or in the U.S., it’s an irresistible image to explore – a woman in power who’s also a mother of young children. So there was the picture of Chacon getting something from her refrigerator and the anecdote about Chacon zooming upstairs in the ministry elevator from a meeting to her private apartment, unbuttoning her jacket as she goes, to nurse her crying baby. Vaguely interesting, like the stories about Palin combining breastfeeding and work. But meaningful? The Spanish Socialist minister, who is quoted saying, “I’m a pacifist and the armies of the 21st century are also,” seems unlikely to have much else in common with Palin.
Palin’s also gotten lots of commentary on her personal choices, questioning how and whether a mother with five kids, one a special needs infant and one a pregnant teen, can or should take on the 24-7 stress and time of a vice presidential campaign, not to mention possibly the office (it’s been repeated so much it’s starting to sound like a line for a song in “Sarah: the Musical”). How it will affect the kids is interesting but irrelevant (although Palin has made it a fair topic by making being a mom a main part of her image), how it will affect the job is relevant but unknowable. An average mom probably couldn’t do so well, but an average mom wouldn’t even be in the position in the first place. And let’s get real, we’re talking about kids who now have no more than one degree of separation from U.S. presidents, whose mom, win or lose, can set up a nice trust fund from book royalties and speaking fees. This is not the upbringing the likes of your kids and mine will have. Sure, it’s schadenfreude-ish fun to tsk at the children being neglected (abandoned to their own father?), but although mom might not have time to help decide between the red or the blue back-to-school notebook, she’s sure giving them a different kind of edge in becoming successful adults. Their therapists can sort it all out one day.
So Palin can raise her kids her way, and let me raise mine my way. But that’s of course the real problem and the piece of legitimate interest in the exaggerated examination of her mom-o-rama life: extrapolating from Palin’s personal choices to policies that affect us all. She went back to work three days after giving birth? Does that mean we don’t need parental leave policies? Kids run around the office while she works? Does she understand that doesn’t go over so well in most workplaces? Conservatives have applauded the consistency between Palin’s opposition to abortion rights and her 17-year-old daughter having a baby. If her personal is to be made my political, or perhaps her political to be made my personal, I just might have to check out the Spanish army.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:04 PM | Permalink

Mommy Olympics


Dara Torres is of course the official Olympic hero for middle-aged Americans. She’s 41, she had a baby not so long ago in 2006, she started winning Olympic medals as a swimmer way back in 1984 – and here she is again, not only competing in the Olympics but winning – a silver medal so far.
Whether you’re a regular exerciser, a wanna-be or a channel-clicker, this is a great story – expanding not only what’s considered possible with a somewhat older body, but also showing that there’s all sort of ways bodies adapt to pregnancy and childbirth, and not necessarily for the worse. Like with the New York City Marathon winner, who trained throughout her pregnancy. (Cookie Magazine found a couple of other Olympic moms). Maybe one day these women won’t even be stories.
As terrific and stereotype-busting as these elite athletes’ accomplishments are, most of us won’t ever compete at these kind of levels. And I for one would have been in big trouble if it were the norm to jump from the delivery room to the training pool. (Just because maternity doesn’t have to define a woman’s condition, just because she can jump right back from birthing to banking, doesn’t mean she wants to, and certainly shouldn’t be required to.)
But there are some daily feats of average moms (and dads) that would work great as events in a different kind of Olympic competition:
The Sleeping Baby Car Transfer: Parents must transfer a sleeping baby from crib to car seat – without waking the baby up. Even if awoken, parent must soothe crying baby, change diaper, and still get the group to the appointment/school/playgroup on time. Extra points awarded if performance includes a dog jumping around and barking or cat weaving between feet.
The Grocery Shopping Marathon: Parent must buy a week’s worth of groceries for a family – with a child or children in tow. Shoppers without children can substitute small, active chimps or baby goats. Points subtracted for in-store breakage, groceries on the aisle floors and unwanted items in cart. Extra points awarded if you’re not too embarrassed by the performance to return the next week.
The Young Child Schlep: Parent juggles children, including one who doesn’t yet know how or refuses to walk, and all the equipment needed for a 12-minute excursion from the house, including diaper bag, change of clothes, snack, drink, favorite toy, book, spare baby carrier, etc. Stroller not allowed. (You were just running out for a minute.) Extra points awarded if total strangers don’t offer major pitying looks.
The Public Toilet Germ Avoidance Dance: Parent must change baby’s diaper and/or assist older child on the toilet while simultaneously preventing any part of child and/or baby/child equipment from touching any part of the public facilities. Shoe bottoms an exception. Extra points awarded if family can exit restroom without anyone touching the door with bare skin.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:34 PM | Permalink

Movies of Value


Have you ever seen that cartoon of a woman with a balloon over her head saying “Oh no, I forgot to have kids!”?
Well, I remembered the kids, but they bring other “oh no” moments with them now. Like with teaching them things. Every so often your offspring will do something that’s wrong in a really basic way, like wiping their mouths on the tablecloth, and you wonder how they can even think of doing that. And yet, did you ever tell them not to wipe their mouths on the tablecloth? No, you didn’t. Remember, they come into this world as ignorant lambs. How were they supposed to know not to use the tablecloth as a napkin? (Yeah, I think they could have worked it out on their own too, but we’ll let it slide this time.)
The lessons that really seem to slip through the cracks are those about “teaching values,” you’ll excuse the expression. I suppose a good parent would have regular character-building discussions about right and wrong, how to treat other people, what qualities are important to be a good, happy adult, etc., etc. But around here it’s more like, “Oh no, I forgot to tell the kids not to lie, cheat and steal.” I mean, by the time we’re done talking about the tablecloth, finding more napkins, clearing the table, getting ready for bed, etc., etc., moral uprightness just has to wait for another day. Ideally, they could pick up the proper values from my noble example, but quite frankly, even on my best days I’m usually striking out on two out of three, and sometimes the third, depending on how you define stealing.
But you know, I’m completely in favor of teaching my kids not to be rotten. At the same time, it’s summer for lots of us – not my favorite season for heavy duty teaching. So I was quite happy to see this list of ten movies for kids, just right to plug your children into while you take a bath, I mean, for family viewing.
They’re “Family Movies that Teach Values” from the “Movie Mom,” Nell Minow, at Beliefnet, the multidenominational site. Despite the headline, there’s nothing at all medicinal about them – they’re good movies, at least the ones I know, that, oh yeah, do seem to have good points to make. Make some popcorn, turn on a DVD, seems like a fine low-effort way to get credit for Teaching Your Children Values. I suppose you’d get extra points for actually discussing the movies. And here’s the key – they also seem like “family movies” that the grownups in the family can actually watch too, as opposed to, say, nodding off in the middle.
If you’re looking for other suggestions (yes, summer is a long, long season), around here I’m embarrassed to admit that we do tend to watch too much of the completely valueless Scooby Doo, but when we can enforce a grownup choice, a classic musical like Singin’ in the Rain has made everyone happy. After all, an appreciation of a funny song and dance routine is pretty valuable for any family too.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:29 AM | Permalink

Exercise Time


I don’t know what it’s like in your neck o’ the woods, but around here it’s early June and practically summer; and I think it’s almost starting to get officially ridiculous to wear knee-length wool sweaters, long winter coats, layered anything and, most sadly of all, sturdy black pants. Which means, yet again, it’s that time of the year when there’s less fabric available to cover one’s fleshy parts. Which is rather annoying if, yet again, there’s still more flesh to the fleshy parts than one might have hoped.
Apparently there’s this exercise thing that can help with that fleshiness thing. Although I have a decent theoretical knowledge of exercise, my practical experience in the field is somewhat lacking. So, as always when in doubt, I’ll turn to Moral Certainty Mommy for some of her wise help with your questions about exercise and fitness.
Question: My sister-in-law has been telling me about this game or something where you stand on a board and watch TV, and it’s like exercise? But she calls it pee-pee or something, so I think she’s kidding me, right?
Moral Certainty Mommy: Ah. You must be referring to a new exercise program that has been quite heavily publicized recently. It is indeed for a game console called, not pee-pee, but named apparently after that very same bodily function. The real fitness achievement of the game is that you can chart your progress in becoming more and more acclimated to relating only to screens and less and less disposed to leaving your own home – and thus to becoming further removed from temptations of the outer world such as fast food, donut shops and ice cream parlors, at least if they don’t offer on-line delivery ordering. Personally, I find the game works best if watched with a large pitcher of sangria at hand – the fruit and red wine in the drink of course providing an antioxidant boost for extra health gains.
Q: Whenever I meet someone who’s lost weight and she looks great, I ask her how she’s done it, and they always say the same thing, exercise and eating better. But isn’t there really some secret that somebody’s not telling me? I mean, isn’t there some way to get the benefits of exercise without getting off your butt? Because, you know, I read about famous actresses who look great and they just walk their dogs twice a day or something.
MCM: Well, perhaps. What is not mentioned is that if these women get their only exercise from walking their dogs, then they’re walking them from L.A. across the Mojave Desert and back. The basic keys to fitness do seem to be rather clear, despite the array of new products and diets that spring up every day. There is one “secret” tip to having an easier path to looking great or staying healthy as you age, but unfortunately once one’s parents are selected it’s too late to take advantage of that. Nevertheless, if you feel your retirement plans are already well funded, you might want to buy every new diet plan book and exercise device you can find – I’d be happy to channel your funds for you if you’d care to send them to me.
Q: I’m really busy, I mean like everyone, but my trainer says I should try to fit in exercise whenever I can. He says he has a lot of clients who answer emails on their BlackBerries while they’re on the treadmill. I mean, it was bad enough when I was pregnant and my midwife told me to do Kegels at every stoplight. But now I’m supposed to do isometric abdominals every time I’m on the phone. And I try but then I forget what I was talking about, or I lose count, or once I was talking to my boss and I forgot to release my muscles and breathe and I kind of passed out, but I don’t think he noticed because I kept saying “mmhmm.” But I just feel so inadequate.
MCM: What? Oh, forgive me, I was trying out a downward dog. Exercise is a fine way to take a mental and physical break from your daily routine. You must make it a priority for yourself to take the time and space to focus on exercise, and your feelings of inadequacy will disappear.
Q: Yes, but I mean, how do I make the time?
MCM: Er, yes. As we all know, we can always find time for what is important to us. By the way, did you know that chocolate is also a mood enhancer?
That’s it for today. Moral Certainty Mommy said something about an appointment at her gym, at the smoothie bar or something, so we’ll thank her for her help until next time.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:55 PM | Permalink

Putting the ‘Ma’ in Asthma


You might share my opinion about housecleaning, which is basically that dust bunnies can be a legitimate form of creative, artistic expression. But I do accept that there’s a certain level of cleaning necessary in a house containing child occupants, that level to be determined between you and your inner scold.
Or maybe, you and your doctor, if your kid is one of the 89 percent of American children with asthma and allergies (well, not really that many, but it seems like it). Son the elder has (luckily very mild) asthma. One of the common asthma triggers is an allergy to dust mites, so one of the first things you find out when you get the asthma diagnosis is what you as a parent (mom) can do to help your poor child feel better: clean house.
Dust mites are these miniscule little critters that feed off our skin flakes (gross) and particularly build up in mattresses and stuffed animals and other things around us where we sleep; you can reduce their numbers with hot-water washing and vacuuming and other forms of cleaning (gross).
Flu can be another trigger, but that season is over for now; for pollen allergy sufferers it’s their difficult time now. But dust mites are always in season.
We’ve gotten similar instructions in two countries. In the U.S. there was a little more emphasis on buying a hypoallergenic mattress cover and washing everything in hot water a lot; in Spain we’ve gotten more emphasis on daily cleaning, having fewer things in the bedroom (ha! try that in the U.S.) and ironing bed linens and such with a hot iron (ha! again).
I don’t really take this personally. I know the doctor’s not really hiding a chuckle as he hands over the “Managing Asthma” cleaning instructions. What kind of mother wouldn’t want to do everything she can to help her sick child? Sure, supporting public transportation and stopping global warming would seem to be a good idea too, but it’s a bit simpler to get parents to clean house.
One of my favorite kid doctors that we’ve come across, the allergist back in California, earned his high rank on my list by listening to what parents had to say. Allergies are a medical issue with uncertain areas, so he made an extra effort to understand each child’s individual response.
So while I have no reason to doubt that cleaning is a helpful treatment (or maybe I do), I do wish there were a way to exploit the theory that suggests that the current widespread wave of allergies have been in some way triggered by too much hygiene. (Sorry, as far as I can tell, the theory has nothing to do with treatment. But still…)
“Ms. Klosky,” my own Dr. McDreamy would say, “I can tell you’re a really conscientious housekeeper. But you have just got to let the dust build up. Sure, it’ll be tough to let the dirt just lie there, to leave the teddy bears unwashed, the tchotchkes to wallow in the muck, but you’ve got to do it – For Your Son’s Health.”
That would be a TV episode I’d cheer.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:44 PM | Permalink

Calendar Moms


What if you put it all out there – and nobody wanted it?
I mean, physical appearance is supposed to be every woman’s back-up schtick. It’s a classic made-for-TV (movie or reality show) scenario: physics Ph.D. candidate by day, stripper by night, just to make ends meet. Former rocket scientist turned professional escort, for the better work conditions. (Those are just the lighter examples of too many too real situations where women have different levels of control over exchanging their sexuality for funds.)
And as we’ve learned, to the beauty industry’s delight, there’s never a good excuse to “let yourself go.” Aging legs still need to be shaved, or waxed or whatever – when you’re showing them off, you just need a different attitude than a hot, young thing might, as the older British women who inspired the movie “Calendar Girls” and have to date made several millions for leukemia research showed.
Of course, “hot young thing in a bikini” is a sure hit. Recently Ryanair flight attendants made a 2008 calendar to sell, pulling in over 100 thousand dollars for charity. That’s thanks in part to publicity from a Spanish government women’s agency protesting the sexism of the calendar, according to a nyah-nyah statement from Ryanair. So I’m guessing the company’s next donation will be to a European version of N.O.W.
So it’s clear. Whether you look like you should be advertising for Victoria’s Secret or as one of Dove’s “Real Women” (and fine looking they are, and professionally made-up, lit and photographed; you want really real, check out my bathroom mirror in the morning), there’s only one thing for a gal to do if she wants cash for a good cause – strip down and start shooting.
Which is exactly what some middle-aged mommies (sorry, the phrase is inevitable) who wanted to raise money for a youth center in their tiny (population 400) rural village in Western Spain thought. They did try lotteries and raffles. But when that didn’t bring in enough, the mothers of all seven students in the village undressed, covered the naughty bits with tinsel or fur pelts, and made their own calendar.
It was an amateur venture – they took each other’s pictures since they didn’t have money for a professional photographer. Still, they hoped it would appeal enough to sell several thousand copies at 5 euros (almost $8) a calendar.
So is this a story with a happy ending? Was the calendar so popular that the latest trend for women all over Spain is to draw fake stretch marks on their bodies with eyeliner? Can we say that good humor and a good cause will let the eye see beyond low production values? Well, no, not yet. The net result: almost 9000 euros of debt to the printer (over $14,000) and the youth center is still a dream.
The calendar sold at first, but, you know, somehow they missed the Christmas sales rush, and well…Of course that was before the press attention to their plight, so maybe sales will pick up. The women came up with the idea for what the Associated Press called a “tongue in cheek” erotic calendar, as a light-hearted way to raise money. And they are goofy pictures, of attractive, normal women but who had no professional photography/media-savvy/airbrushing/posing advice (now that’s shocking!). Here you go, you can see for yourself, and decide whether you’d like it hanging on your fridge.
It’s an interesting message for the village’s children. We care enough about you to want you to have a center. What’s the best way to get money? Sell nudie pictures of mommy. But gee, nobody wanted them. (And is that the secret nightmare behind every letter Oprah receives from a bedraggled mom begging for a makeover, or what? You get it all together, and no one cares.) We’ll just hope they get a little drop-in family counseling area in the center if it’s ever built.
Maybe there were a few more options to try before resorting to the old standby of flesh for cash. What about cashing in on other stereotypes? There’s always a bake sale.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:18 PM | Permalink

The Selection Process


Apparently there’s another election thing going on in the U.S. (There’s one going on here in Spain too but we’ll leave that for now.) Every four years is getting a bit ridiculous – you’d think we could find someone we like and stick with her, or him.
But no, every four years it’s a new courtship. And that dating metaphor is one that gets used regularly too. The politician tries to court the voters, to seduce them, the voters try to decide who they like, who they want to spend the next four years with; once elected there’s a honeymoon period, followed by, you got it – the backlash, revulsion, disgust.
What, almost half of marriages end in divorce right? And those are people who had a chance to sleep together before making it permanent. What possible chance is there of a picking a president we like based on a few speeches, some debates, a policy paper or two for the most earnest of us – even the most high-definition screen doesn’t get that close.
Let’s say you’re (formally or not) mate shopping. What’s the first characteristic you use to winnow down the candidates? There’s shared values, character, intelligence, wit, blah blah blah. But from across the bar, what you’re really going with is…looks. And that’s a nice reliable one. You only have to watch some Hollywood couplings and uncouplings to see that attractiveness is not a reliable guide to long-term suitability.
But OK, you go with instinct – this person feels like the one. And you bring him or her to hang out with your friends. And they hate him, or her. Well, what do you do? Ignore the friends, of course. If you’re lucky, they won’t say I told you so later. And that’s exactly like an intra-party debate. You stick with the one that you brung. Your gang’s hanging out, trading barbs, getting a feel for each other. But if you go into the debate supporting a candidate who doesn’t do so well, you make excuses, you don’t notice – you even think they did well.
And what’s another relationship test? Bringing the date to meet the family. That’s just like a press conference – bam, bam, bam, everyone’s shooting off questions and pictures. And so what if the candidate looks a little weak, unprepared or ignorant. Everyone can have a bad day, right? They’ll change. Ha!
The trick is whether we’ll still want our pick when conflict comes up down the road. According to this article, how couples work out differences is the key to staying together. And in that respect, spouses have one up on presidents. Couples can try to work things out, but not one president has ever called me to chat when he does something that annoys me. How can a citizen not become disillusioned?
A lot of dating and presidential picking involves wishful thinking and selective attention. Logically it’s about trying to project behavior in a set of unknown future circumstances, which is tough, if not impossible. And despite the way it looks from internet dating or the initial multitudinous candidate field, we’re also not really choosing from an infinite number of possibilities. So we go with the illogical. Hey, it does work half the time.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:08 AM | Permalink

Minivans Were Us


It looks as if I’ve moved out of the U.S. just in time. That statement has nothing to do with politics. No, it’s much more serious – what shocks me is the declining popularity of minivans.
What does this mean? That my fellow tribesmen, the mommies, I mean Mommies (always capitalized, please), are giving up their identities? What’s next – no more Mom jeans? Letting the kids work it out for themselves at the playground? Blowing off PTA meetings?
I shake my head in sorrow, although not as much sorrow as I felt at giving up my own Mom machine, aka my beloved minivan, when we moved to Spain. But now, oh yes, I am trying to create my own piece of rolling American Momdom in our minivan here. This is despite that fact that we replaced the American (sort of) minivan that we had in California with a Spanish (sort of) minivan here. Which means, naturally, one big change – a lot fewer cupholders.
I can live with the cupholder lack (breathe deeply and repeat: just don’t think about it, just don’t think about it) but somehow the whole tribal identify thing doesn’t seem to work here. I just don’t get the same sense of fellow Momness among us minivan drivers.
Somehow, and maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive, but somehow I feel that when Spaniards see a minivan their first thought isn’t “Mom,” but rather “not a Mercedes.” Maybe I’m wrong.
But OK, if American Moms are deserting me, I can try to seek out my tribe here in Europe. So I keep an eye out for that Mom identity American Moms pull on like a stained t-shirt and elastic waist pants – half reluctantly, half relievedly, maybe another half with a sort of pride, and how about another half because it’s the first model at hand. (A Mom identify, besides increasing minivan sales, can also on the positive side be tapped for political efforts.) But somehow, I don’t see any other Moms with “sensible” haircuts who might want to commiserate about how they never have time to shower. I mean, I bring up the shower thing with other moms here and they sort of take a step back. I don’t know why.
So maybe Moms in hospitals here get a bagful of their own cute clothes back instead of a coupon for a free “Baby Can Be a Genius If Mom Works Hard Enough” class. (I’m betting this is true in France too.) But I know there’s gotta be some other connection among us Schooner of the Road skippers. Still, looking around, I do sometimes see driving Moms, or dads, or maybe even Dads…smoking. Or with kids…in the front seat.
The Mom code of conduct requires strapping those kids in the back seat until they’re 20. (The side benefit of this practice is that you can implicitly criticize lots of grandparents, who raised their kids (you and your partner) pre-car seats and just let them rattle around in the car. Safety and a family dig – who doesn’t love it?) And no smoking is allowed, but periodically bags of fast food picked up at a drive-in window should be tossed back at the little creatures, especially when they start to struggle at their restraints. That doesn’t work here so much; see above re: fewer cupholders, not to mention fewer drive-throughs.
California, for example, just enacted a law banning smoking in cars when there are kids in them. Spanish parents certainly worry about their kids’ safety, but they’re not quite as…um…militant, let’s say. There’s lots of safe driving practices campaigns from the government, but even with something like drinking and driving, you still have a certain percentage of Spaniards – including possibly a former prime minister who said he should be able to drink as he sees fit – who think it’s their right to drive back and forth from a big Sunday lunch washed downed with an appropriate amount of wine. Especially if Mom’s cooking.
My minivan here is fine, maybe not so beloved, but fine. But the Metro system – now that’s something to catch the eye.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:06 AM | Permalink

Seinfeld Versus the iPhone


Love it or consider it an overhyped piece of future landfill, you’ve got to recognize that the iPhone has had its impact since being introduced last summer. It’s shown us that some of these sci fi movie type devices really can exist (how about those cool hand gestures you use with it?). It can inspire flickers of desire in even the non-gadget minded. And most of all, it means we’ll never see the likes of Seinfeld again.
The iPhone has made it cool and really convenient to have web access in your pocket wherever you go. That means when you’re sitting around having a friendly conversation, it’s you, me – and the Internet, all seated together at the table.
Sure, BlackBerries (when they work) and their ilk also give you really portable Internet access, but they’ve got a workaholic, type A aura to them. The iPhone, which also ups familiarity by accessing regular rather than truncated web pages, has eased the way to making it acceptable to pull out the devices in private life (if that divide between work and private life really even exists anymore).
I’m not talking about checking email or making calls when you’re in a social setting, although it’s harder and harder to resist as devices are more and more at hand. Those acts are governed and vaguely repressed by whatever etiquette rules we’ve still got. And grownups aren’t at the European teen level. In part because some European landline systems had a history of problems (expensive, bad service) and in part because mobile phone systems were better than in the U.S. (relatively less expensive, cool services, no paying for calls you receive), Europeans rapidly embraced mobile service. This style seems to have caught on with U.S. kids too, but since at least the mid to late ’90s you’ve been able to see groups of European teens who were in theory hanging out together, but who were each quite happily texting or talking away on his or her own cell phone.
Instead, the problem is with simple conversation – and good conversation needs an intimate, enclosed emotional space. Where, for example, do you find the best chat at a party? The cozy kitchen, of course. But stick an iPhone on the table and you’ve got another party to the conversation pressing to join in. The whole World Wide Web is opened up to you and always there, beckoning with the possibility of checking, reading, chatting…something.
Seinfeld, which ran from 1989 to 1998, was all about a bunch of friends with the time and inclination to hang out together and talk about nothing much, humorously, off in their own dysfunctional reality. But imagine that Jerry had had an iPhone. Goodbye to the Seinfeldian conversational mode – Web access makes pointless conversation even more senseless, and tough to sustain just for its own amusing sake.
No need to wonder if there really aren’t any houses available in Tuscany, as Jerry did in one episode, and speculate on whether his acquaintance the Maestro didn’t want him nearby. Instead, sitting right at the table of the diner, he’d Google Tuscany rental villas, while George, what?, stares into space and plays with the sugar packet? That really is nothing to make a show out of.
Or instead of debating how much to tip a maid, and asking a serial killer in the back of a police car about it, George could just look it up – plenty of suggestions are out there.
Or remember when Jerry, George and Elaine spent an entire episode waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant, while the time got closer and closer to the start of a movie they wanted to see after dinner? George of course would have been able to get through to the girlfriend he wanted to reach by pay phone if he had had any kind of cell phone. But with an iPhone or something similar, Jerry and company would also have been checking for other movies to go to later or looking at another restaurant’s menu and been out the door right away – no standing around betting whether Elaine will steal food from a stranger’s plate. Another episode killed.
Seinfeld sprang in part from the whole noble, European cafĂ©-inspired, American diner-adapted history of sitting around shooting the breeze, a tradition that is in grave danger thanks to the iPhone and its rapidly developing competitors. “No, no, Gustav, you cannot say man has free will.” “Oh yes, Henri.” “No, you are wrong. Look – Google it, let’s see what other ideas are out there.”
There is one conversational turn that probably has been killed off for the better, although it too has its sort of charm. It’s those disputes of facts – “No, Washington’s false teeth were really ivory.” “No, they were wood.” – where there’s a more or less polite disagreement and then each party goes home thinking the other’s an idiot and checks it out and sends an email if they’re really obsessive, and right. Well now, no need to wait – just pull out your phone.
And let me know when you’re done, would ya? Then we can talk.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 8:41 AM | Permalink

Love, Franco- or American-Style


Ah, those French. Sometimes, they are just so…French.
Today’s example: M. Nicolas Sarkozy, president of la France. This is a man who, just a few months into a new job heading up a major European nation, finds the time to publicly and enthusiastically conduct a new romance. Sure there’s a prime minister around too, but still. And Sarkozy was so enthusiastic about the whole thing that he and Italian-singer-former-model-monogamy-detractor Carla Bruni even got themselves hitched this past weekend.
Now, as I remember, real dating – when it’s done right – takes a lot of time and energy. And they seemed to be doing it right – they managed to be reported googly eyed in an amazing number of places given the few short months they’ve been together. Reading the papers has been uncomfortably like getting stuck as a third wheel at the table with a couple really hitting it off on their first date. Sarkozy might have considered the Disneyland Paris date as doing double duty by displaying a pro-U.S. stance, but even so it’s an unusual show of priorities for a head of state.
But this attention to le romance seems quintessentially continental. Like making good food and wine an important part of daily life, it’s quite in keeping with the stereotype to see a Frenchman take time for the rose-smelling, so to speak, side of life. We’d expect an American, by contrast, to typically be all business and efficiency – and take a fast food kind of approach to satisfying hungers.
To test this hypothesis, and speaking of fast food by the way, let’s look at an example of how a sitting, so to speak, U.S. president managed his affairs; how’s about Bill Clinton, simply because we know more than we need to about how he did so.
Clinton by all accounts put in long days on the job and should have felt free to take a few minutes away from the office. Yet, like many Americans these days who find love where they spend the most time, he picked a partner from where he worked – la Lewinsky, an intern. And in a real display of efficiency, but perhaps little romance, he enjoyed the interludes right in the office itself. Though I’m happily not privy to bedroom details for M. Sarkozy for comparison purposes, Mr. Clinton even chose what some gentlemen feel is a streamlined path to satisfaction, at times, if I remember the old reports properly, not even seeing the deed through to its natural completion.
Sarkozy’s romance unfortunately was a bit too, what? Exuberant? Whirlwind? Indicative of a need for therapy? In any case, too something for the French, as his approval ratings fell during the courtship. Clinton’s approval ratings weren’t hurt (surely the French can’t be more prudish than Americans?), but of course he had his own little impeachment difficulties following his in-office romance. So ahead of Valentine’s Day, you can consider whether you prefer a French or American path to love, but if you’re a nation’s leader, no romance (at least not in public) does seem like the best idea.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:31 AM | Permalink

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