Monday, September 29, 2008

Girl, Put Your Records On (Do It For SWIE)

Girl, put your records on
Tell me your favourite song
You go ahead, let your hair down . . . .

from Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On"

You don't need me to tell you that times are hard. The Dow fell over 700 points today. Folks are losing their jobs and their homes. Those who aren't are trying to make the same stagnant wages cover higher costs. It's tough all over.

Yet, it could be worse. It could always be worse. Ten years ago today I was experiencing one of the darkest days of my life: Making funeral arrangements for my mom, whom I refer to on this blog as SWIE (She Who Is Exalted). Mind you, my mother wasn't dead. But she was terminally ill with both cancer and Alzheimer's, and I was scheduled to return to my teaching duties in Mississippi. There wasn't much I could do for her but make funeral arrangements.

And even though this day ten years ago was one of my darkest, it doesn't color how I remember my mother. I don't remember her as she was before she died; I remember how she was when she lived.

My mother was a Dancing Queen.

Which leads me to ask all of you mothers out there:

When was the last time you danced with your child?

When was the last time you played board games or cards with your child and put your favorite records on? (or your CDs or MP3s -- you get my drift.)

We're all going to die, and if you're lucky, your kids will bury you and not the other way around. But do you want the most indelible memory they have of you to be picking out your casket instead of remembering you dancing to your favorite songs?

You see, SWIE loved music. Loved it! On the weekends my mother would clean her house or cook to the sounds of Aretha, Dionne, Etta, Whitney, Angela, Roberta, Stephanie, and Patti (Austin and LaBelle), among others. There was something about Aretha's "Don't Play That Song (You Lied) that would get my mom singing at the top of her lungs, "You LIED . . . baby, baby you LIED. . . ," as if she'd been cheated on just yesterday and Aretha was telling HER story. I heard that she cried like a baby when my father got saved and broke all her Dinah Washington records because he considered them "devil music." (Quite frankly, I think the devil gets a bit too much credit for some things, music being one of them).

And then there were her "boyfriends" -- the male singers whom she would swear up and down were singing just to her. My mother's "boyfriends" included Teddy Pendergrass, Smokey Robinson, Freddy Jackson, Billy Ocean (whom I referred to as "Billy Goat Ocean" because, well, he looked like a goat) and Lou Rawls, among others. Her first "boyfriend" was Sam Cooke. I'm told that although my mother cried when President Kennedy got shot, she had really cried when Sam Cooke died. He was, after all, her "first."

But her number one boyfriend? You guessed it: Luther Vandross. Or rather, "Lutha." Lutha could do no wrong in her eyes. Mom cha-cha'd to "A Better Love," and took long drags on her Virginia Slims while listening to "A House Is Not A Home," all the while listening as if he were singing just for her and just to her. She would routinely command us to "put on my boyfriend Lutha," while we were sitting around the dinner table playing gin rummy or some board game, and we'd go plowing through the vinyl records in boxes to find just the right "Lutha" record.

And she wasn't trying to hear anything about Lutha's sexuality, period.

As much as she loved music, she loved to dance as much, if not more. Mom would put on records just to dance with us. When we were little, she would scoop us up in her arms and twirl us around with her to her favorite Motown songs. As we became teens, she would try to learn our dances and she would in turn teach us hers. We taught her the bump; she taught us the cha-cha. We taught her the rock; she taught us the stroll. But after a certain point, she'd get tired of our dances and do her own dance that I affectionately call the "Mom Dance": Think Chubby Checker's twist, but slowed down, and instead of twisting in a horizontal plane, you twist in a vertical plane, side to side, with your hip movements more staccato. And when she got going good, she'd lift one foot, then the next. As she got older, I think she just got more comfortable in her own skin and did her own dance, no longer feeling the need to learn our dances. (Plus, I think the freak and the dog were a little bit too nasty for her tastes . . . .)

On weekends, Mom would put on her records and play cards and board games with us. Gin rummy, Monopoly, Clue, you name it. When she was flush, we'd have Coke, Ruffles, and French Onion dip. You couldn't tell us we weren't living the high life. When she wasn't, it was more like Lipton's Instant Iced Tea and Ritz crackers. Either way, it didn't make a difference. Like her, we learned to make the best of what we had to the point that each of us had our own iced tea "style" or "technique" (my technique : Combine the instant tea with the sugar first; add the fresh lemon juice and stir thoroughly into a syrup; then add the water slowly, making sure the instant tea and the sugar dissolve). Our tea styles were so distinct that we could tell who had made the iced tea just by tasting it. No matter. We're were just sitting around, playing cards or a board game, and hanging out with our mom, listening to her favorite songs.

And, true to form, my mom would sometimes cheat in cards by distracting us with a fart. Silent but deadly, she would let one fly and then blame it on one of us and snicker. By the time you got over the shock of the smell, you'd probably already shown her your hand. Game over.

These are the indelible memories I have of my mom. Not her illness, but her joy. Not her suffering, but the fact that she actually liked hanging out with her kids.

So, what kinds of memories will your children have of you?

I know that times are hard and people are stressed, but do you really want your child to have far more vivid memories of your struggles than your joy? Of picking out your casket instead of picking up cards and smiling across the table from you in a game of gin rummy?

Your kids need to see you happy, period. And you need them to see you happy, even if you don't know it yet.

So, do me and SWIE a favor: Put your favorite music on and dance with your kids. Break out the chips and Coke and Monopoly and spend the evening with them seeing you having fun and enjoying them. There are always going to be bad times; the key is to create the good times for you and your kids in the midst of the storm.

Girl, put your records on . . . . .

As for me, I'll just think of my mom doing the cha-cha with Lutha up in heaven while he sings "A Better Love" just for her.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Burn, M*****f*****, Burn

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
We don’t need no water
Let the m***** f***** burn.
Burn, m*****f*****, burn.


Anyone who partied during the 70’s and 80’s remembers this old school chant, which would usually get started at the height of a really good party. Some DJ worth his or her salt would seamlessly mix a slower groove like “Genius of Love” along with “Funkin’ for Jamaica”, and “Word Up”, ending in a crescendo topped off by “Got To Give It Up, ” “Thighs High,” and “One Nation Under A Groove,” and somebody would start off:

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire . . .

You couldn’t have paid anyone to get off the dance floor at that point. We don’t need no water, let the m*****f***** burn. People of my generation often forgot the last part of the chant: Burn, m*****f*****, burn.

Well, quite frankly, the last part of the chant has been forgotten by the barons of Wall Street who are pimping Secretary Paulson and Fed Chair Bernanke for a bailout. Wall Street players like Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and the like not only partied, they threw the party. Now, after they made some money, drank the liquor, and screwed the women, so to speak, they want someone else to pay for the hall rental and the DJ.

As an American taxpayer who gets taxed out the behind, as a homebuyer who got priced out of the housing market during the run-up in the housing bubble, and as a plain ol’ citizen, I say, “Hell, no.” Or, to borrow from my Southern roots, “HAY-YELL, NAW!”

I oppose a bailout for Wall Street AND for Main Street, with the possible exception of providing assistance to homeowners who actually lived in their homes and were defrauded by mortgage brokers. Everybody else – from the Donald Trump wannabes and the Barons of High Finance -- can pound sand, IMHO. But if anyone’s going to get bailed out, it should be homeowners, not Wall Street.

The whole housing bubble and its aftermath can be analogized to a very, very bad college fraternity party.

Let’s say that a broke college fraternity, perhaps named Alpha Sigma Kappa (ASK), decides that it wants to hold a party to accomplish three goals: Make money, get drunk, and get laid. In other words, have a great time. But they have no money. So, they offer to pay for the hall rental from their university and the DJ with a percentage of the party proceeds. Their strategy to make the party a success: Let women in for free before 9:00 pm. Women attract men, men pay to get in, the fraternity makes money. Sounds like a plan, eh?

Well, what happens if something gets lost in the execution? Let’s say that a savvy party person – shall we call her Smart Girl? – knows how to play the party game better than the brothers of ASK. You get in early and for free, get guys to buy you drinks, and leave while the party is at its height to go to the next, better party. You’ve essentially had a good time off of someone else’s money. So when Smart Girl arrives at 8:59 with her crew of good looking women, the men of ASK let them in for free, thinking: 1) They’ll attract other paying men; and 2) They might sleep with us for free.

Smart Girl and her crew, knowing how the men of ASK think, get in the party for free, get the party going, and get the men of ASK to buy them drinks because the men of ASK think that if they get Smart Girl and her crew drunk enough, they’ll get laid. Just when the DJ mixes “Word Up” into “Got To Give It Up,” Smart Girl gives the signal to her crew that it’s time to leave. Liquored up for free, courtesy of the men of ASK, they excuse themselves just in time to avoid getting dry humped and to move on to a better party. When asked by the men of ASK if they’ll be back, they lie. “Of course we’ll be back. We just promised the Omegas that we’d come to their set.” And off they go into the night, having had a good time on someone else’s money.

At the other end of the spectrum is Easy Girl. She and her crew had to pool their work study money to put gas in a friend’s hooptie to get to the party. They arrive at 11:00 pm knowing damn well the party is more than half over, and expect to get in free. Because they look easy, the men of ASK let them in for free, thinking that the more women, the more money, and that perhaps they’ll still get laid. Before you know it, Easy Girl is drunk off her ass, getting dry humped on the dance floor by fraternity men and non-fraternity men, dancing with her cheap shoes off and in her stocking feet, her perm pretty much sweated out, chanting along with ASK:

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
We don’t need no water
Let the m*****f***** burn . . . .


Before she knows it, the lights go up, and her crew is nowhere to be found. Easy Girl’s crew begged her to leave with them, but no, she was enjoying her newfound popularity and said she’d find a ride home with her “new” friends, the men of ASK. And, sure, they’ll give you a ride home, but it’ll cost you. . . .

The folks from the Student Affairs Office arrive to inspect the hall and collect payment. But ASK comes up short. Why? Because they let too many people in the party for free – people who couldn’t have afforded to come in the first place. People like Easy Girl.

Next thing you know, the men of ASK are asking the remaining partygoers who got in for free like Easy Girl to pay up, but Easy Girl and folks like her didn’t have much if any money to begin with. They came to the party expecting to get in free and have a good time on someone else’s money. They just got there too late and stayed too long.

In case you don’t get the metaphor, here goes:

ASK represents Wall Street.

Smart Girl represents the real estate investors who got in early, used other people’s money, and got out before the party got too good.

Easy Girl represents the zero-down homebuyers and wannabe flippers who came in late with no money, expected to have a good time on someone else’s money, and when the bill came due, had nothing to pay it with.

And the DJ? Some would say he was Alan Greenspan. Because a party can only last as long as the DJ keeps it going.

Now, imagine ASK going to the Dean of Student Affairs of their university to plead their case: They didn’t make the money they thought they would off of the party, despite the fact that they threw the party, and now they want a bailout. Could the university spot them the rental fee?

Here are the lessons:

Wall Street: A party must always, always pay for itself. Preferably, it makes a profit, too. But don't expect a bailout.

Easy Girl: If a fraternity lets you into a party for free, they're gonna wanna screw you.

And if I were the Dean of Student Affairs in this hypothetical, I would lean across my desk and whisper to the men of ASK:

The roof, the roof, the roof was on fire
You didn’t want no water, let the m*****f***** burn.
Burn, m*****f*****, burn.


And that’s what the American people need to say to Wall Street.

Don’t forget the last part of the chant:

Burn, m*****f*****, burn.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No Budget? No Taxes! No Problem! (Somebody's Gotta Feel This)

The California state budget stalement is allegedly coming to an end after more than 80 days, the longest the state has gone without a budget.

In the meantime, appointed officials and legislative staff have gone without pay. Retired annuitants, temporary employees, and student interns have been laid off from general fund agencies. Vendors have not been paid. Schools have not received funding. Health services programs that rely on state funding have suffered, as have the people who rely on those services.

To quote Kid Rock, "Somebody's Gotta Feel This."

So, here's my proposal to prevent this from happening again: A ballot measure enacting a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the state from collecting any taxes or fees without a budget. And I don't mean some stop-gap spending measure. I mean a budget, signed, sealed and delivered.

This measure would also prevent the state from collecting those taxes and fees retroactively, or from raising taxes and fees for a two-year period after a late budget in order to make up the difference.

So, while the lawmakers and the Governor fail to perform, the citizens of California would get a tax holiday.

Fees to enter Yosemite? Not collectible without a budget. Flash a peace sign to the bears on your way out from your free weekend up there.

Car registration due while there's no budget? No problem. You get free car registration. Roll on up to the DMV and demand your free tags. And give the public counter folks as much attitude as they give you when you do pay on time.

State income tax? Payroll tax? Not when there's no budget enacted. Consider it an early Christmas present to employees and employers alike.

Property taxes due? Not when there's no budget enacted. Pocket that money and go get that 52 inch flat screen. Think of it as a stimulus package from your lazy leaders.

Thinking of buying a car? Wait until after July 1. No budget, no sales tax. Go ahead and upgrade to the touring package on your new ride. Or put those rims on, courtesy of your legislature and the Governor. Doesn't the Governor's Hummers ride on rims? Well, hell, when a budget isn't on time, maybe your Yaris should, too. Courtesy of the State of California.

There is no excuse for the seventh largest economy in the world to be governed so poorly, with a structural deficit to boot.

Somebody's Gotta Feel This.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Memo to Obama Camp: Ask The Damn Question

So far, I haven't heard the Obama campaign ask The Damn Question.

You know the question: The one question politicians are afraid to ask when they're running because they're afraid it will be turned back on them when they're in office.

You know the question:

"Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?"

Or, in the case of this failed Bush administration, "Are you better off under W than you were under the Bill?"

Somehow, we've allowed the country to lose focus of what's at stake: Four more years of being on the wrong track.

The Bush administration has failed this country domestically, internationally, environmentally, you name it. And people forget that we're not just electing a president (or vice president, for that matter), we're also electing a party. The likelihood that McCain won't drag back into office more Republican ideologues? Not high. Not high at all. Idealogues who paint Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals and then run up deficits and national debt. Idealogues who don't want to leave until there's victory in Iraq, but haven't defined what victory is. Idealogues who are just now accepting that global warming is for real. Idealogues who would invade Iran at the drop of a hat, or rather, at the hint of weapons of mass destruction (Oh, by the way, where are those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, anyway?)

And personally, I'm tired of our nation being governed by "likeable" but average/stupid people. Yep, W may be likeable enough, but that's not a qualification for the job. Intelligence is. Good judgment is. The ability to work with Congress is. Not whether you can thow back a few beers or dress a moose. Or, in the case of Cheney, shoot your friends on a hunting trip.

I don't think any C student should labor under the misperception that he or she can be President of the United States. It should be a job reserved for the most intelligent among us, not the most likeable. Too much is at stake. Did W know that Russia would eventually invade Georgia (Gov. Palin: That would be the former Soviet bloc country, not the state south of the Mason-Dixon line) when he "looked into Putin's soul?" I don't want a soul-looking president; I want a president who is sharp enought to assemble sharp enough staff to provide good intelligence briefings that are actually paid attention to (that means you, Condi Rice).

Average, likeable people don't belong in the White House. They belong in the shoe department at Macy's.

So, Obama Camp, you've brought us supporters too far to eff up now by being silent.

Ask the Damn Question.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Council of Meat Bees

I don’t know whether Senator Obama or Senator McCain will be the next president, but I do know that what the next POTUS should have is a Council of Meat Bees.

What is a meat bee, you ask?

I found out a while back that I’m a meat bee. Or at least as persistent as one.

When I first started working for a state agency, I was in a meeting with a boss of mine who was meticulous to a fault, seemed to enjoy elevating form over substance, and was constantly correcting the work of others without regard to whether the corrections were needed. We were in a meeting, and in the meeting he glossed over something he had gotten wrong. In the spirit of tit-for-tat, I pointed it out.

“But you were wrong.”

My boss continued his schpiel as if he didn’t hear me. When there was a break, I said it again:

“But you were wrong.”

He eyed me dismissively and continued with his talk. When he ended, I turned to him, looked him directly in the eyes, and said, “Why do you have so much trouble admitting you were wrong?”

By that point, he had had it with me. His normally happy baby blue eyes turned cold and hardened:

“My God, you are as persistent as meat bee! Let it go!”

Meat bee? I had to ask.

“What’s a meat bee?”

He leaned in and looked harder, all the more to drive the point home that he was the boss and I was the subordinate:

“You know those pesky bees that buzz around your barbecue and don’t give up until you set aside a plate of meat just for them? Those are meat bees. You, my dear, are a meat bee.”

It wasn’t a compliment. But I take it as one.

What the next president needs is a council of women who are as persistent as meat bees, to wit, A Council of Meat Bees: Fifty women over fifty from all walks of life who have overcome extreme adversity because, well, they were as persistent as meat bees. I’m talking about women who have overcome cancer, were or are caregivers to ailing parents, have raised large families by themselves, survived domestic abuse, have overcome being widowed to head a family business, etc. You know – your everyday heroine. And I do mean all walks of life – regardless of political affiliation, religious affiliation, race, etc. The only qualifications would be that 1) They’re women over fifty; 2) they’ve overcome adversity; 3) they are willing to serve as advocates for women who are facing the same adversity they did; 4) they’ve never served in a political office; and, most importantly, 5) no matter what, they have to tell the President the truth about what they experienced and what they see other women like them going through, even if he doesn’t want to hear it. In other words, they have to be as persistent as meat bees.

What would a Council of Meat Bees do?

For starters, they would meet with the president every month and advise him on issues relating to women – work issues, family issues, health issues, you name it. They would be paid a nominal fee and would be flown in and put up by the president’s political party, not the federal government. I think both the DNC and the RNC can afford it.

Second, they would help the president shape his political agenda as it relates to women.

Third, once the president has shaped his political agenda, they would propose policies that could be implement by the federal government and legislation that would further the president’s political agenda as it relates to women.

Fourth, they would lobby Congress regarding their proposed legislation.

Mind you, I don’t expect the Meat Bees to agree. Strong, persistent survivor-women may not. What I would expect is that they reach common ground on problems common to women and put the concerns of women like them above any differences they may have.

Oh, and the Council would be chosen half by lottery, half by the First Lady.

Are you a Meat Bee?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin Comparison

If the Republican Party had any pride or shame, it would simply take a powder and sit out this presidential election. It would be refreshing to hear the chair of the RNC say to the American public, “You know, the last eight years? Our bad. We’re gonna sit this next one out and get our act together.”

But NOOOOOOOOO. . . . . . they had to try to make their case for another four years, including a canned hack speech from that blowhard windbag Fred Thompson, topping it off with Gov. Sarah Palin, clearly a benchwarmer even among Republican women politicians (What? Sen. Liddy Dole was unavailable? Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson had better things to do than be second-in-command to the Leader of the Free World? Condi Rice had a memorial oil tanker to get back to? Sen. Olympia Snowe can’t stand your behind?)

Watching the Republicans attempt to make their case for another four years is like watching a pimp put pigtails on an old crackwhore and make the case for her virginity. Yeah, you hear the words, but your sense of sight and common sense tell you another story altogether . . . . .

As Governor Palin tried to equate – no, elevate – her political experience as superior to that of Senator Obama’s, I felt like, “Here we go again.” What the Republican Party doesn’t get is that we don’t want to just change the captain of the ship, but the whole damn direction of the ship itself. Her soccer-mom-to-Governor story doesn’t change the fact that she wants to “win” the war in Iraq (uh, Afghanistan, anyone? And can somebody please tell me where in the world is Osama bin Laden?), is anti-choice, anti-government, etc. I’m not seeing a change in direction here, just a different captain and first mate at the helm. Mind you, I’m not for big government – I’m for better, efficient government. I’m not for “winning” the war in Iraq because no one has defined what “winning” means – if Iraq is autonomous, democratic, and virulently anti-American, is that still a “win”? The case the GOP – or rather OWP (Old Windbag Party) hasn’t made is how it plans to take the country in a different and better direction than that of the Bush administration. Haven’t they noticed his approval ratings?

That Governor Palin even had the nerve to chide the Democratic Party for not putting Hillary on the ticket when it took the Republican Party another twenty-fours years after the Democrats to put a woman on their ticket is just laughable.

Oh, and note to Govenor Palin: When people already consider you to be the joke, you might want to refrain from making any jokes yourself. You’d be better served to justify your nomination to the people outside of your party who will be voting on you in November. Just a thought.

When I think of all the Republican women of substance and accomplishment with whom I disagree but still respect who could have easily thrown the “experience” argument back in the face of the Democractic Party, including some I’ve listed above, I can’t help but wonder, “What was McCain thinking?” This was his first opportunity to demonstrate that he not only had experience but good judgment. He failed.

When I compare the McCain-Palin ticket to the Obama-Biden ticket on the policy merits alone, the McCain-Palin ticket, in particular Governor Palin, pales in comparison.