Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Moratorium

Pretty Lady is not imagining things. There have been a greater than average number of blogosphere meltdowns lately, even for the blogosphere. Folks everywhere, including Pretty Lady, have been scooping up their marbles and going home.

Darlings, let us face facts. We are all terrified.

We are all terrified because we see news every day that our financial system is crumbling around us, taking our homes and livelihoods with it. We are terrified because the government is trying to fix the financial system, and governments in general are not particularly good at fixing things.

We are terrified because it is now too expensive to fill up our vehicles and drive to someplace safe and bright and calm. We are terrified because every day we hear reports of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, torture, and more ill-advised and half-baked military intervention.

We are terrified because the price of food and water is rising precipitately. We are terrified because our jobs are going to India. We are terrified because health insurance premiums are rising, health benefits are dropping, and millions of us are uninsured. A few of us are even terrified that the art market will collapse.

A salient characteristic of terror is that it causes one's universe to contract. Formerly expansive, curious and tolerant individuals start to Lash Out. Primal bigotries reassert themselves. The Other becomes the Enemy, even when he was your friend the day before yesterday.

At the moment, darlings, none of us can fix this.

So Pretty Lady recommends a holiday. All of you, please leave your computers at once. Go on a news fast. Ride your bicycle to the Botanical Garden. Build a fountain. Go to yoga class, or church, or synagogue, or the Zen center. Refrain from discussing politics. Bake a pie. Try out a new bean recipe. Work in the garden. Go to the beach. Do fifty pushups.

The world will still be there when you go back.




Sunday, July 13, 2008

Creative Problem Solving

Another reason for optimism: a lovely gentleman from Montana builds schools in Pakistan on a teeny-tiny budget, which turn out to be better anti-terrorism weapons than billion-dollar bombs.

The Pentagon, which has a much better appreciation for the limits of military power than the Bush administration as a whole, placed large orders for “Three Cups of Tea” and invited Mr. Mortenson to speak.

“I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general, and Afghanistan specifically, is education,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, who works on the Afghan front lines, said in an e-mail in which he raved about Mr. Mortenson’s work. “The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with books. ... The thirst for education here is palpable.”

Military force is essential in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. But over time, in Pakistan and Afghanistan alike, the best tonic against militant fundamentalism will be education and economic opportunity.

So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.






Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ridiculous Debate

This is the second time this year that Pretty Lady has been suddenly so fed up with Americans that she has contemplated moving to Amsterdam.

The first time was reading an article in Salon about veterinary practices, several months ago, and noting that opinion was running 3 to 1 in favor of going into excessive debt in order to torture one's pets into living marginally longer lives.

The second is this: Drivers or Bikers: Who Sucks More?

In Pretty Lady's opinion, this ought to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority of Americans have no brains.

People. We are in the middle of both an energy crisis and an obesity epidemic. And yet, it seems that almost none of us have connected these two indisputable facts with the notion that perhaps we ought to pay closer attention to the plight of bicyclists.

Pretty Lady's friends know that she is, at various times, a driver, a biker, and a pedestrian. She practices safe navigation, no matter what her medium; she sees the situation, impartially, from all sides. And she is here to testify that most car drivers suffer from an undeserved sense of entitlement that must be trained out of them, if society is to survive and thrive.

Car drivers double-park in bike lanes, on arterial roads at rush hour. They do not check their rearview mirrors before pulling into the bike lane, or opening their door into same. They honk at bicyclists when approaching from behind, apparently under the mistaken impression that their engine does not sound like an approaching dragon with bronchitis. They block your turn, even when you are actively looking them in the eye and signalling your intention.

Pedestrians wait to cross the street while standing in the middle of the bike lane, or in the section of street that would contain a bike lane, if there were one. They walk out into the street in front of bicycles while looking directly at the bicyclist, as though we were invisible.

Pretty Lady has this to say, to all drivers and pedestrians: BICYCLES. ARE. TRAFFIC.

Please stop and let this sink into your mind for a moment. Weigh the ramifications. Allow both your conscious and your subconscious minds to register this information to their very core; acknowledge that this is a substantial change from your current beliefs and perceptions.

For, from an energy efficiency perspective, from a healthcare perspective, it makes profound sense for people to get in the habit of integrating bicycling with their functional lives, insofar as getting on a bicycle is NOT tantamount to taking one's life in one's hands. We have no right to whine about how gasoline costs are killing us, how we don't have time to excercise, when there is a perfectly good bike lane between home and the grocery store, the post office, the park and the café, and the Transportation Alternatives newsletter giving us a means of agitating for enforcement of traffic laws.

Pretty Lady must confess that in her ideal city, there would be dedicated bike lanes on all roads, demarcated by green belts on either side. Light rail trains with rapid, easy wheelchair access would occupy the center of these roads, with moving sidewalks nearest the storefronts; car traffic would be relegated to select alleyways and far-flung interstates. And Pretty Lady says this as one who has staunchly refused to divest herself of her beloved 4-wheeler, even in the inner city during a fuel crisis.




What it Means to Be a Lady

It occurred to Pretty Lady, during a gentle discussion this afternoon, that there are, perhaps, some wide misconceptions about the nature of Ladyhood, or lack thereof. To wit, it was implied that Ladies are inherently lacking in qualities of 'toughness,' to the point that if one has them, one must advertise this fact, in a modifier to the title 'Lady.'

Gracious. How we have fallen.

Darlings. The plain facts are thusly; crude, superficial signifiers of 'toughness,' are, and always have been, blatant advertisements of integral weakness of character. Rudeness, aggression, pugnacity, cruelty, machismo, spite, illiberality, and vacuous mocking of those with whom one has differences of opinion are all hallmarks of the insecure and undisciplined mind. Such a character has no inner compass; its assessment of self is determined relatively, and is maintained by the perpetual denigration of others.

There is no strength in this. A mind which is at war with all around it is a tiny and inconsequential thing. It is, sadly, next to impossible to engage with such a mind; one may merely look upon it, sigh, and turn away. For to deal with it on its own terms is to be dragged down as well, into a self-defeating huis clos. And such a mind is wilfully blind to the existence of any other terms; to adopt them would be tantamount to annihilation of self, in its twisted perspective.

Conversely, Ladylike characteristics such as courtesy, respect, patience, understanding, generosity, benevolence, suspension of judgment, and refusal to be drawn into petty altercations are not only qualities which grease the globe in its orbit, but are difficult to attain. It is a choice not to respond in kind when a fool hurls pejorative epithets at oneself and one's loved ones; it is a choice made under duress, and against one's animal inclinations. It is a choice to listen quietly, sincerely and empathetically to persons who espouse opposing views, and to search for the merits in their arguments, in a measured suspension of egoistic interests.

It is also a choice, not only to undertake a career which carries no guarantee of material success, but to pursue this career in good times and bad, whether or not respect, recognition, or financial renumeration attend it. It is a choice, not only to refrain from whining about the difficulties attendant upon this path, but to continually reach out to those even less fortunate, less recognized, less healthy and less blessed.

These are the choices that Ladies make; not once, not twice, but daily. We make them quietly, with (usually) little fanfare or publicity. Additionally, we dress well and throw excellent parties. Pretty Lady challenges the 'toughest' of her pugnacious and vauntedly cruel readers to do the same for a single day, without collapsing in defeat and exhaustion.




Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Trials and Glories of Horticulture

For those of you who have been wondering why Pretty Lady has been unwontedly silent on the subject of her epiphyllum, well--Pretty Lady has been in the Depths of Despair and Frustration. Perhaps it was the fact that she actually watered the wretched thing a time or two, but for whatever reason, 98% of the incipient Flower Buds suddenly turned a pinkish color and fell off. Words cannot express.


However, ONE remains.



It is so large and decided a creature that it is quite possible that fostering this single bud robbed all the others of their nourishment, despite the watering. Lately it has been arcing around to point its gloriously spiralling tip upward, toward the sun; full flowering is, evidently, imminent. Pretty Lady will be hovering nearby, camera primed.



Liberty and Justice for All

Pretty Lady is shocked. She took at peek at The Corner today, to see what the greatest lights of conservative thought have come up with, lately. Although John Derbyshire's perspective on illegal immigration is irreproachable up to a point (Pretty Lady is, of course, opposed to offering sanctuary to terrorists and criminals), he rather ruined it for her, right at the end.
Why on earth would any person from Somalia be granted admittance to this country for any reason? I can't even see the need for diplomatic representation — the place is just a chaotic slum. We are the fools of the world.
Ahem.

John, darling, Pretty Lady needs to remind you of something. Remember that cute, romantic, foolish little poem at the base of the Lady, that big Lady in New York Harbor? The one which goes something like, 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free'?

That is what we do. That is what we have always done. This is not a new thing; it is not a liberal invention of the Welfare State, this offering of refuge and a New Start to honest persons of all nations, fleeing chaos, oppression, war, starvation, and injustice elsewhere.

'Why on earth'? Well, John, THIS IS WHY:




John, there is a reason that Conservatism, as a philosophy, is grossly unfashionable at the moment, a reason going far beyond the non-conservative excesses of the egregious 'neocons.' This very good reason is that the sort of studied, knee-jerk contempt for the poor and unfortunate of the world that you have just displayed is not only tacky, vulgar and morally repulsive; it actively kills the soul.

And John, we idealistic youngsters do not wish to do without our souls. Heed us or perish.





Monday, July 07, 2008

How Not To Impress Your Date

Gentlemen, it is time that Pretty Lady administered a bit of Brutal Reality to your fond imaginations. The word on the street is that you are getting cocky.

Indeed, it has long seemed to Pretty Lady that as long as there are Rules, would-be clever boys will try to find a way around them. Worse, they address these Rules from a lawyer-like persepective, adhering to the letter but not the spirit of the law. Their goal is always to obtain double helpings of cake without having to pay for it. Sadly, boys, the ladies are seeing through you.

Thus it falls to Pretty Lady to inform you that when, on a date, you attempt to score double points by stating, "It is not my habit to pick up checks, but I will do so for you, just this once," you are not scoring any points at all. Obviously, in your mind, you believe that you are getting credit for both Enlightened Egalitarianism ('it is not my habit...') and Situational Generosity ('but I'll do so for you.')

Instead, you are coming off as a stingy, fatuous ass.

For what lady wishes to pursue further acquaintance with a gentleman whose notion of extravagant generosity is spotting her a couple of drinks, on spec? Visions immediately flood through her imagination--of working extra shifts at the co-op to pay for her half of the engagement ring, of phoning the office from the maternity ward to make certain her half of the rent is covered, labor pains or no.

She then thinks, "If this is as good as it gets, I am so out of here." Sometimes she thinks this even before the actual date.

So gentlemen: shut your traps, and pick up the check without calling attention to your action. The lady will notice. She's not an idiot.




Friday, July 04, 2008

How to Remodel a T-shirt

Dear Franklin has sent Pretty Lady an Artblog.net t-shirt!

Rest assured that Franklin has been thoroughly excoriated for printing only men's shirts, when everybody knows that Pretty Lady only wears form-fitting baby-doll Ts. He is ashamed of himself, and will never do it again.


For ladies who are shaped like ladies, and not like adolescent boys, do not look good in oversized clothing, as Pretty Lady finally figured out, after years of dressing in men's extra-large. Men's extra-large does NOT make one's shapely female figure look gamine and frail by contrast, as Pretty Lady's self-conscious adolescent self fondly imagined; it makes one look like a three-masted schooner, sailing into harbor.

However, Pretty Lady was still in ballet training, the year that Flashdance came out; thus, she is unafraid to take a pair of ruthless scissors to even a brand-new T.

First, one removes the collar, and cuffs the sleeves.

You can see that this is already a vast improvement, despite the lack of waist. Conservative t-shirt remodelers might wish to stop here. However, sleeve cuffs can be hot, and tricky to maintain; let's trim them.

To enhance the waistline, simply flip the shirt inside out, sew a long arc about an inch in from each side, from hip to underarm, and trim the excess.


Might as well cut off the rest of the sleeves, and deepen the neckline, while we're at it. In ballet days we would cut the back down to below the shoulderblades, but this would have ruined one of the best elements of Franklin's design.


Thank you, Franklin! Happy Fourth!






Reasons for Optimism

George is agog at Pretty Lady's avowed optimism:
Is this an affliction or a blessing? Is it innate or have you developed and nurtured it? If the second to both questions, how can I get some?
George, darling, as Pretty Lady has stated before, without her innate and carefully nurtured optimism, Pretty Lady would still be a government employee. She will leave you to extrapolate the affliction/blessing ratio from this one statement.

But when she looks around her, it seems that there are almost nothing but reasons for optimism, on a large scale, and in a larger sense.

For example, George, did you know :

The amount of worldwide political violence has declined dramatically in recent years.
  • The number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40% since 1992. The deadliest conflicts (those with 1000 or more battle-deaths) dropped even more dramatically––by 80%.
  • The number of international crises, often harbingers of war, fell by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.
  • Wars between countries are more rare than in previous eras and now constitute less than 5% of all armed conflicts.
  • The number of military coups and attempted coups has declined by some 60% since 1963. In 1963, there were 25 coups or attempted coups; in 2004, there were 10. All failed.
  • Most armed conflicts now take place in the poorest countries in the world, but as incomes rise the risk of war declines.
  • The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval without wars between the major powers in hundreds of years.

The philosophical mastermind of global Islamist jihad is now, himself, starting to reconsider. There is a general sense within the most radical proponents of terrorist violence that perhaps terrorism isn't such a good idea, after all.

Global population appears to be self-regulating.

(Pretty Lady knows that it is fashionable to decry low birth rates in certain circles, but she is old enough to remember the knuckle-knawing about world overpopulation, in the 1970s. It appears, instead, that as countries grow wealthier and less patriarchal, birth rates decline naturally, to rise again to replacement rate once a society has adjusted itself to thinking of women as full-fledged citizens, rather than submissive baby machines.)

This method of population adjustment seems infinitely superior to the predicted mass die-offs that would occur, once resources such as water and arable land became grossly overstrained.


The Berlin Wall came down. In 1989. Don't you remember?


In fact, George, if one looks at how human life on earth has altered since, say, 1600, one cannot help noting an overwhelming shift away from conditions of violent squalor, and toward those of health, comfort, peace and compassion. In the 1600s, it was commonplace to execute hungry five-year-olds for stealing an apple. Disease, slavery, war, and child labor were ubiquitous and accepted facts of life. Public torture of both animals and humans was considered a socially acceptable form of entertainment. On a large scale, humanity would not recognize itself as humanity, today. That is an astonishing amount of evolution in just 400 years.

On a personal level, George, Pretty Lady's reasons for optimism are perhaps even more compelling. Being a lady who is consumingly interested in the stories of How Things Turn Out for people she cares about (which includes just about everyone she's ever met), she cannot help noticing the overwhelming resilience of the human spirit, everywhere she goes.

For example, one college friend of hers filed for divorce from her cheating, lying, thieving excuse for a husband, in New Orleans, the summer before Katrina hit. Now Pretty Lady gets regular photo updates of her college friend with her wonderful new husband and their adorable new daughter, in their lovely new home in Arkansas.

Her freshman year in college, a friend of a friend used to show up on the hall, drinking vodka from a water glass, in waterlike quantities. (Eight glasses a day.) He was already going into major liver failure; Pretty Lady was certain he'd be dead within five years. Five years later, he was sober, healthy, and employed, with a young family.

One friend went blind from diabetes. She was married, had a little girl, and sight in one eye, the last time Pretty Lady heard from her.

Everywhere around her, Pretty Lady sees people recovering from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wounds that ought to have felled an ox, with increased compassion and wisdom. Former victims of childhood abuse go on to counsel other abused children. Cancer patients create cancer support communities. Miracles happen; forgiveness happens; healing happens. All the time. Every single day.

These things, Pretty Lady firmly believes, are not accidents. The patterns are so clear, from the micro level to the macro, that they must be hard-wired into our design. We must come here in order to learn through our mistakes, because that is what we do, over and over and over. We get knocked down, we lie there and reconsider, get back up and try again. Every time we try, we increase in compassion, in forgiveness, in generosity, in kindness, both personally and globally.

In fact, George, these things are so obvious and so consistent that Pretty Lady feels that it takes considerable force of will to deny them. Pessimism, cynicism and despair must be as carefully nurtured as optimism; indeed, they are our primary blocks to happiness, and the instruments of assured failure.




Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Audacity of Organization, II

Unlike many of her 'liberal' cohorts, Pretty Lady thinks that Mr. Obama's faith-based initiative is a splendid idea:
Much of his emphasis is better coordination, training and evaluation, not money. It's worth remembering that the bulk of Obama's work as a community organizer wasn't drawing together national groups in grandiose efforts or lobbying drives. It was connecting one church to another, a dozen residents of a project here with a dozen over there. In that sense, he is more like an early 1960s liberal (the sort who focused on fighting poverty through local community organizing) than he is a 1970s liberal (which emphasized large scale national programs). Or, more accurately, he is a hybrid of the two that we're just beginning to understand.
Much is made, in 'conservative' circles, about the essential selfishness of human nature. Helping others is Unnatural; thus when the Evil Socialist Government tries to force it on people, disaster ensues.

However, it is Pretty Lady's observation that people, in general, are thrilled with opportunities to help others, as long as 1) they are not completely drained by doing so, and 2) the help actually helps. Her own conservative parents would never leave a stranger to bleed or starve to death on their front lawn; their political position that it is fine to let people bleed or starve to death in their own far-away neighborhoods was based on a sense of the impossibility of doing otherwise, rather than an actual animus toward the bleeding and starving.

(Pretty Lady has noticed that some extreme right-wingers do express vocal, continuous, personal, knee-jerk animus toward those less fortunate than themselves, but she chalks this up to pathological deficiencies in their own personalities, not their political philosophies.)

This brings us to the central, vital role played by a bit of common-sense organization, in implementing any sort of plan to Help People Help Others. Efficiency is the golden rule.

For example: Pretty Lady heard tell of an organization which was given a miniscule grant to educate the African-American community about breast cancer prevention. After considering a number of dismal options, such as standing on street corners handing out leaflets, and attempting to get hard-working women to stay a few hours after church for a breast cancer seminar, an elegant solution was hit upon. They simply trained the local hairdressers in breast cancer prevention theory. The local ladies visited with their hairdressers for upwards of four hours per week already, getting their hair braided; they trusted their hairdressers; one's hairdresser is one's mother-confessor. Breast-cancer education in this neighborhood proceeded apace, without a single budget increase.

Similarly, any religious organization which does not have community service outreach already in place is a piss-poor excuse for a religious organization. It makes sense for any public policy targeted toward helping the poor to acknowledge, enhance and assist this outreach, not compete with it.





Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Civics 101

Gracious. It seems that Pretty Lady has had an epidemic of old friends Stomping Off and Sulking, lately, all because of trivial political disagreements. It seems, furthermore, that it is hard-wired into some people's brains that Universal Healthcare=The Devil Socialism, and that The Devil Socialism=The End Of The World.

There is, of course, nothing at all that Pretty Lady can do to re-wire someone's brain; nor would she wish to. She has long maintained that people's minds are all Just Fine, just the way they are. If their minds are making them unhappy, and they do not wish to be unhappy, they may attempt to change their minds, but this is entirely a voluntary affair.

So, in keeping with the rather visual theme of this weeks' posts, she will present her visual perspective on the issue. Behold: Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good and Bad Government. Not 'Liberal and Conservative Government'; not 'Big and Small Government,' just government that is well implemented, versus government that is implemented by devils with big horns.

Here we have a well-governed city. Note the people moving freely in the streets, without fear of mugging, stray arrows, or wrongful arrest. Note the tradesmen and craftsmen plying their wares. Note the clean, airy buildings in good repair. Note the lack of garbage and rotting carcasses everywhere.


Here we have, on the other hand, Bad Government. The fresco was painted on a Bad Wall, with the result that much of it has vanished. What we can see of it, besides the horned devils on the throne, is a city besieged by bandits and rogue police officers, full of smashed windows and terrified citizenry cowering in corners. In fact, it looks exactly like New Orleans after Katrina.


More detail shots of this classic work can be examined here.

It seems to Pretty Lady, then, that those who are terrified of Government, Period, are barking up the wrong damn tree. Government is merely a structure which groups of people create in order to facilitate commerce, solve conflicts, control bandits, and establish standards. If it is controlled by egoistic nincompoops, it becomes a vehicle for banditry. If it is controlled by wise individuals with a salutary concern for others, it facilitates peace and prosperity.

Furthermore, Pretty Lady is quite baffled by the fact that many of those who excoriate her support for an organized, grassroots government which looks after the health of all citizens, are themselves beset with severe and chronic illnesses. Do these people feel that persons such as themselves are useless and irrelevant to society, and should be allowed to perish in misery and destitution? Why is that? Pretty Lady doesn't think you are useless; she'd like to keep you around.