Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Fear Factor 101

My brother's girlfriend is warm; witty; generous - ideal sister-in-law material. What my cruder kinfolk call "a real keeper." She's also something of a pop culture savant, the kind of girl my brother, himself a walking encyclopedia of kitsch, never dared dream existed but I'd always hoped he'd find. (Which I'll admit was as much for his sake as for my own. I mean, if there's anything I've learned from all my years as his sister, it's that being his sister is great fun. Indeed, a roomful of people like him is my idea of party heaven. Consequently, any cozy little get-together with the real deal and his girlfriend is pure bliss.)

Except for maybe our cozy little get-together of last month, when, smack dab in the middle of a friendly discourse on who was "Bewitched's" better Darren, Dick York or Dick Sargent, my brother's girlfriend snarled something unprintable about the USA Patriot Act.

At least it felt like a left-of-center, out-of-nowhere sort of snarl at the time.

Because, now that I think of it, we'd already declared Dick York the better Darren and were discussing Mrs. Kravitz, "Bewitched's" sickeningly nosy neighbor character, when my brother's girlfriend got snarly. (And the thoroughly unlikable Mrs. Kravitz, what with her total disregard for other people's privacy and her overly suspicious little mind, is the stuff of the ACLU's - of which, it should be noted, my brother's girlfriend's father is a prominent member - collective nightmares.)

In any event, my brother's girlfriend's segue, however "logical" in retrospect, knocked me for a loop.

I heard her say, "It's scary to think that the government can hack its way into your laptop without probable cause." And I heard myself think, "Yeah. Especially since the government doesn't have anything better to do these days than wonder what a native citizen who's never gone to flight school; applied for a Yemeni passport; beaten an explosives rap; married a mullah; sued Louis Farrakhan for child support; or taken the Fifth on behalf of Sirhan, Squeaky, and 'kindred spirits everywhere'" has bookmarked on her sleek little Sony.

And I heard her say, "...assault on our basic liberties," which reminded me of my late '90s visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sited at the vastly refurbished, long defunct Lorraine Motel - the scene of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1968 assassination - the NCRM is one of the most moving memorials to injustice, intolerance and the indomitable human spirit I've ever seen.

A genuine Rosa Parks/Montgomery, Alabama city bus; simulated "Freedom Rides;" galleries of liberty-loving luminaries, from the Boston Tea partiers to the Anti-Defamation League, from "Civil Disobedience" author Henry David Thoreau to the founders of the AFL-CIO; Dr. King's eerily preserved (down to the 35-year-old cigarette butts in the ashtrays) Lorraine Motel room...

"Are we keeping you awake?" my brother barked.

"Oh, sorry," I said. "I was just thinking about the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Next time you two get out that way, you should skip Graceland and check it out."

"What does that have to do with the Bush administration's -"

"A-ha!" I interrupted. "There it is, the 'Bush administration.' And what are we blaming it for today? Kim Jong Il's hairdo? The Beatles' break-up? Your DSL service?"

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, have you even read this Patriot Act you're so afraid of?"

"No," my brother yawned. "And I don't want to. Not now, anyway. Let's watch 'Billy Jack.'"

His girlfriend said, "yes, lets. And no, I haven't read it, either. But the thing that scares me -"

"- is the messenger," I interrupted again. "Scratch someone who opposes the Patriot Act and, more often than not, you'll find yourself scratching someone still bristling over Election 2000."

"No way," my brother's girlfriend said.

"Way," I replied. "Try scratching, say, one of your dad's cronies; subtly, of course. Something along the lines of, 'I see you're opposed to the Patriot Act. Might I interest you in a 'Not my President' bumper sticker, as well?' You'll see."

"Well..."

"Speaking of fear," I interrupted yet again, "are you afraid of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?" "Of course not!" my brother and his girlfriend, both big Disneyland freaks (I told you they were compatible), squawked in unison.

"You can thank your dad and his cronies for that," I said.

"What do you mean?" my brother's girlfriend asked, for the second time that night.

"What I mean is, it wasn't so long ago that your dad and his cronies were afraid that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was, to paraphrase you, an assault on the basic liberties of pirates. And prostitutes - 'wenches,' in Disneyspeak. So they lobbied to make the ride politically correct, even had the damn thing shut down for a couple years. And now that it's, oooh, no longer 'scary,' well, for me, anyway, it's boring beyond belief."

My brother's girlfriend said, "What does that have to do -"

"- with the Patriot Act?" I interrupted for the fourth and final time (that night, anyway.) "Everything. Because one person's misplaced fear is another person's justifiable concern. Here in Ojai, for example, a lot of people are worried about a local government official's proposal to turn an old jail into housing for the mentally ill. Anyone in favor of the idea dismisses the naysayers as paranoid loons. Or, worse, intolerant. Despite the fact that the local government official in question has admitted, more than once, that such a facility, if approved, could 'evolve' into something entirely different than what he's proposing.

'So what!' the supporters cry. 'What about the basic liberties of the criminally insane? Have we no compassion?'

Beats me. I still haven't decided if the Supreme Court of 1882 - which other trivia buffs will note included, surprise, surprise, one Stephen Field from California - was wrong or right to declare the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 (giving government the authority to prosecute Klansmen as terrorists) 'unconstitutional.' But I'm leaning towards wrong.

Hey, am I keeping you guys awake?" I barked at my brother and his girlfriend, both of whom were, much to my chagrin, unabashedly snoring.

"Oh, sorry," said my brother. "Do you still have 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' on tape?"

I did, but we were all too pooped to watch it.

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

In-tents Experience

You needn't have been raised on an ashram - or in Sausalito, for that matter - to know that no one, and I do mean no one, can make you do something you don't want to do. Aside from those worst case scenarios where guns, knives or similarly intimidating third parties are present, we're all pretty immune to the sound of one hand clapping.

"Oh, so you think you'll be making me eat these peas now, do ya," the baby gurgles at his mother.

"Say whatever you want about Ike, you'll never make me like him any less," says the partisan to the proselyte.

And so on.

Yet we'll let everyone, and I do mean everyone, make us do things we'd rather not.

"Sure, I'll sign your Save the Dying Dung Beetle petition," the harried, already-late-for-mahjongg-night shopper tells the teeming throng. Never mind that, in this shopper's heart of hearts, the only good bug is a dead bug; with so many people vouching for its character, how bad could the Dung Beetle be?

Pit a pack of peers against a person, even a person that prides herself on being the sort that marches to her own drummer, and you can make her do just about any (lawful) thing.

Take, for example, me. I've been made to do a thing or two against my will on, dare I say it, more than one occasion. Why? Because, on each occasion, I felt I SHOULD do it - a feeling that's got less than nothing to do with doing something because "everyone else does it," which, to people who march to their own drummers, is just plain stupid. (Half the free world could be shooting heroin and I wouldn't think, "hey, I should be shooting heroin, too.")

Still, an involuntary act, no matter how right it is or how roundly it's applauded, is, when all is said and done, an involuntary act. The two-pack a day smoker knew he should quit; what he didn't know was that thousands of virtual strangers, acting on a timetable not his own, would make him quit. He supposed he should be grateful, but really: would a chubby person go around thanking everyone who withheld the dessert menu or denied her seconds?

Wasn't it the Apostle Paul who said, "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still?" (Actually, it wasn't, come to think of it. It was my father-in-law, who gave the same toast at all of his sons' prenuptial rehearsal dinners. At least that's what my husband swears. But I digress.)

No, whenever a person's made to do something, especially the same darned thing over and over again because, unlike anti-smoking campaigns or compassion for the lowly beetle, this thing has never, and I do mean never, gone out of style, she's anything but grateful. Put-upon, miserable, resentful even, but grateful? No. I'm grateful for a lot of things, like being a kid who knew I should say my prayers before I lay me down to sleep, and who did so willingly. Or always knowing I should eat my vegetables and, for the most part, never having to be convinced of any one kind's merit. (While Bush the Former's aversion to broccoli was something of a disappointment, I was nevertheless impressed by his resolve: "I know I should eat it, but neither you nor your army of farmers can make me.") I know I should love my neighbor as I - well, never mind. Suffice to say I'm grateful for liking so much of the stuff a person should like, and for wanting to do so many of the things a person should want to do. But I will never like camping, and I resent the fact that it has never suffered even a teensy dip in the popularity polls.

I was made to camp when I was a Girl Scout, and unlike all the other initially squeamish scouts, I did not grow to like it.

I was made to camp when I was first married, because everyone, including my mother, who probably dislikes camping more than I do, convinced me it was the only vacation a young married could afford and, besides, "you don't have to rough it."

I was made to camp when I became a Brownie leader, despite leading hours and hours' worth of "alternative" meetings, where I urged my charges to work on their home pedicure skills and facial care badges while ever-so-casually dropping camping horror stories into our conversations.

Alas, I was unsuccessful, but when I realized I'd have to camp, I did try to look on the bright side. I was the leader, after all: I needn't pick a primitive site for our adventure. I'd pick a place not only KOA-approved, but replete with showers and flush toilets. And I'd buy out everything Big 5 had to offer. Wouldn't my daughter and I look back on this weekend forever fondly? Visions of group sing-alongs, my precious moppet to my right, gazing at me with a reverence most people reserve for their Maker, danced in my head.

It wasn't to be. Two of the girls claimed they were allergic to the bug spray I'd dusted my gear with, whining about the fumes for the entire trip. The other girls clung to my co-leader, a woman who wasn't just born to camp, but who knew all the words to "Kumbaya" and had a tent that slept eight. Plus, she could do tricks with it, like keep it from collapsing and make it fit back inside the film canister it came in. To my eternal shame, I hated her.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

No Joking Matter

This guy walks in to the UN and applies for a job as a translator. He completes the 15-page application; attaches his resume; drops it off with someone in Human Resources; and goes home - not really expecting anything to come from it, but, hey, he thinks, it couldn't hurt.

But no sooner had he gotten through his front door than his wife squeals, "honey! The UN called! They want you to come in for an interview right away!"

Excited, he throws on a tie and runs all the way back for his interview.

An hour later, his wife again meets him at the front door, squealing, "Did you get the job? Did you get the job?"

"N-n-n-no," the guy says, clearly dejected. "And I b-b-b-bet they d-d-d-d-idn't hire m-m-m-me because I'm J-J-J-J-J-ewish."

Sound familiar?

It should.

People like Art Torres, Chairman of the California Democratic Party, and Cruz Bustamante, the Golden State's Lieutenant Governor, have been telling a variation of this very joke ever since Bustamante's boss signed a bill that makes it legal for illegal immigrants to drive.

In Torres' and Bustamante's version of the joke, a guy walks into a recall; does, predictably, nothing about it (see the California energy crisis) except whine and cry that he doesn't belong there and it's all been a big mistake; wonders why people aren't falling all over themselves to bail him out; whines and cries some more; realizes his whining and crying is falling on mostly deaf ears yet fails to see the irony of the situation (see the deaf ear this guy turns on anybody that doesn't pay him for the privilege of "listening" to them); finally sees the irony of the situation; decides that listening, or at least pretending to listen, to his constituency, paying or otherwise, is his only means of escape; then decides - and here's the punch line - "Nah. That's a little drastic. I'll just pretend to listen to some of the constituency, the ones whose votes are for sale. Then" (insert Snidely Whiplash-like "nyeh, heh, heh" here) "I'll get everyone else to pick up the tab."

I know; it's not very funny. In fact, it's not even remotely funny.

But don't tell Torres and Bustamante, both of whom grin like canary-swallowing cats when they get to the "...everyone else" picking up the tab part, that. One poor guy, Congressman David Dreier, made the mistake of telling Torres that, not only did he find the joke unfunny, he found it insulting. And he told Torres this on national TV, to boot.

Torres, already infamous in the thinking, i.e., other 49, states for calling Proposition 187 "the last gasp of white America" on national TV, outdid himself this time: "That's because you and everyone else in your 'camp' hate Latinos; you always have," he snarled - managing to make MSNBC's Chris Matthews' hair go an even whiter shade of pale.

Huh?

Is "illegal immigrant" a synonym for "Latino" on Torres' planet? Because, here on Earth, immigrants - legal and otherwise - come from all sorts of places. And even if they didn't, I don't see the connection between being opposed to the idea of rewarding illegal behavior and being a racist.

But Ernesto Cienfuegos, Editor-in-Chief of Los Angeles' La Voz de Aztlan, might. In July, Cienfuegos wrote an open letter to the Committee on Chicano Rights for the purposes of complaining about "recent representation in the Mexican-American community.

There are many naive Mexican-Americans that think it is good that Art Torres is the party's state chairman," wrote Cienfuegos. "They don't realize that Art Torres was placed there, not by us, but by the Jewish/Gay Alliance. He is there not to principally serve our interests but those of the gay community. Art Torres is an out of the closet homosexual, and the vast majority of the Mexican-American community would not support the Democratic Party if they knew the truth."

(I wonder if the vast majority of the African-American community would support Bustamante if they knew the truth about his fondness for the "n" word.)

"We are no longer being provided representation in government by elected officials that should be providing our community a voice. This problem is now endemic in Alta California, all the way from the Lieutenant Governor, Cruz Bustamante to our local city councilmen and school board members. These elected representatives are not representing us but have become mere lackeys of the two party dictatorship, mostly of the corrupt Democratic Party. They have sold out the 'real' interests of the Mexican-American community and their entire focus is to enrich themselves and their cronies," Cienfuegos sputtered.

Closer to home, the 0.8 percent of Ojai Valley residents that support turning the old Honor Farm into housing for the mentally ill are telling their own version of the joke. And they, too, botch the punch line.

In their version, a guy doesn't walk in to anything, but rather, out of something - a housing facility for the mentally ill, to be exact.

Of course, it's perfectly legal for the guy to walk out of the facility, but that fact doesn't comfort the neighboring residents very much, and...here it comes, the so-called "punch line," this means the neighbors are a bunch of compassionless crackers.

"A bunch of intolerant jerks," the supporters scoff; "afraid of anyone different from themselves."

Uh, right. And Ward Connelly, the black author of Proposition 54 (which, if approved, would prohibit state and local governments from using race, ethnicity or color to classify students or employees in public education) is a cracker, too, I suppose.

Okay, so maybe I am prejudiced - against people who don't know how to tell a joke. I hate anyone who doesn't know the difference between "funny" and "insulting."

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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Speech Impediments

The nonprofit, California-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture, led by recovering leftist David Horowitz (author of such apologetic confessionals as "Radical Son" and "Hating Whitey") has officially endorsed the as-yet-unratified Academic Bill of Rights. And all I can say to that is, phew! It's about time somebody, or rather, a bunch of somebodies, did.

Because, let's face it: When it comes to education, the Golden State's reputation is less-than-sterling.

Which I wouldn't lose any sleep over (after all, even a state's entitled to a wild night on the town now and then, as the fine people of Florida know all too well), if we didn't seem hell-bent on tarnishing it further.

What's the difference between an educational system like, say, Afghanistan's -- that is, Afghanistan's pre-2002 "system," when no boy was left behind and every teacher was Taliban-credentialed -- and California's?

The answer, if you ask California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo student Steve Hinkle, whose attempted posting of a Cal Poly College Republican-sponsored flier in the school's Multicultural Center was deemed "disruptive" and "insensitive," is a resounding "not much."

Indeed, one of the five students who'd interrupted Hinkle's constitutionally-protected right to post the flier on the Center's public bulletin board alerted campus police, so offended was she by the flier's content.

That was in November. So imagine Hinkle's surprise when, in January, he was fingered as the "suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature."

Confused? So was Hinkle. I mean, the race card was just so elementary school, so yesterday, so Gray Davis (see the "English in the Classroom" initiative, roundly condemned by the childless; out-of-touch empty nesters; a bunch of upwardly mobile white men whose own kids attended private schools and, of course, pandering politicians of indeterminate orientation like Davis.)

Weren't colleges supposed to be hipper than that?

Apparently not.

On March 12, Cal Poly's vice provost, W. David Conn, convicted Hinkle of the crime of "offending several students," sentencing him to "write each offended student a letter of apology...subject to the approval of the Office of Judicial Affairs," else risk suspension and/or expulsion.


Duly appalled, Hinkle appealed to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which in turn appealed to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.


It wasn't the first such appeal, according to UC Berkeley's "Daily Californian" writer Regina Chen, whose August 15 editorial on the subject is -- not at all surprisingly --subtitled, "Potentially Offensive Speech Must be Allowed."

What is surprising is that a paper like "The Worker," er, "Daily Californian," would publish such a propaganda-free piece like Chen's, a piece that opens with this factual-yet-catatonia-inducing statement: "Responding to letters from across the nation about the state of free speech on college campuses, the Department of Education recently sent a strong reminder to universities that campus speech regulations should not infringe upon First Amendment rights."


Chen goes on to cite the Hinkle/Cal Poly "conflict," which, she rightly declares, began when Hinkle went to post a flier "publicizing a conservative speaker" (who just so happened to be a, gasp, UC Berkeley alumnus).

What Chen doesn't say is that the conservative speaker and Berkeley alumnus, Mason Weaver, is black; nor does she mention the fact that the offended students were all black, or that Weaver, a best-selling author, is one of the most sought-after speakers, black or white, in the nation.

Hmm, has anyone ever seen Michael Newdow -- the guy who wants "under God" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance? I'll bet he's got horns. Ditto the "educators" who took the words "Christmas" and "Easter" out of public school vacation calendars. Or else just really thin skins, unlike the skins of my junior and senior high school classmates: sixty percent of the former and fifty-five percent of the latter were Jewish, i.e., didn't "celebrate" Christmas or Easter. They didn't care what you called a two-week break, just as long as there was one.

But back to the Hinkle case.

Until as recently as three weeks ago, Cal Poly was denying any wrongdoing. Perhaps the Department of Education's letter hadn't yet arrived, or had been misrouted. But as of August 7, as Chen notes, "the school published a message entitled, 'Cal Poly, the First Amendment and Free Speech,' reminding students that the university remains an open forum for free speech."

Okay, so maybe everyone with half a brain, that is, everyone who'd understood, right from the start, that "The West Wing" wasn't a documentary, knows that college is where conservative thought goes to die, that an institution of higher learning is no place for a Republican.

But what about the people who don't know? The people who, bless their hearts, entered the California public school system the year the "New Math" was launched; were taught that "school prayer" was something only oppressive regimes imposed; who never learned how to use a locker, never having had one themselves; who graduated not only with scoliosis (from never having had a locker to keep their books in) but without ever having heard the "i before e except after c" rule?

Who's going to stand up for them?

Then again, who wants to?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Voter's Remorse

Boy, does my cup runneth over or what? TWO elections in just as many years!

Because, next to the Lifetime Movie Network (where even true stories are "based on true stories"); macadamia nuts; Beale Street; Benjamin Netanyahu; platform shoes (which, contrary to The Fashionistas' every-twenty-year refrain about their being "back in style," never went out of style); the color purple; Designated Smoking Areas; the Buffalo Springfield; Tony Blair; airtight alibis; unfounded allegations (but only my dad's unfounded allegations, which are always a delightful blend of the preposterous and the blasphemous); Navy whites; Paris (the casino, not the city, which is okay, too, but hardly doable over the weekend); and run-on sentences, I like elections best.

Granted, I used to like elections more than I liked run-on sentences, but that was before so many other people started voting. And the wrong way, at that.

Still, who'd have thought that, with six billion people on the planet - approximately five billion of whom live and, worse, drive in Southern California - I'd get a break like this? A chance to, as the wisecrackin' toughs of Hollywood's heyday would say, throw the bums out?

Make that one bum, one Joe "Gray" Davis. Hell, even if our Pal Joey gets to keep his ill-begotten governorship (as his party faithful hopes he will), this election won't have been for naught.

Indeed, it's going to be a lot harder for Joe to lie, or to lie on such a grand scale, at least. For who can forget the whoppers he was telling last year at this time? The lies he told to get reelected? Even the party faithful (and you know who you are) must remember that he shaved some thirty billion dollars off the budget deficit, calling it "manageable" right up until Inauguration Day. And it wasn't some vast right-wing conspiracy that made him say he'd veto any bill giving illegal immigrants drivers licenses. He came up with that lie all on his own. And now he's telling big Latino voting blocs that he's changed his mind: "Vote for me and I'll grant every illegal immigrant a drivers license! Maybe even a new car!"

Shameless, utterly shameless; even Davis' old boss, Jerry Brown, can't find anything nice to say about him.

Then again, Brown was never much concerned with making nice-nice, no sir. Call him Governor Moonbeam all you want, just don't call him a Yellow Dog Democrat.

And despite the fact hat my dad used to charge Brown's father, Pat - as well as Eleanor Roosevelt and LBJ - with the most outlandish things, always prefacing his dinner table slander with a straight-faced "Everyone knows..." or "It's common knowledge that...", I never came to believe that being Republican meant being right. (Heck, when George I said, "Read my lips," I did; they said, "No new taxes." And when, what do you know, those lips turned out to have been telling tall tales, I voted accordingly.)

Sure, there may be some folks calling for a recall for all the wrong reasons; I'm just not one of them. I'm just happy that we're not all so sun-addled that we've forgotten the true meaning of "democratic."

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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Crash Course

If ever there was a party I'll forever regret not crashing, it was the one held last weekend in Crawford, Texas.

Granted, it was a small affair, as crash-worthy affairs go, boasting 100 revelers at most. (If the Secret Service, assorted functionaries, faithful retainers and fondue-makers can be counted as "revelers." If they can't, the number's closer to 12.)

And, yes, there probably wasn't much to wash the aforementioned fondue down with, either. (At least, not "much" by this and every other part-time party-crasher's standards; how could there have been? The host himself has been dry for decades. One needn't be a Mensa member, or even a Densa member - known, varyingly, as a typical Palm Beach voter; any O.J. Simpson trial juror; Carol Mosely-Braun's campaign manager, etc. - to reckon that neither "Drain pool and fill with Mezcal" nor "Stock up on Stoli jigglers" was on the host's pre-party to-do list.)

And then there's the matter of the guest list, which was so lacking in luminaries that even the treasurer of the Norman Fell fan club would've been underwhelmed.

So why all this morning-after regret?

Because the two VIPs that WERE in attendance, George W. Bush, President of the United States, and Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister extraordinaire (extraordinairio?), are my kind of VIPs. With a bullet! With two bullets, right where their word-mincing contemporaries' mouths are!

The Duke and Il Duce, Cowboys-in-Chief. One likes to wear boots, the other lives in a country that's shaped like one. And both are quite often accused of putting their boots in their mouths. Boy, the two of them together in one room would be all the hoedown I'd need. Even the flies on the wall must've felt like extras in a live action spaghetti western. Oh, to have been one of those lowly flies!

See, I happen to like spaghetti westerns. Well, I like spaghetti. And I like western things, if not the dusty old west itself. And I really like Clint Eastwood, the former king of the spaghetti western. Heck, I like all of Clint's roles (save for that sniveley, Alan Alda-ish guy he played in "The Bridges of Madison County." Ew; go ahead, Clint, make me puke.)

Dirty Harry Callahan, now that's quintessential Clint. And while I realize Mr. Eastwood's only been "pretending" to be all these diplomacy-challenged tough-but-upright dudes, I can't help but point out how well he plays them. Not to mention how consistently.

Indeed, there's an element of the "hooker with a heart of gold" in our very own president - and a more than whopping element of it in the Italian Prime Minister -which I, for one, have always been attracted to.

It's why I like Harry Truman. John McCain. The person that pulls you aside and tells you you've got toilet paper on your shoe (Dubya, you'll recall, pulled the world aside to tell it that the Little Dictator of North Korea was a whack-o, and though he was right, the world just wasn't ready to hear it put quite so, what's the word? Oh yeah, HONESTLY.)

Berlusconi can't conduct an EU meeting without being interrupted by a guy who clearly resents the Prime Minister's immense personal fortune. Berlusconi could offer the guy a Lamborghini and it wouldn't shut him up, so he (wisely) doesn't bother. Life's too short, one can almost hear the Prime Minister sighing, to bother with fascists - oops, did I say fascist? I meant to say people who would make a good fascist in a movie about fascism. Or a good concentration camp guard in a movie about the Holocaust.

I suppose it's a good thing that this country's leader has an immense personal fortune of his own. If he ever decides to write his memoirs, he'll have to pony up some big bucks to somebody who knows how to write the kind of memoirs that sell.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Style Council

Well, I'll be.

Or rather, I am. Pleased, that is; pleased as punch, even. Two floors down from tickled pink and across the hall from happy as a clam, if you want to get technical about it.

But even if you don't want to get technical about it (and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't), you might want to know this: it's not a half-bad way to feel.

Okay, so maybe you already knew that. Maybe you're pleased as punch right this very minute, sitting there thinking, "Well, duh. Why doesn't she just get on high and tell us breathing's not half-bad, either?"

Or maybe you're the chronically, perhaps even congenitally, pleased sort -- and if it weren't for finding "The Collected Poems of Rod McKuen" in my attic one long ago spring cleaning, I'd never have believed such people existed -- in which case you, too, are thinking, "Well, duh..."

Fair enough. I'd probably be thinking much the same thing if the foot was in the other mouth, or if I was standing on your side of the fence, or, well, never mind. All this warm fuzzy business has clearly gone to my head.

And why wouldn't it? When you've been in a state of agitation for as long as I have (how long, exactly, I couldn't say for certain. I do know that Rolling Stone magazine was still about music and Miz Lillian was the First Mother when I started answering the phone the way the late Dorothy Parker used to answer hers -- "What fresh hell is this?" -- but answering machines were invented shortly thereafter, and life tickled me pink on many a subsequent occasion, and before I knew it, it was the 90s and I wasn't so much agitated as I was angry, tempered by frequent, if fleeting, bouts of joy, and after that, well, that brings us to the present. Let's just say a long time.) "pleased as punch" is the last place you'd expect to find yourself.

But thanks to our very own City Council, or two-fifths of it, at least, pleased as punch is where I am, and boy, is it a swell place to be. I dare say a girl could get used to this.

Of course, I probably shouldn't -- get used to it, that is -- because, let's be honest: I don't really belong here. I can't even vote, not on any Ojai-specific things, anyway.

Oh, sure, I've got the right zip code and belong to all the same property tax rolls as the folks who flood City Hall on Tuesday nights; I'm even part of the same "community" as they are, I just don't have the right address.

Consequently, I didn't get any say in what 200 of my fellow community members proposed last Tuesday night -- even though they proposed it in my name and, yes, even though I agree that the United States Attorney General does tend to take things a bit too far.

But that doesn't mean I would've signed their petition, a petition declaring, what, exactly? That I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? That I'm taking my marbles and going home? Nyah, nyah, nyah, we don't like you, Mr. Ashcroft?

Please. That's not my style. And it's not the style of another 10,000 or more people living downwind from City Hall, either. People whose children attend Ojai schools, whose dollars support Ojai business, who volunteer their services to Ojai organizations and support Ojai-based charities, people who, despite their very Ojai-ness, were all but invisible to their petition-circulating neighbors last Tuesday night.

Fortunately, it wasn't the style of two out of five City Council members, both of whom showed the petitioners the real meaning of "thinking globally, acting locally."

And I couldn't be more pleased about that.

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