Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The truth you didnt like

As children we are taught about the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree. Young George had taken an ax to it and when confronted with the evidence of his actions told his father, "I cannot tell a lie" and professed his guilt.

Yet he and other Founding Fathers thought it prudent to add amendments to the Constitution to give folks the privilege against self incrimination. Faced with daunting evidence of culpability you have a right to keep your mouth shut. George didn't see the need to do this but chose to preserve the option for others. Truth was for others to judge and not for the accused to confess. Telling the truth might make you feel better but certainly is unlikely to set you free.

Is it any wonder then as a society we shun the truth? We expect to be lied to. Children are taught that "little white lies" spare people's feelings; politicians twist and contort the definition of simple words like "is" to escape confessing the obvious and leaders never want to be put in the position of having to disclose the truth if the news is stark.

Which made Governor Paterson's recent confession that the state is broke all the more unexpected. It was like he told the fat lady to stop singing and to go on a diet. We all instinctively knew the state was in poor fiscal shape but nobody wanted to acknowledge it. Like the pink elephant in the room (ok so I'm pushing it with the large analogies) everyone knows he's there but nobody wanted to stare and be rude.

The truth is rude. Its unvarnished and harsh and yes sometimes unpalatable. We have become so sensitive to the idea of sparing feelings that we have spared ourselves the blemishes of honesty. The ugly truth is that our state is on the tip of financial ruin bc we have spent our special interest selves into this current morass. Like the fat lady who's being told to diet, the news is unwelcome and shocking.

Its up to us now to decide what to do with the unflattering truth of our fiscal straits. We can acknowledge the truth and deal with it. Or like the elephant we can pretend the deficit doesn't really exist. Would George have owned up to the current crisis? Or would he have hidden the ax?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Flexible Standards

In life there are always standards to meet, to exceed or to fail at. Employers expect employees to meet minimun work standards. Athletes must exceed general standards in order to achieve excellence. Parents often unflinchingly reject their offspring's paramours as lacking acceptance standards. So how then can we expect all children to meet educational standards under No Child Left Behind when in life, everyone might fail a standard in one way shape or form at some point? Are we really bringing all our kids up to an immutable standard? Or are the standards vulnerable to manipulation?

Case in point- my child attends a middle school that by all visible measures falls short of the standard of excellence set by their elementary school. The current principal is standoffish and lacks warmth, does not engage parents and loathes to divulge simple information like dismissal times for half day sessions. Likewise the teaching staff, while competent, lacks enthusiasm and innovative ideas. The results are apparent by the way the stusents address the teachers, each other and in how they refer to the school and its pedagogy.

Yet if you examine the school's ranking by objective measures of standards, it scores an A. The elementary school, in contrast, earn a B. How, then could two schools receive scores that simply do not truly reflect what they accomplish?

The answer lies in part with flexible standards. Middle schools operate under vastly different criteria than elementary schools. One is concerned with instilling rudimentary skills while the other startsintroducing analytical ones. Concepts are much harder to teach because in part due to their theoretical nature. One can always argue, generally without success, that two plus two will always equal four. Hence a school which may deliver less in spirit and substance, can score so much better than its more vibrant counterpart.

Standards are the bane and the air of human existence. We strive to create them for coherence but render then innnocuous by the way we bend them. Be careful the next time you look at a standard. It may not meaure what you thought it did.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Through These Eyes

For the first time in a long time I decided to change my look and see the world through unembellished eyes. I cracked open my crusty contact lens case, rinsed off the slumbering saucers of gill like vision enhancers and popped them into my eyes. Oh wow what a trip. I say this because I was confronted not only by an instant inability to focus my weary myopic eyes ravaged by age and astigmatism but the sight of my own face. You see prior to this moment of fright I had viewed my countenance through some real cool frames. It seems that nowadays more people chose to wear glasses as an expression of personal style. Hardly a day goes by without me noticing that regular folk and celebrity alike are defining themselves through signature eyewear. Remember Drew Carey? His frames made his career and just as quickly he was threatened with its loss when he tossed the look for Lasik. What would Christian Soriano of Project Runway fame be without his spectacles to complete his style? Lisa Loeb? Sarah Palin?

Why is it that wearing glasses has become more widely acceptable in a society that craves perfection? We have surgery to improve our vision, products to whiten our teeth, bleach our skin and straighten our hair. Yet somehow the banner of imperfect sitting contently across the bridge of our nose is perfectly fine.

I took another good look at myself. There was nothing wrong with my face sans glasses. But there was this feeling that my face was somehow incomplete without its familiar friend who had provided vision and fashion for so long. Without my glasses I felt naked. Slowly I removed the contacts. Perhaps for another occassion. Right now it's best to stick with the familiar. Mascara isn't the only way to light up a face.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Obama and the Specter of Race

It was the race of what could have been.

Pundits and pollsters alike are lamenting all morning on the 5 point margin separating Bill Thompson from Bloomberg's victory. They all wondered what could have happened if the Democrats had embraced him instead of abandoning him.

To this I say that the pernicious and rather ugly specter of racism is alive, well and thriving in politics. Thompson came close because he truly believed despite daunting odds he could have pulled off a Cinderella victory as the guy most New Yorkers would identify with. But he could not have done this without the validation of the most highly visible member of his own race.

When Obama threw his tepid, afterthought support for "that Democrat" running for Mayor in NYC he sealed Thompson's fate. This was after Obama's highly visible rebuke of Paterson. Contrast this with Obama's repeated, high powered support for Corzine. What did Corzine have that Thompson and Paterson did not? All three men were trailing in polls. All three are Democrats. What made Corzine distinct was the 25 million he poured into his own campaign. And the fact that he wasn't African American.

Similarly, look at the results of our local City Council race in the 20 CD. Democrat Yen Chou was running against Republican Peter Koo, a self-made businessman with deep pockets. She rattled off a list of endorsements from the Democrats except the one that could have made a difference in her district, the former Council member and city comptroller elect, John Liu. Like Obama, he had long abandoned his fellow Chinese political hopefuls. He endorsed his chief of staff in the 20 CD and incubent Alan Gerson in the Chinatown race against a very credible Chinese candidate, who ultimately won. In Liu's victory speech he spoke about the glorious colors of the rainbow that reflect the members of ethnicities who supported him. Yet he neglected to mention his own lack of support for those of the same ethnicity who wanted to follow in his footsteps. What made Liu's failure to endorse Yen is all the more telling, as both come out of the Queens Democratic organization.

Obama is the first African American president. Liu is the first Asian American city comptroller. Both have accomplished the incredible. But their lack of support to their brethren who aspire to public office like themselves speaks volumes about the persistence of racism in politics. Had the political establishment shunned both men for the color of their skin they would be where they are today. Both have preached inclusivity. Yet both have gone out of their way not to support credible candidates of the same race and ethnicity. Obama has gotten involved in gubenatorial races, Congressional races and local races. Liu has stumped for candidates as far reaching as those in other states. For either of them to have sat on their hands in races where they could have made a huge difference is regretable and somewhat repugnant. For this they both should be highly ashamed.

With mid term elections approaching it will be interesting to see whether it was wise for Obama and Liu to have assured Republican victories in the 20 CD and the mayoral. Race apparently doesn't matter to those who have already transcended it- as if we should deny that race matters. In a post racial world that is the most frightening acknowledgement of racism I can imagine.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Reverse Political Psychology

So I've been reading today about how Bloomberg has hinged his campaign spending on the fact that he needs to burn 35K a minute to get his message out. I've also read that his lawyers have explained that a "level playing field" is no rationale to curb spending because the Mayor has a First Amendment right to put his money where his mouth is by spreading the word about his run. I'm also reminded that the reason this third term was necessary because we need him to keep the city from falling into ruin.

Most of these argument remind me of the plight of the orphan who kills his parents but cries he is alone. If we agree and give the Mayor credit for what he's accomplished in the last 8 years, the city indeed has not fallen into ruin but the diverse middle class has. We have pulverized and berated and pounded the already sheepish City Council into acquiecence on cuts to libraries and senior centers yet think nothing of no bid contracts to the growing hoard of consultants. We chastized older workers as "uninspired" and "dead wood" yet applaud the acumen of younger workers who have never held real jobs before being annointed consultants. We buy the fact that the city is in considerably better shape despite the record double digit unemployment rate and migration of the middle class out of Gotham. We applaud developers for erecting gleaming skyscrapers yet do little to retain affordable housing stock. We call Obama "poor" despite his six figure salary and retrain unfortunate stockbrokers who are out of jobs.

Fundamentally I wonder how well did the city really fare in the last 8 years. Did cranes fall out of the sky under Rudy's watch? Did firefighters perish because nobody bothered to file evacuation plans for a building destined for demolition? Would Koch or Dinkins have opposed Superfund money for the Gowanus Canal because such a classification would scare off developers? Are we ignoring the realities of today's city in a similar way? If we refuse to acknowledge that everything isn't so grand about our quality of life today are we being honest? Or is it better to insist that it is since anything less means we have compromised our own system of values? Is it better to pretend that today's city is more inclusive? Or do we just tell ourselves that it is?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What if Forever Had Finality?

Like a typical New Yorker, I have serious hangups when it comes to relationships. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the idea of forever. When you go to a wedding, there's always that pesky phrase, "forever hold your peace" that's thrown about. Or "as long as you both shall live." Talk about pressure. A lifetime is practically forever. Since I don't personally know of anyone who has died and returned to inform the rest of us if there is an afterlife, I'm going to stay with the premise that a lifetime is as much forever as most of us will ever know.

There are forevers you just can't change. Your biological parents. The genetics that gave you curly hair or green eyes or that big ole booty no amount of cardio can extinguish. There are other forevers that just mean "for the period it lasted." Relationships are a huge temporary fix that may seem like forever, or feel like forever. Ultimately, though, all of us end up in that conflicted grey area where we don't know what we have, don't know what we want, and are afraid to admit we don't know ourselves or others very well.

I am perhaps a great example of the typical conflicted person who wonders whether I can recognize healthy relations. It's an eternal hell to love or be in love with someone you don't know anymore. Because the alternative- that you never knew them in the first place- is more frightening. Maybe forever is a flawed concept and we should stop aiming for that ideal. Cars break down, people die and governments will change or crumble. Why do we expect relationships to withstand the test of time when even our own bodies eventually will fail us? And too our minds? Why should emotion save the day? I question myself often if I knew the person well or as well as I could know any person I'm apt to judge with rose colored glasses. I mean, don't we all judge people we chose to get involved with under different standards? Imperfections we'd never tolerate in regular folks we overlook or ignore in our paramours? Until we can't anymore because our inate sense of judgment finally creeps to the forefront and says, "ARE YOU THAT BLIND OR STUPID? YOU TRIED, IT WON'T CHANGE SO UNLESS YOU'RE HAPPY FEELING THAT THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF VALIDATION IN YOUR LIFE WHO ISN'T A RELATIVE CAN'T FULFILL YOU, IT'S TIME TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!"

Okay that was loud. Hence people break up, divorce, go in separate directions. Some people jsut have shorter tolerance periods. Others are content to be discontended. Maybe you chase that which doesn't exist. Or you convince yourself there's always more to be fufilled. Perhaps you don't know if the terror of self validation is worse than lackluster or haphazard validation from a relationship. Or you multitask relationships like work until you realize that it's become work to maintain your personal life. Work you can walk away, get away, create space, breathe. Can you do so when your personal validator becomes a job?