daily post challenge #271: nominee for the peace prize?

I would award the peace prize to whomever it is who could effect a truce between the political warring factions in our country. I’m sure many Americans agree it’s as though we’re caught up in another Civil War. Let’s hope it doesn’t erupt into violence and bloodshed. No matter the appearance of a civilized society, beneath the facade we are still given to primal instincts…the survival of me and mine.

Engraving of Daniel Boone, with autograph at b...

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Joe Queenan recently wrote in his Wall Street Journal article “Who’s Our Daniel Boone or Joan of Arc?”

IN TIMES OF CRISIS, great nations have always turned to folk heroes, be it Samson, Robin Hood, Joan of Arc or William Tell.
     Well, America is certainly in a time of crisis, and a bona fide folk hero would be handy just now. At a moment when the president is perceived to be unfocused and ineffectual, both houses of Congress are universally despised, our business leaders are mistrusted and loathed, and our cultural icons are invisible or clownish, we could really use a Davy Crockett, an Annie Oakley, a Johnny Appleseed, a John Henry
.

I would add that factions in our midst, among them…tea partiers, states instituting laws against illegal immigrants, politicians inflaming religious zealots, financial institutions filling their coffers, and even those protesting against the top wealthy 1%…are unwittingly pulling our society apart at the seams. So while Queenan would like someone…anyone…to lead us back from the brink…

If the closest we can get to a real live folk hero today is a Betty White or a George Foreman, that’s good enough for me. Frankly, things being the way they are today, I’d settle for the guy in the Ford commercial. I’d settle for Cher. I’d settle for Charlie Sheen. I’d settle for somebody masquerading as Betty Crocker. Any port in a storm. And believe me, this is a storm.

Nelson Mandela.

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…i’d prefer…a mandela…a buddha…a moses…a solomon…a jesus…a peacemaker…not a folk hero…

………hugmamma.  

justin bieber…huckabee rival?

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

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Adults are apt to dismiss the young members of society as not having anything of substance to contribute. But I think that’s definitely changing. No longer can we admonish them with “children should be seen and not heard,” as was the golden rule in my younger years. Not that those approaching middle-age were ready to relinquish power without a fight. It’s more that upstarts like Bill Gates and Paul Allen at the tender ages of 13 and 15, respectively, began turning our world on its ear when they sought to create what became a global power, Microsoft. Others followed in time, Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg. These of course are the more prominent among the brainiacs of their generations. I think it’s safe to say these young men who were probably considered “still wet behind the ears” by their elders, grabbed the world’s attention, never letting go.

I personally have witnessed the power of those younger than me. My 25-year-old daughter continually teaches me about life, its radical highs and lows, as well as its moments of calm and serenity. The tables have turned, where I taught her, she now teaches me. Although sometimes I wonder if she hasn’t been giving me lessons all along, ever since she was a babe in my womb.

As I’ve made my way through this, at times overwhelming, internet adventure, 20-year-olds have reached out to help me. Blogger Scriptor Obscura was the first to regularly “like” my posts and leave comments. More recently, author B.C. Young agreed to be interviewed about self-publishing, sharing insight into an area that’s still evolving. In turn he invited me to share a fictional piece of my own on his blog, introducing me to his readers. More than anything this young man gave this senior writer a “hand up.”

Thanks for giving me my first break, Ben. It’s heartwarming to know that there are published writers, like yourself, who will give a hand up to those of us still struggling to have our words read in printed form.

“mahalo”…thank you…millie aka hugmamma.

Yesterday when I volunteered at the office of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association, Trevor Barnes, the assistant director, shared encouraging words of support when I expressed doubt that I even belonged among such an elite company of published writers, as per the bios I viewed on PNWA’s website. Trevor assured me that there were thousands of members like me, just looking to write something that would someday be published and read. I left the office with hope. And I got that from someone in his 20s.

One Less Lonely Girl

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So when I saw the following I felt inclined to share it. Why? Because quite simply I was shocked to learn that the young pop idol, Justin Bieber, had something going on under his blonde, mop of hair, than just hip-hop lyrics. I think you’ll be as astonished as I was.

“Go Ahead, America, Leave It to Bieber”
by Joe Queenan (Wall Street Journal, 2/26/11)

Justin Bieber got slammed good last week when he opened his yap about abortion in Rolling Stone. Some people objected to his views, others scorched him for the way he phrased them, still others questioned the very notion of a 16-year-old boy offering his opinion on any serious moral, political or legal question.

Susan Sarandon at the premiere of Speed Racer ...

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The apoplectic response to Mr. Bieber’s comments is not fair. As of Tuesday, when he will be exactly one year short of the age when he can legally vote, drink or kill Taliban, the diminutive Canadian has every right to express himself on any issue he feels passionately about. The idea that youth somehow disqualifies him from speaking out on issues is the very thing young people–now grumpy old Bieber-Bashing Baby Boomers–fought against in the 1960s. After all, Justin Bieber is at least as smart as Susan Sarandon.

But the worst thing about all the Rolling Stone kerfuffle is that it has drawn attention away from other opinions Mr. Bieber has offered on major issues of the day. And in his clear, articulate, reasoned analysis of these issues, Mr. Bieber has shown himself to be that rarest of creatures: the precocious youth whose opinions must be heeded.

It’s Mr. Bieber, for example, who was the first person to warn that spiraling commodity prices would lead to unrest in Bahrain and Yemen. Interviewed by the BBC in January, he said: “Once you see that disconnect between pork belly futures and 30-day wheat, look out! When food prices spike–and this goes all the way back to the days when Mark Antony had to import grain from Egypt–there is no way to put a cap on civil unrest back home. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, maybe even Iran. It’s the domino effect.”

Mr. Bieber’s comments did not go down well in the futures markets, where copper and tin immediately tanked. Who died and left this punk in charge? Why should anyone care what a celebrity of any age, gender or height cares about anything important? Don’t you have to be at least as old and gray as George Clooney before anyone starts taking you seriously?

Gaga on The Monster Ball Tour in Toronto

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Generally speaking, this anticelebrity bias is justifiable. Sean Penn is an idiot, Madonna a dope, Christina Aguilera a nitwit. Lady Gaga never says anything that isn’t stupid, obvious or self-serving, and Martin Sheen should have spent less time protesting in the streets and more time in the home parenting. As for Bono, who definitely seems like a sincere, well-meaning sort, exactly how much wisdom can one impute to a man who wrote the music for the Spider-Man musical?

But in Mr. Bieber’s case, the animosity and condescension are not jusfified. Mr. Bieber, after all, was the first person–not the first celebrity, but the first personto warn that Ireland’s economy would implode because of a bloated real-estate market. More recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he was way ahead of the curve when he suggested that cash-strapped states like Illinois and California should simply threaten to default on their debt if it was the only way to get unions to come to the negotiating table.

“Trash the muni market and you’ll see unions fold like a cheap accordion,” he says, “Just look at the yield curve.”

Not everything Mr. Bieber says is astute or prescient. He was wrong when he told a Japanese TV reporter that 3-D TV would take off last Christmas, and he seriously underestimated the ability of Apple’s competitors to respond to the appeal of the iPad. His forecast of a 4.5% GDP growth rate for the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter was way off base. What’s more, he has a lamentable tendency to express his views on topics where he has no expertise whatsoever; whether the Knicks gave up too much to sign Carmelo Anthony, whether learning a second language can help stave off Alzheimer’s, why the next pope should come from Bolivia. But for every target he misses, he hits at least one bull’s eye. And when he speaks out on issues that pertain to the world of music, he is wise beyond his years.

Mike Huckabee's band at the Lincoln Day Dinner...

Image by IowaPolitics.com via Flickr

“If Huckabee doesn’t stop trotting out that stupid bass guitar,” Mr. Bieber told Rolling Stone, “he has no chance in hell of winning the Republican nomination. The American people are not going to elect a president who plays the same instrument as Sting and Flea. Not now. Not ever.”

i have to chuckle…but i also have to…wonder…if out of the mouths of babes?…hugmamma. 

(note: who the heck is “sting and flea?”)

welcome news…from across the “pond”

The Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph), at the ...

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Sometime in the 80’s my husband and I toured Paris. It amazes me to think back to how I called long distance, 2 or 3 times, and spoke with the hotel clerk, reserving a room for a couple of nights. There was no Expedia or Travelocity to compare rates and accomodation details, or even Trip Advisor to guide me through the myriad of pros and cons about an establishment. Chock it up to youth. I didn’t know better, so I plunged ahead, uncaring if the woman at the other end of the phone was rolling her eyes at my obvious lack of sophistication or inability to speak French.

Thank goodness the next time we venture back to the City of Light, the internet will pave the way. This time there’ll be 3 adults whose needs will have to be met, including one 25-year-old who’ll want to do as Cyndi Lauper wails in her song,”Girls just want to have fu-un!”

I’ll have to enlist my French blogging buddy, My English Thoughts, for some help there. Maybe she’ll drag my daughter along to some of Paris’ hot spots, after her elderly parents totter off to bed long before midnight.

I’m hoping when our family does make it back to France’s capital of haute couture and irrepressible charm, the Parisians will be as amenable to us as they were to the author of the following article. I’ve come to love Joe Queenan‘s irreverent sense of humor, which always seems to be “on point.” He publicly admits to things about which most of us probably “bite our tongues.” I guess he’s allowed to get away with it since he writes a column for the formidable Wall Street Journal.

Needless to say when I was in Paris decades ago, the French were as reserved as I’d heard they would be. They weren’t rude, but they weren’t falling all over themselves to be nice either. Being raised to be invisible, an Asian thing, my husband and I had no trouble blending into the background wherever we went . So we were most accommodating of the Parisians then-disdain for American tourists. Hopefully this time my old-age crankiness won’t get me, and the locals, into a battle of the wills, the ill-wills, that is. They’ll have no issues with my always-calm spouse and sweet-tempered off-spring. I’m both, unless I see an injustice about to happen. Then…get out of my way! This 5’2 senior will make you rue the day God gave you 2 ears to hear what spews forth like venom from a cobra!

Okay, well…now according to Queenan, I’ll have no need for any of that. I’ll just have a wonderful, heady touristy time in “gay Paree!”

French Twist: Meet Monsieur Nice Guy

 If you’re a seasoned inhospitality buff like me, the very worst has happened: The French have stopped being mean and surly.

I started to notice this two years ago when I spent two weeks in Paris, and an equally unexpected aura of congeniality was certainly evident when I visited southern France last fall. But now the restraining walls of condescension and nastiness have utterly collapsed and a wave of warmth and courtesy have flooded in. Sacre bleu.

Plaque rue mouffetard

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During my four-day stay in Paris last month, waiters,Paris Cafe, Paris, France concierges, museum guards and even cabdrivers all treated me with jaw-dropping affability. The ticket-taker at the Pantheon did not scream at me when I asked where Emile Zola was buried. The woman in the chocolate shop did not sneer when I asked for directions to the Rue Mouffetard (it was directly around the corner.)

The garcon in the posh restaurant did not treat me like the prototypical Ugly American when I asked what a “cocotte” was. The clerk at my two-star hotel asked if I would like to use her computer to print out my boarding pass, and went out of her way to get the broken elevator fixed so that I wouldn’t have to climb three flights of stairs on my gimpy legs.

The Eiffel tower at sunrise, taken from the Pl...

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Wherever I went–the Louvre and Orangerie, the Comedie Francaise, Honore de Balzac’s house, even the Eiffel Tower–everyone went our of their way to be charming and helpful. For a minute there I thought I was at Epcot.

What happened? What triggered this explosion of courtesy and warmth? Well, for starters, the recession, which would motivate even the most chauvinistic French to tone it down a notch when dealing with tourists. But France has had recessions before, and that never took the edge off those legendary brusque, haughty people.

No, my suspicion is that much of the coarseness and incivility toward foreigners–and particularly toward Americans–stemmed from embarrassment about having collaborated with the Nazis. Anti-americanism was practically an official state policy under Charles de Gaulle, but now the war is no longer an issue. Most of the World War II generation has died out and been replaced by young people who do not have a chip on their shoulder.

Street market in nearby Rue Mouffetard

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Friendly young people. Helpful young people. I know this will come as a shock to those who have not visited France for a while, but the French are now friendlier than the Italians, than the Irish, than the girls who greet you at Hooters. This unanticipated onslaught of goodwill totally floored me.

As a globe-trotting malingerer, I have always enjoyed returning from a jaunt abroad with fresh support for popular American stereotypes about foreigners. Yes, Belgium really is boring. Yes, the Swedes really are laconic. Yes, the Scots really do like a dram or two.

But now these stereotypes are collapsing like wisps of straw. Though most Americans still associate England with bad food–fish and chips, bangers and mash–the truth is that dining out in London is now an absolute joy, with top-flight restaurants everywhere. You can get a good meal even in the provinces, which was certainly not the case before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair dragged the U.K. into the modern world. So there goes another beloved, hoary stereotype.

As a world-class spoilsport and curmudgeon, I now have less and less anecdotal material to fall back on when I want to blast another society. Luckily, when last I checked, the Germans were still arrogant, the Italians were still incompetent, and the Canadians were still reliably unexciting.

Still, if I go to Berlin this fall and find out that the Germans are no longer bossy and overbearing, I’m going to throw in the towel and turn into an American who doesn’t overeat, overspend or take the first five minutes of every conversation trying to figure out how much everybody else in the room paid for their house. I’m warning you frogs, you Teutons, you Russkies: Two can play this game. Columnist's name

the guy makes me laugh…even though much of what he says is not meant to be funny…hugmamma.

“a sweetie,” but

I totally agree with the author of the following article, Taylor Swift is a sweetheart, but I think her time has passed. And she really can’t sing, especially in person, without the help of technology, without backup. I applaud all the accolades she has garnered at such a young age. She was surely in the right place, at the right time, when all the stars in heaven were perfectly aligned. Again, good for her, her song-writing ability, her fashion style, her self-confidence, her down-home personality. But fantastic songstress, she is not. I like her, but…

In Awe of Taylor Swift–But Enough! by Joe Queenan

Like everybody else in America, I am in awe of Taylor Swift. Complete and utter awe. Even when she sings off-key with Stevie Nicks. She writes catchy tunes, makes clever, self-deprecating videos, and has an elegance rarely found among country & western artists. I really admire the way she handled that nasty incident with Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Music Video awards, and I love the way she uses her songs to turn her ever-growing pile of ex-boyfriends into chum.

And even if some of her songs seem a tad derivative–“You Belong With Me” sounds like Liz Phair channeling Suzanne Vega reworking the Bangles songbook–what’s the big deal? All New Country sounds like that Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The only thing I don’t like about Taylor Swift is that she has now become remorselessly ubiquitous. In the past few months, Ms. Swift has achieved the sort of global media saturation that was once associated with Madonna and, more recently, Lady Gaga. If you turn on the television, Taylor Swift is there, receiving yet another award. If you turn on the radio, she is there, crooning about yet another fallen swain. If you open a tabloid, she is there, the gorgeous ingenue, posing disingenuously for the paparazzi. If you pass a newsstand, she is beaming out at you from the cover of People, US Weekly, OK, Seventeen. As Entertainment Weekly, whose cover she currently graces, puts it: “Congratulations, Taylor Swift on achieving total world domination…in just 12 short months.”

When a star achieves this kind of overnight intergalactic suzerainty, the rest of us end up knowing things about them that we do not really need to know. This occurs through the process of supernoval osmosis, whereby people who haven’t the slightest interest in a famous person, and who only watch PBS and the Sundance Channel, nevertheless know that Danny Bonaduce just got married for the third time. I myself only watch sports and TV shows where people get shot or stabbed, and I only listen to radio stations that play Bela Bartok or Miles Davis, yet by paging through magazines in checkout lines and reading tabloids strewn around the diner and just generally being a sentient human being on this planet in the year 2010, I have come into possession of all sorts of minutiae regarding Taylor Swift’s daily life.

I know that she has moved out of her parents’ Nashville home. I know that her fling with Taylor Lautner ended amicably. I know that she plays Taylor guitars. I know that not everyone is crazy about her new hair style. I know that she sometimes changes outfits four times a day.

I know that the breakup call she received from one of the Jonas Brothers only lasted 27 seconds, even though I can never remember which of the Jonas Brothers made it, or why she timed it. And while I have no idea where most of my friends spent Thanksgiving, I know that Ms. Swift flew to Brooklyn to be with her new boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal. And I have it on the highest authority that while visiting Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope, Ms. Swift giggled while sipping a maple latte. Jake’s maple latte.

I do not begrudge Ms. Swift her wealth, her fame, her utter hegemony over every medium known to man, her maple latte. I simply wish that she would occasionally give the rest of us a day off.

Apparently that is not going to happen. Last week I locked myself away to see if I could get through a single day without having Taylor Swift infiltrate my consciousness. I didn’t read the papers, or watch TV, or turn on the radio, or log onto the Internet. By nine o’clock I seemed to have this thing pretty well under control. Then I called a close friend and asked if his daughter-in-law had delivered her baby, and he replied: “Yes. They named her Ashlee Taylor. They picked ‘Taylor’ because…”

Don’t tell me. I know.

Wall Street Journal, Saturday-Sunday,December 11-12, 2010

I actually feel similarly about the Kardashian sisters. They’re beautiful, but…

in small doses, maybe…hugmamma.