Monday, April 28, 2008

Why the fuss over a gay Dumbledore?

Why all the fuss over a gay Dumbledore? Many who cheer the popular wizarding school's headmaster's outing express contempt for those that jeer it. The irony that escapes the isn't-it-great-that-Dumbledore-is-gay crowd is that by celebrating the Harry Potter author's comments as brave and audacious they betray the fact they haven't accepted homosexuality as normal. The real benchmark of homosexuality's acceptance into common culture is when remarks such as Rowling's would be otherwise unremarkable.

Another benchmark would be when The Detroit News stops publishing Deb Price or Deb Price stops writing specifically on gay issues. Having a column dedicated to gay topics trivializes homosexual issues to the daily horoscope or crossword puzzle. The nation's, Michigan's, and Detroit's issues are gay issues. Insisting gay issues are separate from America's risks keeping gays separate. If acceptance is the goal of advocacy then advocates might consider fewer isolating tactics.

Common culture doesn't celebrate or overreact to the ordinary. It's hardly noteworthy anymore that Hollywood actors and actresses seem to change lovers and spouses with each new film, hairstyle, or self-congratulatory awards banquet. What is noteworthy anymore is when we discover a pair of celebrities that have been married for 20 years or more. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward will be married 50 years this year and recently deceased Charlton Heston was married to his wife, Lydia Clark Heston, for 68 years.

Was anyone surprised Harry Potter married Ginnie Weasley or that Britney Spears did whatever outrageous thing she did last week?

Black History Month is another celebration that in 2008--143 years after General Lee's surrender, 53 years after Rosa Parks' bus ride, and 44 years since the Civil Rights Act--should be thought an anachronism. To draw attention to the accomplishments of black Americans as peculiarly distinguished from the accomplishments of all Americans suggests our nation still regards black accomplishment--academic or otherwise--as a novelty. The month-long blacks-are-people-too infomercials, documentaries and school programs are only necessary in a culture that either expects little of blacks, is compensating for its low expectations, or believes annual booster shots of encouragement inoculate black self esteem.

Think of it a four-week long anniversary of when a child first colored inside the lines. After a few years it's embarrassing to both the child and everyone invited to
Chuck-e-Cheese's. The child is fine. It's the parents that need therapy.

As Shelby Steele suggested, it may be paternalism that keeps the training wheels on for minorities and not lack of opportunity or achievement.

It's not always a bad thing to celebrate
what people ought to do, but repeated celebration risks drawing more attention to ourselves than the people or events we're celebrating. Our celebrations become less about them than being counted among the revelers. Are we truly glad Dumbledore is gay or do we only want to be seen being glad he's gay? Are our criticisms of those protesting the announcement for our benefit or Dumbledore's and Rowling's? Surely neither of them requires our coming to their defense--the former is a fictional character whose romantic attachments played no part in the plot created by the latter.

The ordinary doesn't attract attention to itself--that's what makes it ordinary. Unless we've come to a place where doing the right thing is unexpected we should stop acting surprised when it happens, and stop celebrating ourselves at the expense of others.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why politicians lie to us: II

Last May I wrote an article called Why politicians lie to us suggesting they lie because we want them to. With all the clamor for government bailouts for mortgages, what politician would dare telling voters their problems were brought on themselves (both lenders and borrowers) or that the best thing for some troubled homeowners is to lose their homes?

In April 22's Detroit News, the Associated Press reported housing prices may slump more than during the Great Depression. The doom and gloom reported there will likely lead many to believe we're bound for a depression of historic proportions.
"An influential economist who long predicted the housing market bubble cautioned Tuesday that the slump in the U.S. housing market could cause prices to fall more than they did in the Great Depression, and bailouts will be needed so millions don't lose their homes."

I really hope that didn't surprise anyone.

How many more homes do you think have been built since the 1930s? How much greater a percentage of the population owns homes today than in the 1930s? How much more urban sprawl exists now than in the 1930s?

What we should be wary of is the last part of the sentence above, "... and bailouts will be needed so millions don't lose their homes."

I'm reminded of a column written by John Stossel about how some homeowners deliberately build homes too-close to the ocean because they know the government will pay to rebuild it. Because the homeowner doesn't bare the cost of the risk, and neither does the insurance company, they cavalierly build homes they couldn't afford without depending on federal bailouts. We feel bad they lose their homes, but if they were forced to bare the cost of their risk they may chose to live elsewhere--or at least with less of your tax dollars.

Maybe there were millions who weren't ready to afford their homes. Maybe there were millions who speculated with their lenders that home prices would continue skyrocketing. Do you remember the savings & loan scandal or when the dot-com bubble burst? They were only 18 and 8 years ago respectively.

Who says we don't learn from our mistakes? The government paid for the first, didn't pay for the second, and politicians and the media have all agreed having the federal government pay for our losses scores more points with voters than not--regardless the cost to the treasury.

Maybe there's an opportunity for Detroit and its inner-ring neighborhoods to help these people find more affordable accommodations. Maybe the mortgage crisis, combined with high gas prices, creates a unique opportunity to re-populate cities by creating demand for apartments, townhouses, and other more affordable homes.

So if politicians aren't blatantly lying to us, at least they spend more time telling us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. I believe it's possible to change that, and am always on the look-out for that politician.