Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Random Culture Shock

The romantic partner of La Professora is from a different culture: the Midwest. There are some culturally based things -- activities, behaviors, experiences -- in California that confuse and/or aggravate the poor Midwesterner. I try to explain; California is its own nation with a corresponding culture, and a great one at that.

Okay, so La Professora is a Californiana -- a California nationalist -- and proud of it, with good reason. The CIA World Factbook ranks the GDP per capita of all the world's countries; for 2009, the United States is listed as being 10th, which is a reflection of the impact of the economic downturn as the country, at its highest ranking, was 5th. Consider the Bureau of Economic Analysis chart of regional and state GDPs in light of the above ranking. California consistently accounts for 13 percent of the total US GDP. What that means is the Golden State provides enough economic activity to raise the US to that 10th ranked slot. Before anyone can scoff at a mere 13 percent, consider the fact that California is one state out of 50, which means that (a) if all states were economically equal, each would contribute 2 percent, and (b) 13 percent is the highest of all the states, with Texas (at 8.6%) and New York (at 8.1%) having the next highest.

If economics isn't your thing, consider the climate, the topographics, and the demographics. California has a "mediterranean" climate: mild year-round in most parts. There are mountains for skiing and beaches for sunning, but mostly there's more diurnal temperature change than annual change in the majority of the state. It is the people who make California what it is. We are a gregarious bunch, talking with strangers in the checkout lines at the grocery -- and there certainly are a number of strangers here: California is home to a large number of ethnic groups, each adding to the rich flavor of life. It is easy to understand that the state -- another word for a sovereign territory, a country -- given its physical and demographic characteristics, could be considered to have a culture that is unique and separate from that of the rest of the United States.

When I lived, briefly, in Colorado, I experienced culture shock. Just as some Americans do when they go to other countries, such as France, Thailand, or California, I found that my expectations of daily living were confounded by the native culture. Having lived at least two decades with earthquakes and wild fires, it seemed odd to deal with tornados and blizzards. The type of vehicles driven in such an area reflects the need to deal with the natural disasters that are prevalent there. My zippy little car from California had no hope of surviving many long, snowy winters. After two years, we -- my zippy car and I -- sped our way back to the land of warmth and earthquakes. I'd take moving earth over blowing snow any day. While there are an estimated million earthquakes each year, Californians do not worry about them; we know that any earthquake less than 3.5 on the ritcher scale isn't worth concerning ourselves. Snow and its cousin, Ice, on the other hand, kill regularly.

There are times when being culturally clueless can be advantageous. I managed to impress my then future in-laws by not "freaking out" when the worst ice storm in 20 years hit while I was visiting them in Ohio. It's easy not to freak out about something that one has no idea is a big deal. Being aware that ice storms and the resulting blackouts can lead to broken pipes and cold, flooded houses is a cultural thing; really, it is.

Driving, however, is a way of life in California, and Californians tend to be religious about their cars. The best known radio and print media personalities are the ones who report on traffic and car-related activities; Mr Roadshow, in San Jose, has a widely followed column. Knowing that I-405, in Los Angeles, should be avoided on any day, at any time, is ingrained into the Californian consciousness.

All of which brings this entry back to the poor Midwestern soul who moved to California just over a decade ago and who is still adapting to the Californian culture. The fires and earthquakes are dealt with by gritting the teeth and hoping for best, but the traffic just is a whole other ballgame. As we made our way down to Hollywood to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family, my romantic partner bemoaned the slowness of the car in front of ours. "Relax," I said, "it's not as though the Lamborghini in the slow lane is going any faster."

A true Californian moment. And one in which, in the midst of a double take, the Midwesterner experienced culture shock.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Crazy Randomness

End of the semester harks the end of the silence of Randomness.

From under the pile of term papers and final exams, out crawls La Professora to see a world that has gone on with its crazy randomness without her.

Case in point: some anti-abortion fundamentalist Christian shot a doctor at his church. For the most part, the leadership of the various anti-abortion groups have been condemning, albeit faintly, the shooting. Perhaps because of where it occurred. One, a preacher and director of Operation Save America, is reported to have said Dr George Tiller "has shed the blood of countless thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of little baby boys and girls and burned them up in his on-premises incinerator. Now this thing has come home to him."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of late term abortions. However, there is something fundamentally wrong about a group of people who believe that it is reprehensible for a doctor to abort a fetus, but it is morally commendable to kill that doctor for doing so. The mind boggles.

There is hope, however. In another part of the world, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, issued a fatwa 'banning' weapons of mass destruction. Seems that WMDs are likely to kill Muslims as indiscriminately as non-Muslims. Not that his ruling will influence the clerics and politicians of Iran.

Speaking of Iran and having things come home, it appears that the nation known for being a supporter of terrorist activities elsewhere in the Middle East is now reaping its own whirlwind of distruction. On May 28, a bomb exploded at a mosque near the eastern portion of that country, where it borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing 25. Of course, Iranian officials claimed that the bombers were American and Israeli, with ties to al-Qaeda. The following day, gunmen attacked the campaign headquarters of the incumbent presidential candidate. Today, a bomb was discovered in the toilet of a domestic airplane. The attacks are believed to be the work of the Jundullah (Allah's Soldiers), a Sunni separatist group. While the links al-Qaeda may be overdone -- yet not inconceivable, there has been disagreement between the likes of the Taliban and the ayatollahs of Iran over the nature of a true Islamic State -- it would appear that there might be some truth to the link with America. Rumors abound that under the Bush administration, there was a $400 million fund for covert operations assisting the religious and ethnic minorities in Iran in their push to destabilize that country. It is, after all, part of the Axis of Evil.

Maybe being under that pile of student work wasn't so bad after all.

Grades are posted. Let the whining begin.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Comparative Randomness

For the love of all that is random, stop with the presidential comparisons.

Ever since it was clear that Barack Obama would win the election this past November, the media has gone wild with the comparisons to previous holders of the office. No one seems to have noticed that the comparisons aren't all that great.

Yes, President Abraham Lincoln was a great American. He did what he could to hold the Union together. His face in on Mount Rushmore. He was even from the same mid-western state of Illinois.

But President Lincoln's term in office did not end well. He was shot by an unhappy Confederate supporter.

Not a good comparison to use, given the current hostile climate created by some members of the political right.

Then there's the comparison with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Yes, the country is currently in the middle of the Great Recession, and, just as was done in the 1930s, the blame can be put on the previous administration's inability or unwillingness to act to reverse the tide of a crashing economy.

Again, that president's term in office did not end well. That time it was of natural causes, but one could say that the stress of trying to solve the world's problems can age a person to the point that those causes aren't really all that natural.

The last comparison being made to the president-elect is that of President John F. Kennedy.

Yes, they both went to Harvard; yes, they were both relatively young when elected; and yes, both had the "enough" problem -- Kennedy was thought to be "not Catholic enough" -- among a whole slew of other comparisons.

And yet, JFK's presidency did not end well. His term in office ended on a cold day in Dallas.

No one seems to have noticed the awful thread that floats through all these comparisons: Presidents whose terms did not end with the election of someone else.

So, please world, stop making these comparisons, before someone takes them the wrong way.

Image Credit:
Obama as Lincoln: http://bagnewsnotes.typepad.com/bagnews/2007/06/your_turn_betwe.html
FDR and Obama: http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Leftist_Obama_Critics_Should_Study_FDR_6426.html
Kennedy and Obama: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jul/25/obamathenextjfk