Friday, October 2, 2015

Boots on the (Hot) Ground

I attend three different sultry evenings Aloud sessions with writers at the L.A. Public Library. Certain fashion choices have led me to question the judgement of a trio of heartily admired female scribes. The guilty parties are Lionel Shriver, Mary Karr and Larrissa MacFarquhar (the latter of whom I hope that I never feel inspired to write about again because her last name is a bitch to spell). Perhaps it is due to the impossible name that Larrissa has no Wikipedia page. Her New Yorker contributor profile is spartan but I would wager money that she has never resided in Southern California. Shriver is East Coast bred and now lives in England. Karr teaches in Syracuse.  (Her Wikipedia entry notes that she'd dated David Foster Wallace and that he once tried to push her out a moving car.) Still, being barometrically challenged is no excuse. Wouldn't any intelligent person check the projected weather conditions in a place that she is traveling to? Even if she were on super extensive book tour should she not pack one pair of footwear that is not boots?

These, otherwise ideal, women take to a public stage, on a blisteringly hot day, calves thick with leather. It is less of a sin to sport knee high boots in the 70s range, considered crisp for Southern California, because certain boots are sexy. But maybe in order to fully milk the sexiness of a fine pair of boots they should be worn only when it would be considered cold in a place with real weather. Wearing exquisite boots for warmth is sexy. Wearing exquisite boots in hot weather, evokes only the image of sweaty calves.

Enjoying yet another warm downtown happy hour, drinking among white collar folk, preceding a library reading, we notice here too a boot or two. And also that the law profession may be the last bastion of the mandatory necktie. For men in education, sales, banking and a number of other fields, often now the tie is optional. Perhaps fashion is conforming to the “too busy coding and making scads of moola to bother with more than a t-shirt and if it's really formal an untucked wrinkled button down,” Silicon Valley ideal.

Professional girlfriends report that as late as the 70s in cities between the coasts, a lacy tie around thingie was requisite work wear and served to distinguish a power-broad from a receptionist or a secretary. My memories of this are very vague but it fascinates me for some reason.  If anyone recalls the lady necktie your cards and letters are welcomed.

Unless it is somehow incorporated into a Futurama device, the necktie is doomed. Probably the demand will be for garb that facilitates connectivity. Until our connectivity is physically implanted. I do not know if I will be alive to witness the inevitable giant step in evolution when beings are new and improved artificially and as frequently as Iphones. Will artificial intelligence pay off for civilization, as capacity for reason is enhanced and we all learn to get along and end disease and poverty and get some fashion sense?

The non-boot-wearing Jessica Jackley also takes part in the discussion with Larrissa MacFarquhar. Silicon Valley denizen Jackley is co-founder of the micro-lending site Kiva which is a Kickstarter like project. One can make a $25 interest free loan towards a small entrepreneurial project in an impoverished area. The repayment rate is over 90%. It is determined that the greatest single detriment to rising out of poverty is access to a small amount of start-up money. For those who don't have enough money to start a bank account, usually the only credit available is at an interest rate so steep that the borrower is forever beholden. The access to a modest zero interest loan is the key to financial stability for many of the world's impoverished.

In her memoir Clay,Water, Brick Jessica Jackley describes being raised by evangelical Christian parents who, inspired by the gospel, were devoted to assisting the less fortunate. Exposed to compassionate giving at an early age, Jackley's graduate work at Stanford is devoted to ascertaining how to get most bang for the buck on behalf of humanitarian pursuits. To illustrate the complexity of this, Jackley tells the story of a young doctor, whose experience of volunteering in a third world clinic was the most satisfying in his life. At a dinner party hosted by big muckety mucks of philanthropy community, the doctor shares his plan to retire at a young age and go to Africa to start a clinic. It is pointed out to him that if he continues to work instead and simply donates his earnings there would be enough to start five clinics.

Jackley, bootless, wears an outfit that could be Armani or Target. She is unfortunately plagued by a persistent hacking cough. Twice, when she is unable to control it she steps off stage, to cough violently. While wearing a body mike. When she is not coughing Jackley describes the culture of giving and notes that a small amount of money may be the best ticket out of poverty. She also relates, harking back to her own Christian upbringing, that a giving experience is enhanced when there is a specific tangible. That's why those in-your-face suffering children /tortured animal//wounded veteran ads are so successful. Kiva has photos of would-be borrowers and descriptions of projects, like an investment in used clothes or chickens or beauty supplies. This is different from the strategy of many NGOs. The norm is to go in and do a large scale village makeover instead of taking smaller steps to nurture self determination and reliance. Jackey is married to Muslim Resa Aslan whose book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth caused a big brouhaha at Fox News for having been written by a Muslim even one with a Jesuit education and a PhD in Religion and an evangelical Christian wife. Intellectual superstars Jackley and Aslan are one of those great couples like David Byrne and Cindy Sherman or Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. Himself is one of the first to review Aslan's book on Amazon which creates itself a little shit storm and causes his Amazon reviewer ratings to decline steeply.  You can read the thoughtful review here-- 
The result is that we are receiving a bit less crap in the mail to review. 

Larrissa MacFarquhar's new book Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help, is a collection of portraits of super do-gooders, like folks who adopt 20 special needs kids or donate a kidney to a stranger. The title comes for the Ethics 101 classic. “If you saw a child drowning in a puddle would you save him even if it meant getting your clothes muddy?” Himself might have to think about this for a while but for the rest of us, the obligation is clear and a human life trumps clean clothes. Yet there are children at risk all over the world and the price of a cup of coffee can literally save a human life. Why do we still buy coffee? Because coffee gives us more of a rush unless are able to see, or at least vividly imagine, our largess in action. We act immediately if the potential to do a good deed is right in front of us but with the exceptions of the sort of people described in Strangers Drowning we don't often go looking for it. And most of us don't, like MacFarquhar's subjects, sacrifice many of life's delights in service of selflessness.

MacFarquhar is balanced in her characterization of the hardcore do-gooder. She notes that many are perceived by others as sanctimonious prigs. They make people feel guilty. While the super givers likely make the world a better place, they often neglect friends and family. In some cases the devotion to selflessness springs from a personality disorder. MacFarquhar, while admiring in many ways those who have completely dedicated their lives to service, makes a good case for moderation. There is a place between Mother Teresa and Montgomery Burns. People who find the best balance are nicer to be around and maybe, in a way, that's as good as a kidney.


John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

I guess I am that balance! Curmudgeonly, yet "must love dogs." Shabbat shalom. xxx me

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

P.S. My doomed, if quixotic, attempt at a balanced, in-depth review of Reza Aslan's "Zealot" about Jesus. This was responsible for my Amazon reviewer rating plummeting and never recovering, due to the backlash against this title and all who defended it. Is this a message from above? Read and rate (nicely).