Monday, September 19, 2011

Robbledegook Word of the Day: Class Warfare

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." -- Inigo Montoya.

Except for the outrageousness of his hypocrisy,* what jars when Paul Ryan uses the word (okay, words) "class warfare" is the buff hunter-representative's lack of understanding of such a simple concept. He's got it backwards, hasn't he? Of course he has. I thought he'd been discredited for his slipped-on-the-banana-peel-of-accuracy budget proposal earlier this year but he's still lurking around, the GOP's dapper expert on all things economic. On the other hand, getting things backwards yet professing their forwardness is the right's primary oratorical weapon in its, uh, crass warfare on the English language.

Ryan suggested over the weekend that the part of the Obama plan to reduce the deficit whereby rich people pay their fair share of taxes was, sadly, class warfare, which would further divide our nation. It would spur "envy," among other mortal sins, though I can't see who'd be envying whom.

Is Ryan saying that if the poor realized how screwed they were because of the gross inequality in the distribution of wealth in America they might pay enough attention to envy their betters and, heaven forbid, do something about it? Is he suggesting that the middle classes, watching their bettors -- I mean portfolio managers -- mismanage their 401Ks and pension plans (remember those?), might clamor for more transparency by the banks and funds and corporate boards who seem to do quite all right, thank you, even as their customers suffer riding the rollercoaster of the market? Of course not. Ryan thinks that the rich will feel aggrieved that the rest of us don't just lie down and take it let them get on with creating more wealth because, as we all know, when the rich make money the extra trickles down on the rest of us. There is extra, isn't there? Or haven't the rich made enough yet? Please wake me when the gluttonous are sated at last.

Rep. Ryan has never been a genius when it comes to math. His equation that private vouchers equate to government backed health insurance was shown as faulty at best, insidiously cruel at least. And now he thinks that reeling in the rich just a little is going to make things more divisive. Backwards, Ryan! Let's look at the math. Hmmmmm, given how the top percent of earners takes more than 20 percent of our wealth (and growing), I'm not entirely sure how asking these poor rich people to pay, say, an equivalent proportion of their income as, say, their secretaries (god, sorry! "administrative assistants"), would further divide the haves from the have-lesses. Ryan thinks it would. Or perhaps he's thinking beyond mere earthly gain and is trying to save us from our sinfulness. Perhaps he has some quantifiable measure of divisiveness that this class warfare would beget. The more the well-to-do are asked to behave responsibly as citizens of our society the more, uncomfortable they get? The more irked? The more self-righteous? Of course this would make them feel bad -- more at a remove from their fellow citizens, hence: "divisive!" Q.E.D.

I thought all men were created equal and in God we trust. Clearly for Ryan the rich are more equal and in their trusts they [find] God. The rest of us can eat sausage.

Coming soon in this series: "Job Creators," "Elite" and "Socialism."

*Okay, not "outrageous"; it's expected, isn't it? The way the likes of Ryan turn words 180 degrees to suit their need is blase. Listen more closely to Ryan in the video clip above. It's as if the talking points are so embedded they require no emotion in their recitation. Soon they'll have numbers. Instead of calling it "class warfare on job creators" it'll be "doing a #2 on the #1s."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, But the Ultra-Orthodox Jews Hate It

"It," of course, is LGBT [whisper] sex. You know, frolic between consenting adults who happen to share a gender, perhaps -- I mean, who can tell? Oy, the kids these days! In New York's 9th Congressional district a whole slew of Orthodox Jews, registered Democrats outnumbering registered The-Other-Kind by 3-1, really, really don't like the idea of tolerating same-sex couples. It's not natural! Okay, maybe in the animal kingdom and maybe only in song, though the closest even a genius like (shhhh!) gay Cole Porter could have got to reality is "Penguins do it...," making for an interesting conundrum should he have wished to rhyme the word "penguin." (You can imagine the composer's dulled enthusiasm for the original line's reverse: "Bees do it, birds do it..." What next? "Even educated turds do it?" Perish the (scatological) thought. No, really, perish it, sinner!)

It should come then as little surprise that the intolerant Ortho voters of New York's Fighting 9th would vote against "David observant Orthodox Jew, a reliable Israel hawk, and a self-proclaimed 'Scoop' Jackson fan," according to Hendrick Hertzberg in his column noting Weprin's defeat to "Republican Bob Turner, a Roman Catholic former television executive who has never so much as set foot on Israeli soil, sand, or pavement."
I think the thing that gets me isn't so much the intolerance of a group for whom that word could be -- and was -- worn as a badge. That's bad. Nor am I particularly irked that Ed "I love New York, but not its lesbians, gays, bis or transsexuals" Koch turned coat for Turner. Nor do I mind that the Ortho voting block might have been offended enough of the Tweeting 9th's previous incumbent's peccadillo to pull the other lever, if you will, even if that other lever led to the election of a former television executive of "The Jerry Springer Show," that bastion of good taste.

What I find appallingly un-American is that rabbis in the district instructed their flocks how to vote, and the flocks dutifully voted their rabbis' demands: "It is therefore Assur [forbidden according to Torah law] to vote for, campaign for, publicly honor, fund, or otherwise support the campaign of Assemblyman David Weprin, now running to succeed Anthony Weiner in the 9th Congressional district." Um, okay, I guess to preserve the sanctity of my, uh, Jewish soul, had I one, I must vote Republican.
When Christian ministers consort to influence their flocks how to vote, nay, how to think, I'm appalled but not surprised. Christian zealots see the world as theirs and the believers congregate to do their masters' bidding because it hastens the glory of the afterlife or, at least, keeps the "other" at bay. When the Jews do it it's somehow worse than appalling. Considering the age and defiant survivor-ship of our faith in the face of centuries of intolerance, I consider Judaism as, ironically, a most modern of religions, eschewing the afterlife for a now-life of doing good deeds and leaving a legacy of a world made better. How on earth -- or in heaven's eyes -- are we making the world a better place with fatwas aimed at groups of individuals, and their supporters, whose behavior is none of our goddamn business? All that nonsense is in the Old Testament. This is the New World, isn't it? Or maybe we're just arriving at the surly gates of a new New Order.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Texas Tall Talk: Prick Erry Style

Texas may be a jobs engine, but the sort of jobs being created in Texas, for which our governor is taking too much credit, are predominantly low-wage or minimum wage jobs. Median hourly wage here is $11.20. Work 40 hours a week for 52 weeks in a year and you gross $23k a year. Can I get a side order of health care with that, please?
"Robert Reich:

...If governors try hard enough, though, they can create lots of lousy jobs. They can drive out unions, attract low-wage immigrants, and turn a blind eye to businesses that fail to protect worker health and safety.

"Rick Perry seems to have done exactly this. While Texas leads the nation in job growth, a majority of Texas’s workforce is paid hourly wages rather than salaries. And the median hourly wage there was $11.20, compared to the national median of $12.50 an hour.

Texas has also been specializing in minimum-wage jobs. From 2007 to 2010, the number of minimum wage workers there rose from 221,000 to 550,000 – that’s an increase of nearly 150 percent. And 9.5 percent of Texas workers earn the minimum wage or below – compared to about 6 percent for the rest of the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state also has the lowest percentage of workers without health insurance. Texas schools rank 44th in the nation in per-pupil spending.

"The Perry model of creating more jobs through low wages seems to be catching on around America."
Oh, good. When he's president we Texans won't notice a thing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Memories of the Fall of the World Trade Center

I write this after years of contemplation and resistance. 10 years, actually. The idea of commemorating the events of that particular day is anathema and I have resisted ever putting thoughts to paper about what I was doing and how I felt, as if writing about it might add even a little credence or comfort to what I believe has been a chest-thumping jingoistic travesty — a willful, immoral obfuscation that became an excuse to perpetrate terrible injustices on constellations of innocents at home and abroad.

But as the tenth anniversary of the fatal day approaches it seems as if some word is due, some thoughts should be archived. If only to put a lid on the thing once and for all. As I say later in this essay, we need to move on. The perpetual backward look, the never-ending eulogy, the twisting of history, the usury on our credulity — it has debilitated us as a society. It has tested our morality and, in the years since, we have failed that test more often than not. Our place as citizens on planet earth, among its civilizations and all the natural wonder it has to offer, is tenuous. The wholesale change I have seen of our turning inward, living in fear, willing to do terrible things because of a faulty, often intentionally misleading analysis that has as its gist some cockamamie chest-puffed call to defend the nation — it may have been an inexorable shift over the past 30 or 40 years, but since September 11, 2001, it has engulfed us like a flame born of an evil accelerant, an endlessly burgeoning nihilism that couches itself in a great lie that we are somehow better than everyone else because we suffered more than anyone else. I don’t buy it. Not on the evidence.

Terrible things happened that day; terrible things are happening right now. It’s time to open our eyes, hearts and minds and move forward.

* * *

Where was I on the morning of September 11, 2001?

I was buying new soccer boots at the old Academy on the access road of I-35 around 40th Street. I got there early in the morning and there was practically no one in the store. I found a pair of boots I wanted and sought a clerk to help me find the right size because, in those days, there was a storage area “backstage,” where boxes of athletic shoes of all sorts were kept.

After what seemed an unreasonably long wait, a large black woman finally emerged from the curtained doorway. “A plane crashed into one of the twin towers and it’s fallen down,” she told me as she collected my display boot’s information and ambled back into the depths of the shoe closet to find my size. I was confused. How could a plane knock down a skyscraper? I had images of the Empire State Building when it was hit by a B-25 during World War II. It burned but it still stood — today, looking up, you wouldn’t know it had ever been hit if you didn’t know the history. Or maybe what she meant was that a plane had clipped that huge TV antenna atop one of the World Trade Center buildings and that was the “tower” that had fallen to earth. I imagined what a scene that would have caused. But my meager self-explanation was nothing like the devastation I was to learn about shortly.

“Do you want to come back and see?” She apparently had a TV in the storeroom and was glued to the unfolding events, begrudgingly emerging every so often to see if a customer might be out there needing her assistance. “No, thank you,” I said. Maybe I felt stupid for not comprehending why this mattered to her when clearly there had to be some explanation, and if she’d stop for a moment and not be so outrageous with her description she’d see that things weren’t so bad. Or maybe I didn’t want to learn about whatever it was that had happened via the medium of a TV in the back room of a sports store if indeed things were that bad.

I bought my boots and set off for the car. I turned on KUT and discovered NPR’s morning news team was broadcasting instead of John Aielli, the denizen of the local morning airwaves. Something had happened.

I drove back to the other side of the highway and parked across the street from The Austin Chronicle offices, where I was a stringer for the Arts section. I sat in my car and listened to the radio. The destruction. The carnage. The questions. The concerns. The awe. The knowledge and the lack of it. At a thousand-mile remove, I understood the enormity of what had occurred even as I knew that there was nothing I could do. I just listened.

When I got to my office job downtown, the mood was a mix of gravity and disbelief, with that adrenalin-induced bravado that some show in a crisis, where they feel the need to take control even of the least little situation. There were groups of people huddled around monitors watching CNN’s coverage. I didn’t want to look. I knew enough from what I had heard to know we were going to go hunt down whoever did this and kill them.

The agency muckety-mucks announced that anyone who wanted to leave early could. I’m always a straggler in that sort of situation: not so overwhelmed that I need to flee, nor so disinterested that I can get to work. I’d leave soon. First I sat down at my desk and pulled out the spiral notebook in my bag. I use these notebooks to craft songs and assorted other bits of prose and poetry; some of them I return to on rare occasion when I want to see what I was musing on at the time. I keep all those old spirals. But I’m damned if I can find this particular one.  

I remember I wrote two sentences. Just two. But they encapsulated the entirety of my feelings.

The first was “Please let’s not go to war over this.” Though I knew that was a foolish and futile thought. The concept of taking an eye for an eye dehumanizes; mercy can be matched with ferocity that needn’t equate to retributive killing. There are other ways to resolve even existential differences. But our land is a land of vengeance and such petty considerations have no hold on our reality. I have increasingly felt this as I have grown up. So I knew we’d hunt down the perpetrators, or at least the closest we could find to them, and wipe them out with all the hardware we had at our near-limitless disposal, while displaying none of the civility or understanding of history that such an act would chisel into what’s left of our time. It saddened me to realize with such grim finality that we had so little self-control, so puffed-up a sense of our patch in the tapestry of life, so inflated an idea of the trespass that, though heinous, could hardly have exceeded so many of our own. American defiance has always seemed overwrought and inauthentic, given our capability —and willingness —to destroy all comers on a whim.

The second thing I wrote was “I am glad my grandparents aren’t around to see this.” When they were alive my mother’s parents lived in Englewood, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River via the inspiring George Washington Bridge. My family would vacation there when I was young, making an annual pilgrimage that would take in New York City’s amazing structures in their glory and grunge (this was mostly in the 1970s and ’80s, after all). My grandparents were Liberals of the old school. He was a retired salesman who’d spent a career (post-Navy) driving up and down the east coast, she taught English to immigrants until she, too, retired. I couldn’t imagine how distraught they’d be to see their city (for they were transplanted New Yorkers, moving to Englewood’s sylvan suburbs when their daughters were young) awash in death, ash and mayhem. Worse, though, I knew they would feel the same way as I did about the impending vengeance. Sparing them what was inevitably to follow was a blessing.

It wasn’t until a couple of nights later that I watched TV and saw the images that have since been replayed ad infinitum. I had been avoiding it because I knew what I would see. It smacked of voyeurism; taking in all those images was ogling other people’s grief. And it only reinforced my dread at what was to come. Repetition made marshal, a beating drum, a march to an endless, unwinnable conflict. Michelle and I picked at our dinners, and it wasn’t until the next day that I realized that as I bathed in the cathode-ray glow of all that stress and all that fear and all that hate and all that disbelief, I had been mindlessly picking at the stubble underneath my lip and had pulled out enough of my beard to render that part of my face smooth!

* * *

When I was young I remember, vaguely, the World Trade Center being built. I was impressed as a kid because it was going to be the tallest building in the world, for a while, anyway. I was a fan of Manhattan: the skyline, the myriad things to do and see. We even rode to the top of one of the towers once to check out Windows on the World. It was the most boring thing I think we ever did in all the years we visited New York. The elevator ride took forever, it was hot, the views weren’t any better than the ones we got from Rockefeller Center, our go-to skyscraper for viewing all the really cool buildings in Manhattan. I mean, come on — you could see ALL the cool buildings from Midtown. When you’re in one of them you don’t get the same sense of awe. What was awe-inspiring was standing at the base of the tower, pressing your face along one of those long vertical metal lines as you looked straight up. With clouds in the sky, the building, stretching almost beyond a child’s imagination, seemed to sway a little. Maybe in the breeze the towers did sway. But for me the World Trade Center was never as compelling as other attractions. When they dynamited the roller coaster at Palisades Amusement Park as part of a fun-killing usurpation of land that left a pair of apartment buildings in that hallowed place, now that was psychically devastating —how could they demolish the amusement park where we’d had so much fun?

* * *

It’s time to move on from “911.” It’s in the past. It limits us. It has led to needless, self-imposed restrictions on our way of life. It has warped our country and my fellow countrymen. It inures the weak-willed and fearful against any compassion for or understanding of the “other.” It offers an excuse to power to grab more power at the abrogation of the harder, dirtier tasks we must undertake to maintain America, let alone see it flourish.

Of course I am filled with sadness and sympathy for those needlessly lost souls and their survivors; I cannot imagine that horror, or rather, I can ONLY imagine it, and for that I am ruefully grateful.

People leave their homes and their loved ones every day and never return. The reasons are as varied as the stars. Not every loss heralds a cataclysmic shift in our way of life; but every loss is a cataclysmic shift in SOMEONE’S life. If there is any legacy of “911” I hope it is that one day we comprehend every life as sacred and find a way to connect with our fellow human beings with respect, love and in peace, even as we realize that, ultimately, we’re just visiting and we must try to leave things better than the way we found them. We must.