Saturday, April 14, 2007

Notes from behind the headlines

For this piece, I will go into high pundit mode and extract meaningful insights about the state of the union from anecdotal evidence obtained from drive-by interactions with real people. In case you haven’t read between the lines of my recent posts, I have been on a trip to the nation's heartland.

One of the great things about high punditry is that I don’t have to be structurally original, or even interesting, and I can say what I really think. None of that chuckling shit. No rambling intro. No obscure meaning. No car chases or explosions. No paragraphs with 500 commas. Just straight talk from the commanding heights of punditry.

Since I have the freedom to be unoriginal, I’ll use the old “glance at the headlines” structure to make my insightful observations concerning the beliefs of millions of people based on a few persoal anecdotes. This is not entirely a cheap literary trick. Although I am revising this writing, I really did start by glancing at the headlines and realizing that they were representative of what people were talking about out in the heartland. We east coast journalists in our brownstones and lofts tend to forget that there are real people leading nuanced lives somewhere inside those headlines. Most of the real caricatures are either politicians or journalists, not just angry losers who obsessively listen to hate radio and watch Fox News.

Gas prices about to take spring jump

I had to laugh like hell when I read that. In the coming paragraphs I will discuss a number of headlines and how they relate to any number of individuals, but every single person I interviewed on my travels bitched about the price of gas.

Everyone in the heartland drives. People drive three blocks to the grocery for a pack of cigarettes. They drive to their neighbor's. Quite a few of them drive 50 miles, or even twice that, a day to their jobs and back. And most of them drive gas guzzling pickup trucks or SUV's.

The one extreme was this: I was interviewing a bunch of blue collar types over a six pack or two of lite beer. They were, like everybody else, bitching about the price of gas. Then someone made a snide comment about how we went to all that trouble to invade Iraq and didn’t even get the cheap gas we were promised. How’s that war working out otherwise, I asked. They just snorted in their beer.

On the other extreme, during a long series of interviews with a Republican party activist, he volunteered the explanation that gas would be under $1 a gallon if they’d only let us drill in the national parks. I had to laugh like hell again and snorted in my beer to boot. If that’s all they got for the party line these days, the party’s in a hell of a lot of trouble.

But those are just the extremes. Everybody else just bitched. Price a gas went up 5 cents overnight. Yep. Fucking shit. Yep.

From my high pundit perch, I pronounce that the Republicans are in deep shit over the price of gas.

163rd alerted for new tour

Eight U.S., four British soldiers killed

Honor guards now meet the slain

In an about-face by the U.S. government four years into the war in Iraq, America’s fallen troops are being brought back to their families about charter jets instead of ordinary commercial flights, and the caskets are being met by honor guards in white gloves instead of baggage handlers with forklifts. That, according to the newspaper.

One of my family's friends joined the Marines and is going to Iraq. He had a little time off after boot camp. He's a nice kid, much nicer than me. He saw that my mom's tv was getting old and he bought her a new one. I interviewed many of his family and friends and pparently everyone who knows him loves him. And they are a flag waving bunch, not a college degree among them. And they don't drink lattes. They prefer their coffee weak, with lots of sugar. And no wine, red or white. Lite beer or a Jack and Coke on special occasions. Yet to a person they were furious that he had joined the military. They thought he was an idiot. How could he be so fucking stupid? That's the question I heard again and again as people sadly shook their heads. If a Democrat went on tv and talked like those people, he or she would be apologizing profusely for several news cycles. But these people of the heartland aren't going to be apologizing to anyone.

Why did they think it was so stupid for a nice young kid to go to Iraq? Two reasons.

One, the obvious, that he could get himself killed or fucked up for life in a stupid war that wasn't doing any good for anybody. You can fool them for awhile, but they don't stay fooled indefinitely, and when they realize they were fooled, they don't look kindly on th e assholes that fooled them. Nobody believes a word the government or tv tells them about Iraq anymore.

Two, they felt the boy was stupid for believing the recruiter's lies. Those are their words, not mine. These people generally aren't very good at getting their facts straight, so this isn't about facts. I don't know whether the recruiter lied to the boy or not. They are, however, sincere in their beliefs, and for the most part, it's their beliefs they act on. Facts be damned.

The boy, they said, was promised an education and career in electronics. He's getting four weeks training as a radio operator and will be radio operating on convoys in Iraq. I guess it's like Vietnam where they put the fresh meat on the most dangerous missions. The theory being that if you are going to die in hell, it's better to get it over with quickly. You really have to shake your head and admire those boys. What a world it might be if their best instincts were used for good instead of murder. Unfortunately, this isn't that world.

Anyway, from my high pundit perch, I seriously intone that everyone knows that Iraq is fucking fucked and anyone who says otherwise is considered an idiot and a tool. Not by us high pundits in New York City, mind you, but by the lite beer drinkers out there on the highway in their pickup trucks. The beating muscles of the heatland. You know, real people. And women too. White.

More factory layoffs coming

Whirlpool says slump may be temporary

Hancock Fabrics closing local store

One of the first things I'm always struck by when I spend time in the heartland is the abundance of mansions. A three thousand square foot house with a two car garage on an acre of land is not at all unusual. The countryside is, in fact, scattered with them. Even in the bad neighborhoods in towns people live in sizable houses and all of these places have boats, jet skis, treadmill's, tanning beds, whirlpools, swimming pools, playgrounds, or any number of other luxuries littering their yards and garages. Of course there are plenty of apartment dwellers and trailer park residents, but for the most part you don't see too much of them. You really have to look hard.

But people I interviewed are very concerned about their ability to maintain their lifestyles. Every day there are stories in the newspaper about factories and stores closing down. Shuttered strip malls are common sights on the edge of towns. What was historically the largest employer in the area is up for sale. A Saudi-owned conglomerate is reportedly interested. Other factories have been sold to foreign companies. Many people have been laid off over the last five years. Many more have had to change jobs and take a radical pay cut in the process. The local Republican activist complained about the influx of illegal immigrants to the area and hinted that they were the cause of people's unease, but the issue never came up among working people bitching about the economy. The day may come when pickup driving Americans start fighting for those farm jobs and nursing home work, but we aren't there yet.

From the heights of high punditry, I declare that ordinary Americans are not yet there on "free" trade but are ripe for understanding. They are beginning to make some hazy connection among factors such as the price of gas, jobs moving overseas, foreign ownership, their deteriorating standard of living, and the war in Iraq, but as yet there has been no cataclysmic event that has caused them to see what's going on. They haven't quite connected the dots between the purported need for America to become more competitive and the fact that that means lower wages, fewer benefits, and environmental degradation. I think they will, but unfortunatley, since there is no political party that represents their interests, I fear they will be ripe targes for demagoguery on these issues and things will get really ugly.

Education official linked to loan probe.

Girl locked in truck bed: Mother faces neglect charge

Schools lose funds

Meth lab busted near school

Patient had rat in mouth: lawsuit

Staffing was so inadequate at a California senior center that a rat crawled into an Alzheimer’s patient’s mouth and diesd there before staff noticed, a lawsuit claims. Says the morning paper.

Health, education, government corruption, drugs, social ills – those are all common topics of conversation. Most everyone is suffering through the drawn out death of a relative or two, wondering when to put grandma in the nursing home, scheming to protect the assets. A lot of women work in crappy jobs just for the health insurance. The price of medicine is insane. Some people actually understand why the doctor prescribes them Nexium when they didn't even complain about heartburn. More will learn. High punditry suggests that people's continuing gullibility concerning the idiotic lies of the drug lobby and their political lackeys will go the way of their gullibility about our string of glorious victories in Iraq. Unfortunately, high punditry must lament the fact that people who may someday become ill are a constituency without a party, so nothing positive will come of it.

Regarding edcuation and child rearing, almost everyone has or knows teenagers who are miserable or doing poorly in school. One rural school had two kids hang themselves in one year. A lot of young girls are cutting themselves. Just about everybody drinks and takes drugs. If not, the doctors prescribe them some.

The common explanation I hear for the sorry state of our youth was that kids these days grew up without ever having heard the word "no." I think there's some truth to that. People I've interviewed out in the heartland over the years really are clueless when it comes to properly raising their children. They plead with them to do right rather than make them, then they overreact and hit or verbally abuse them when their pleading doesn't work. I was there for a week and never saw a single kid eat a single vegetable. And they really do try to give them everything they want, from candy all day long to a car when they turn sixteen. And contrary to popular belief among children, giving a kid everything he or she wants will not make them happy. Quite the contrary.

But even though these problems are the result of stupidity, or more accurately poor education, it's still sad, heartbreakingly so, to see how they suffer, both the parents and the children. And I can't help but contrast that with my own situation. I live in and around one of the most liberal environs on earth. My kids go to one of the most progressive schools on the planet and I spend a lot of time around the children of very wealthy. liberal individuals and know their parents, too. The first thing anyone would note about these children is how happy they are. Yet although their parents have the means, they do not give the kids every plaything they want and they say no to them all of the time. And needless to say, they never hit them and rarely slip into any kind of verbal abuse. They do, however, give themm all the educational opportunities they can afford. They buy them classes, travel, educational camps, after school activities and the like. And if the kid doesn't like it, too bad. But they like it.

The high pundit solemnly intones that the coming generation of severely fucked up kids from the heartland who will have little or no economic opportunity better than joining the marines will not be a happy lot as they age. Problems will ensue, particularly as they note the gap, but fail to understand its cause, between themselves and their liberal breathren in the cities.

Climate report offers bleak outlook

I walked into a supermarket with a local environmentalist I was interviewing. She writes a weekly column for the local newspaper and is subjected to a constant stream of put-downs, eye rolls and verbal abuse. A Republican city councilman was there and called out to her, "how ya gonna save the world in here?" I just had to laugh like hell.

Over lunch, she talked about how the bees were mysteriously disappearing and encouraged me to see An Inconvenient Truth. I hope Bob Somersby isn't reading this because I fear it would give him a hemmorage. She said that she could make no headway with the locals because they all had an intense hatred of Al Gore. Why, I asked. She didn't know.

She had moved there recently and was just getting the group organized. They hadn't even named it yet. She said she was leaning towards something with Gaia in the title and asked my opinion. I said that under no circumstances should any group in these parts have the name Gaia in the title. Sounds like Olde English for gay, if you asked me. I emphasized that, to have any hope of success, they would need to get the concepts of religion, patirotism and militarism in their name. I suggested Patriotic Environmentalist Warriors for Christ and Country (acronym pronounced "puke"), She was not enthused, and was not sure whether or not to be amused.

I was serious though. The problem with people like her is that they don't really want regular people to come to their meetings. They want a nice social event with like-minded friends. They will never make any political headway like that. Change will have to come from elsewhere.

And it might. The lite beer swilling masses made a few comments about climate change. They hadn't seen the movie, and didn't really know squat, but they're pretty much to the point where they'll believe anything that is the opposite of what George Bush says. And the weather has been getting weird...

As pundit on high, I profess that it's nice that some people at least try, though fat log of good it will do them. Unless someone comes up with a full sized pickup that gets 100 miles a gallon, it will be impossible to marshall the hillbillies to support an environmental crusade. An oil crusade, however, is a real possibility. They're not bothered by their belief that we invaded Iraq for cheap gas. They're bothered by the fact that gas is not cheap.

‘Living Last Supper’ adds interpretation of Bible story

Larger venues let churches reach out to masses

It’s sunday morning at Zion Evnagelical United Church of Christ, and the Rev. Bob Walker is preaching about love and devotion, or so we're told in a front page "news" story.

With all the economic problems, social ills, stupid wars, and rotten children, along with the fact that most of the "moral majority" political types have been exposed as sex fiends, drug addicts, or just pathetic excuses for human beings in general, it's not surprising that a lot of people would be searching for a way out of the mess and that preachers with collection plates would be there with some easy answers. I did find it a bit surprising, however, to see how much the newspapers have gotten on the bandwagon. There is a religion section of the paper that pretty much functions as free advertising for various churches and it seems at least one pro-Christian article is on the front page every day. The new license plate prominently features "In God we Trust and an American Flag. Most of the kids that cut themselves, I'm told, are Christians.

Kurt Vonnegut Dies

I haven't said anything The editorial pages because they have no influence whatsoever. Still, it's interesting to see what kind of momentous issues the journalistic elite and the ten or twelve people who read them are using to stroke their mighty brains and weighty consciences. On this particular day, they are concerned about the gagging of David Hicks. Hicks is the Australian gentleman who was the first terrorist to be convicted by an American military tribunal. For his terrible crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to nine months in prison, plus time served, in Australia. The only caveat was that he would be imprisoned for much longer if he accused the U.S. of torturing him during the five years we tortured him at Guantanamo.

Although no one reads that kind of shit, it is still instructive, because if they did, they would see that it was shit. How do we know that he was tortured? Easy, because the United States made him sign an affadavid agreeing not to accuse us of torturing him. Who do they think they fool with that nonsense? How stupid do they think we are? Pretty damn stupid, that's how.

So there you have it. A detailed rendering of the souls of the little people of the heartland, the people behind the headlines by the punditry on high. The Republicans are fucked. Now that you know, please go on about your business. Nothing to see here. Nothing you can do about it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

No fly for you

Via Atrios, this article provides more anecdotal evidence that the government is using the No Fly List to torment its critics. Having gone to a peace march, for example, may be the most common clue to why someone is singled out to be harassed at airports.

You might think that more people – people like our elected representatives, the fucking Democrats if nobody else, or even those running for office, not to mention the media, or even the man on the street halfway through his case of Busch Lite or the soccer mom cheering the little tykes from the sideline, pretty much everyone that might someday voice an opinion of any kind on any subject – would be upset that the government puts peace activists and other advocates of non-violence on terrorist watch lists. If this kind of thing can happen to the least violence-prone among us, imagine what will happen when government sponsored petty retribution gets totally out of line. Making snide comments about the price of gas? No fly for you. Wish that kid you liked didn’t get tricked into enlisting? Upset that he got fucked up? Died? No fly for you. Have you seen An Inconvenient Truth? Grounded, sucker.

Ah, but you are not a peace marcher. Frankly, I’m not either. And I don’t drive. The price of gas doesn’t even affect me. And no one I know is in Iraq. Seriously, nobody that’s anybody to me has died in our wars. And I’d sooner drill a hole in my head than pay $10 to see a slideshow about science. Trust me, I’m not in any danger of being put on the No Fly List because I like to watch Al Gore. So it’s really not my problem.

I’m not even sure they go far enough. So many more people die from car bombs than airplane hijackings. Wouldn’t it make a whole hell of a lot more sense to have a No Drive List? Of course it would. And suicide bombers wear vests. Shouldn’t we have a no vest list? And terrorists carry guns and use ammunition to construct bombs. Shouldn’t there be a no guns and ammo list?

Ha ha, just kidding. A no guns and ammo list? Sorry, that’s just crazy. Anyone who suggest it should be put on the No Fly List, and maybe even the No Drive List, if they haven't been already. It’s all well and good that the government harasses old ladies for peace, but the constitution guarantees all men, even suspected terrorists, the right to own guns. I'm not going to to live in some future where they say that first they came for the terrorist's gun, but I wasn't a terrorist...

So you see? Old chuckling has no dog in this fight. They can put anyone on the No Fly List, as long as it's not me. As long as it's not me, I just laugh like hell.

See how those who actually advocate armed resistance to the American government, those who are actively stocking up on weapons for just such an occassion, those who like the communists of old are openly joining the army, serving in Iraq, in order to gain experience for the coming struggle – people whose movement has already fostered domestic terrorism from the assasins of doctors to Olympics bombers to mass murderers like those who killed hundreds at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City – how these heavily armed anti-government wackos are considered less of a threat to the government they hate than people advocating non-violence and popular participation in the American constitutional system of government. You just gotta laugh like hell.

The punchline, of course, is that the war protesters and those who take their democratic responsiblilties seriously and make informed, moral choices when they vote are not a threat to national security. They may be, however, a threat to the national security establishment, which is what it's all about. And that's what's really funny. They are no more of a threat to the national security establishment than they are to hijack an airplane. People who advocate non-violence have zero influence on national policy and they are not going to hijack any airplanes.

The second amendment guarantees the right of terrorists to purchase assault rifles without a background check. The rest of the constitution may be nothing more than a relatively coarse brand of toilet paper, but the second amendment rules. The skys would be safer if everyone carried guns. Everyone but peace activists that is.

And even though the idea that an NRA member would hijack an airplane or commit an act of violence is only exponentially more likely than the people with children, families, and a strong place in the community who advocate non-violence, we have to ask ourselves who the fuck hijacks airlplanes anyway? It’s not something that happens every day. Is there even one a year? Even the 9/11 hijackers flew a lot and didn’t usually hijack their airplanes. The odds of it happening on any one flight, even if Mohammet Atta is on it, are subatomically slim.

Of course the big joke would be if what goes around comes around. Regimes change but tradition based on principle has a longer shelf life. If the tradition is that government harasses its critics based on the principle that they can, then payback could be hell. Wouldn’t it be fun to put every member of the National Rifle Association on the No Fly List? What about the anti-abortionists? And prominent Christians? Fuck, let's include taxidermists. No fly for you, suckers. Maybe you can rent a car? Ha ha. Maybe not.

But although revenge can be a powerful motivator when it comes to trashing our constitution and way of life, I don’t think that fully explains why no one (with the possible exception of the victims) cares about the fact that 100’s of thousands of innocent people are being harassed by the government for no good reason. We really should look into it, appoint a bi-partisan commission or something. But hey, look over there, nappy-headed ho’s. And Sanjaya. What’s up with that? And the price of gas? Wasn’t that supposed to get cheaper when we invaded fucking Iraq? Ooops. I didn’t say that. It was some other guy. No fly for him.