28 April 2006

The Idiot King...continued.

I realize that the Bush II Presidency is a miserable failure. Yes. I realize the idiot king can do little cut off from his brain, Karl Rove, and his taskmaster, Dick Cheney. Yes. I know that left to his own devices, Bush II would sleep in until noon, watch ESPN classic all day, and rarely change clothes. However, he is President of the United States of America, and as such is expected to come up with things like policy and direction...

Alack and alas.

Bush's response to the rising gas prices has been astoundingly stupid. After starting a war that destabilized the oil market (a war I would submit had as part of its motivation the installation of a US friendly client state in control of great quantities of oil), Bush has really only offered one solution: drilling in ANWR.

However, today, Bush unveiled a whole host of new "ideas" for the energy crisis. One spectacularly late move is that he wants control of fuel economy guidelines for the automobile industry. Hello, can we say too little too late? More interestingly, Bush the Second, former oilman, has rejected the idea that the US impose a "windfall tax" on the record breaking profits that the oil companies are currently enjoying. In fact, Bush went the other way, not only rejecting new taxes, but also requesting even looser rules for the oil companies:
The president also called for Congress to provide "regulatory relief" to oil refiners that would allow them to increase their capacities.

So in typical failed Libertarian free market dreamland, Bush proposes to let the thieves have a few more keys to the castle.

How can he do this? Because the man is a moron. He has a pollyanna belief in the wisdom and beneficence of the corporations. Bush claims to "expect" the oil companies to invest their profits in new technologies and alternative energy:
"My attitude is that the oil companies need to be mindful that the American people expect them to reinvest their cash flows in such a way that it enhances our energy security," Bush said.

Let me give Baby Bush a tip here: the oil companies don't give a shit about our national security, energy or otherwise. All they care about is that they have a market for their oil, and they know that Americans will buy their oil whether George Bush or Kaiser Wilhelm is in the White House. That's why about 7% of Alaska's oil is currently exported to the Asian market now; the oil companies get more money for it. I realize Bush ran his own companies into the ground, but you'd think he'd have a basic grasp of the concept of companies run "for profit."

But Bush is even more brilliant, because he can make a statement that contradicts its own reasoning and never appear to know it. Soon after he evoked his faith in the goodly-hearted oil companies and their citizenship in voluntarily "enhancing our energy security," he then lays partial blame for high gas prices directly at the feet of said oil companies who have refused to modernize or expand their infrastructure:
"One reason there's tight gasoline supplies is we haven't built any new refineries since the 1970s," the president said.

How's that for reinvestment?

Moron. Absolute Moron.

Strings attached. Always strings attached.

When I first saw the news that the Senate GOP was looking to give $100 to all taxpayers as "relief" from high gas prices, I thought it was merely a cynical biscuit thrown to the masses to shut them up -- everyone likes a giveaway, right? -- but then I read a little more and saw that the giveaway wasn't exactly a giveaway. It was what you might call a bribe.

Those sneaky Republicans had cleverly drafted yet another ANWR drilling bill and had craftily marketed it as a $100 rebate for taxpayers. They're like horny teenage boys trying to get their girls to put out for them: if I buy you dinner? how about a movie? What about $100, y'know, as compensation for, um, high gas prices?

ANWR is a boondoggle -- it's about lining the pockets of a few businesses and politicians for little return and a devastating impact on one of the few pristine environments we have. ANWR is estimated to have between 9 and 16 billion barrels of oil sitting under it. Sounds like a lot, and the proponents are keen to throw around statistics like "ANWR's oil could supply North Dakota's energy needs for 393 years!"

Wow! Unfortunately, the US is composed of 50 states and various territories and ANWR's oil supply, when shared among all those entities and not only North Dakota, would last only 2 or 2.5 years at the most generous estimate of its reserves (these raw numbers leave out the fact that ANWR would take 10 years to come online and about 20 years to reach peak production). Furthermore, its overall impact on US dependence on foreign oil would be utterly negligible: we'd import 66.7% of our oil instead of 70%. [see MSNBC.com for stats, which come from an Energy Department study that takes a mean of 10.4 billion barrels in ANWR to arrive at its numbers].

As of 2001, the US consumes about 7 billion barrels of oil a year. Japan ran a distant second with 1.9 billion barrels, and China took third with 1.8 billion barrels. In 2005, the US consumed 7.25 billion barrels a year. China jumped into second place with 2.3 billion barrels, and Japan fell to third with 2 billion barrels. If you care to crunch numbers a wee bit further, you'd note that China's consumption jumped by 500 million barrels, or roughly 22% in four years. It's not terribly inconceivable that China's oil demands will continue to grow at a double-digit rate. Paul Krugman notes that industrial expansion in developing countries will increase world demand far quicker than it has in the past.

Here's the address for City Bikes: 2501 Champlain Street NW.

27 April 2006

Something else that can't last...

People are wah wah wah crying over the gasoline prices. Get used to it, chumps. The era of cheap gas is over. The era of Western exploitation of world energy is over, and it isn't because of OPEC or any al-Qaeda threat. It's because of that old thing called competition (and you can cast that in a Libertarian "free market" way or a Marxist way, it still remains competition) with the rising industrialization of China, for instance.

You could also throw in a few arguments for the "peak oil" crowd, who claim we are at or near the peak of oil extraction and will soon be on the downward slope as new reserves etc. aren't found in enough quantities to match current production.

Any idiot who's even sat in on one economics lecture could tell you that scarcity + demand = higher prices. And in the commodities markets, scarcity doesn't even have to be real: it can be perceived. Remember, it doesn't take war to send oil soaring; it merely takes the threat of war.

So we sit around lamenting over our $3 a gallon gas, and the obscenity of the Hummer becomes even more apparent. Even as the upper middle class flees to their McMansions in the exurbs, the cost of that lifestyle rises with each mile more they have to drive.

I wonder if this coming scarcity will make our sprawling communities and car-based infrastructure seem as useless and quaint as castles following the introduction of the cannon.

UPDATE: I'm not sure that I've ever come across a more retarded proposal than the Senate Republicans' idea of giving out $100 bucks as a "rebate" to every taxpayer for being such idiotic consumers. What is this? Hush money?

26 April 2006

Lives of Quiet Desperation.

The more I read about this story, the worse it gets. Every now and then I am shocked out of my world by tales so horrific I must pause for a moment to imagine the situation, the daily routine of lives lived so differently from my own. What terrifies me more than anything is that while this family's outcome was atypical, their conditions were not so rare:
Powe made about $14 an hour at the Residence Inn, general manager David Ragland said. She had worked there since the hotel opened in December 2004. "She was
one of the success stories of the hotel," Ragland said. "At first we didn't know if she'd make it. It's a hard job. She became one of the better housekeepers."
But at home, she was struggling, neighbors and police said. She worked long hours, and complaints about her boys fighting with neighborhood children and throwing trash bags off a balcony were mounting at the property rental office.
She was issued food stamps, but she kept barely any food in her home, the sources said. Her apartment had roaches and few furnishings.

So many people live under these conditions or worse. Assuming a 40 hour work-week, $14 an hour works out to roughly $29K annually. I'm willing to bet benefits weren't exactly the best in the world either. Still, supporting two children on $29K around here is tough. Median income for DC (yeah I know this was PG County, but PG County has more in common with DC than with Washington County) for a family of four recently was $56K (Maryland's was $88K).

Of course, wealthy people kill one another, too. I'm not really discussing the actual murder -- that's an atypical outcome for the masses of Americans living under pathetic economic conditions (often far worse than Ms. Powe's). I'm much more concerned that poverty surrounds us and in fact poverty makes possible much of our lifestyle ("our" meaning the relatively well-educated and well-employed class that runs out to happy hour and dancing, dinner and theatre, the game and a nightcap, the week at the beach, etc.). It can't last and it won't last -- at some point the contradictions will become too stark and too explosive to contain themselves.

And we will have ourselves a "let them eat cake" moment.

Tillie Olsen's 1934 poem "I Want You Women up North to Know" is too long to post in its entirety, but here are some opening and closing stanzas:

"I Want You Women up North to Know"

i want you women up north to know
how those dainty children's dresses you buy
at macy's wanamakers, gimbels, marshall fields,
are dyed in blood, are stitched in wasting flesh,
down in San Antonio, "where sunshine spends the winter."

I want you women up north to see
the obsequious smile, the salesladies trill
"exquisite work, madame, exquisite pleats"
vanish into a bloated face, ordering more dresses,
gouging the wages down,
dissolve into maria, ambrosa, cataline,
stitching these dresses from dawn to night,
in blood, in wasting flesh.


Women up north, I want you to know,
I tell you this can't last forever.

I swear it won't.

The excerpt can't do it justice. A full copy can be found on the poetry class blog.

25 April 2006

And "Snow Job" is slang for what?

If reports are true, Fox News continues to be a great breeding ground for the Bush White House, and vice versa: Tony Snow reportedly will become Bush's new press secretary. Snow's a natural choice, since he regularly lies through his teeth (or to be fair, he may simply be an idiot) in his current job. The main difference is that as press secretary he would need to shut up more and be evasive, while as Fox "political analyst" his job is to make up shit as fast as he could to fill airtime.

Snow on high gas prices: the usual causes -- instability in the Middle East blah blah blah -- but then he throws in the slider -- people critiquing Donald Rumsfeld are part of the problem!

But Snow's greatest hit might be his dogged defense of Creationism. He will fit in well with a Bush administration that has no interest in scientific inquiry, other than to stifle it at every turn. After all, these pesky scientists have been getting Bush down for a long time. Global Warming? Fuzzy science! But you have to admit that Bush has found a brilliant way to counteract the weight of the scientific community -- use political hacks to edit their reports!

He will make a fine choice, once the decider has decided.

24 April 2006

The News of the World

Did Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have their baby yet? God, it would make a remarkable difference in my life to know that news. Can you imagine? A man and a woman get together and -- wham-o -- this baby thing comes along. It simply boggles the imagination.

I think things will fall into place for me once I have a few questions answered. Questions like, "is it a boy or a girl" or "are the mother and child recovering nicely"? At least I can move on with my life, you know, maybe turn a new page.

The tension really is killing me. After all, the supermarket newspapers were all screaming that Ms. Jolie was really too skinny to be having a healthy pregnancy. Maybe she'll die in childbirth. Maybe it's not a child in there but some sort of Scientologist implant and she and Brad are in for a big surprise. All I know is I won't be able to sleep a normal night until I see real proof that she's delivered a healthy baby. Hopefully they'll all be smiling in the picture.

I have to take my mind off this matter, move on to something else. I'm thinking maybe of researching the various origins of the "Suri." A lot of people think it's Hebrew, but I'm convinced it's Thetan. Time to dust off the philologist skillz.

Addendum: I've been trying to publish this post since about 9 a.m., but blogger keeps telling me 0% published and refuses to take it. I suppose it may be a comment on its crappiness (the post's or blogger's, you decide).

21 April 2006

Commodity fetishism where the rubber hits the road.

So it's been several years since SUVs served their original purpose -- which incidentally was before they were called SUVs: to go places without highways and to haul around farm/ranch/worksite supplies. Growing up in the heady days of the 1980's I had a friend who owned a Suburban, which had all the luxuries of an Econoline panel van, and a friend who owned an International Harvester Scout. They lived up mountains and such.

Now sometime between the late 80's and the early 90's the SUV was born: a masterful stroke of marketing that showcased the sins of gluttony and vanity. They're also a wonderful example of Marx's concept of commodity fetishism:
...the existence of the things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. [source...]

That's a mouthful. Basically, commodities, while they have a utility -- a basic usefulness or reason for our needing them -- also have intangible qualities that make them more than their usefulness. Therefore, a BMW is not simply a car but rather "the ultimate driving machine" and therefore driving a BMW, aside from indicating that there's a high chance you're an asshole, alludes to status, success, etc.

In a slightly different context, Roland Barthes takes up this line in Mythologies (and elsewhere), where he identifies the way everyday signs -- from wrestling to wine -- become instruments of ideology (Baudrillard argues similarly early in his career but prefers the term "objects" to "signs"). In all cases, the point seems to be the same: the products around us are more significant in their symbolism than in their usefulness.

So this morning I saw a Lexus SUV trying to navigate the two inch depression caused by an incomplete city pothole patch job. This behemoth of a vehicle, whose ostensible purpose should be to handle difficult off-road situations (I particularly like the "urban SUV" ads that show careful but confident drivers navigating workzones, traffic jams, and potential accidents with ease thanks to the "off road capabilities" of their stylish SUVs), no longer even pretends to be interested in or capable of such achievements, lest their gloss coat or shiny hubcaps get scratched. However, I was unprepared for the absolute irony of the SUV driver gingerly easing his/her car through the shallow dent in the road as I whizzed by on my bicycle.

We truly are a culture of gross stupidity.

20 April 2006

Ken Loach Appreciation Hour.

The British film maker Ken Loach's new film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, is apparently in the running for the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year. Loach's films are always provocative, and they aren't exactly feel-good fare. While Loach tends to stick around European locales (mainly the UK and Ireland), Bread and Roses deals with LA office cleaners and their struggle with both unionization and immigration (Adrian Brody co-stars as a union organizer), and Carla's Song moves from the UK to Nicaragua in the 1980's (with Robert Carlyle as a bus driver so intrigued by Carla that he travels with her to Nicaragua in the middle of the US-funded Contra insurgency).

Loach's new film is set during the early years of the Irish Republic -- building up to the 1922 Civil War -- and it should be interesting given that Loach has already worked with Irish themes before in 1990's Hidden Agenda, set in Northern Ireland (Frances McDormand stars) and very much about the troubles. Loach's producer, Rebecca O'Brien, highlights the connection and also the general technique of Loach films:
'It's not a story like 'Michael Collins', O'Brien continues. 'It's not seeking that sort of biographical accuracy, but rather will express the themes of the period. This is the core of the later Troubles, which is why it's so fascinating to make.'

Loach tends to focus not on the big historical figures but on the small-part players, the ordinary men and women caught up in the events. Their experiences are used to bring large themes into focus; for instance, Carla's Song could certainly be characterized as a love story between the Scottish bus driver and the Nicaraguan exile, but Loach takes that basic human tale -- a tale told forever over and over again -- and puts it in the context of cross-cultural tensions and a proxy war by the United States, bringing out political themes that you don't find in, say, Pretty Woman or Runaway Bride.

I'm looking forward to this film's release in the USA.

19 April 2006

A few ideas in search of a connection.

I don't have cable, so mainly I avoid the wasteland that is 24 hour news channels. I can still remember in the days when I had cable that I would turn to CNN only to flip away in disgust as the hairdos tried to talk and talk...and talk...in a vain attempt to convince the viewer that something was actually happening. That was even before FOX and before CNN turned into nothing but a heavy rotation of crass punditry.

There simply isn't enough news to fill 24 hours.

Or, more closer to truth, there simply isn't enough news Americans care about to fill 24 hours.

We could be vastly better informed about these entities called "foreign countries" than we are. For instance, Canada is in fact another country. Our knowledge of Europe might go beyond which nations have a distaste for deoderant and a love of body hair. We might actually be able to tell whether Kenya is on the west or east coast of Africa and understand some of the complex history involved in the formation of modern African nations. Or that Australia is more than the Outback Steakhouse and in fact isn't entirely like the Mad Max movies depicted it.

Fortunately, I have only been exposed to the ideology factory that is Fox News in small doses -- like in waiting rooms and occasionally at my parents house. However, Fox is only a manifestation of the larger rot that is the cable "news" format. Gasbags with very little dedication to journalism or evenhandedness are brought in to spout the most noxious bile because that's what brings the ratings (or at least the networks hope...it hasn't exactly worked that way for also-rans like msnbc). Racism and homophobia are excused as "edgy." Downright lies are spun, even in misnamed places like "no spin zones," as "entertainment."

Now the Washington Post has done a puff piece on Brit Hume, the one-time ABC journalist who now anchors a Fox News program. Here's the conversion moment, as Hume presumably turns from a "garden variety liberal" -- which the article assumes epitomizes the news corp -- to a conservative:
Hume became more conservative as he saw how much money Congress wasted, and found the coverage of President Reagan "so biased," including the use of the derisive term "trickle-down economics."
When you have a train wreck for a President, it isn't biased to point it out. When a President presides over the greatest health crisis in recent memory and refuses to utter the name "AIDS," then you have a duty as a journalist to report on this seeming ignorance. And for Christ's sake, "trickle-down economics" as a phrase had existed since the 1930's and in economic circles described fairly accurately Reagonomics (although I liked George H.W. Bush's description of it as "voodoo economics" a bit better). Reagan should be happy Bush the Second came along, because it makes him look relatively sane.

Anyway, poor Brit Hume -- a conservative castaway stranded in a sea of liberals -- he's so hard core that, according to Fred Barnes:
"He doesn't go to the Kennedy Center," Barnes says. "He doesn't want to have dinner with Cabinet members or hang around with other people in the press. It's
not normal for a person at the top of the heap in Washington."

So he doesn't like his peers, check. Unlike Larry King, Sam Donaldson, and Tom Brokaw he isn't constantly dragged out to dinner with the Secretary of this or that, check. And finally, he doesn't attend cultural events -- he's a philistine (actually though, much of what the Kennedy Center puts on would qualify for philistine...oh well). Apparently, conservative credentials means you're a misfit loner who hates the Arts.

It still doesn't change the fact that cable news is bad for your health.

18 April 2006

More digging in the dirt.

I worked some summers for the Department of Public Works in my hometown. I was one of the jerky high school and college kids they hired on every summer to deal with the increased activity of the warm weather: cutting grass at the local parks, patching potholes, painting anything that looked like it could use it. Some of the regulars didn't care for us too much. Or maybe just not for me, since I was a good bit of a smartass. Some of the regulars of course thought it was a hoot, because it gave them an entirely new audience for any or all of the following: playing out rivalries with other regulars by proxy, practical jokes, longstanding complaints about the job structure, etc. I learned quite a bit, both practical and purely esoteric.

One thing I learned was that there were three backhoe operators. One of them could scrape the dirt off a one inch water line without touching the pipe; one of them was competent; and one of them caused everyone to scramble out of the hole when he got behind the backhoe controls.

The best backhoe operator, however, was also a bit of a curmudgeon with thick glasses and poorly fitting dentures and an unflappable conviction that any public health issues were basically hoaxes foisted upon us by the medical community, environmentalists, or the government. Cholesterol, for instance, was not a problem at all, nor was salt. This issue came up frequently since 9:30 a.m. meant breaktime and everyone settled down at a local greasy spoon for eggs, bacon, and toast for $1.19 or maybe $1.39 (look, it was 1989). He'd go on about doctors inventing problems to generate more business. Of course, some of the other regulars would goad him further, offering up a few stock phrases that they knew would get him really fired up. In fact, it was a good bet that once a week someone would ask him if he'd heard about the "new government health recommendations on [put some sort of foodstuff here]" just so they could hear him go off.

He was deadly serious into religion, although he didn't talk about it. His church believed in traditional tithing -- 10% of what you made -- and then there were crazy "fee structures" built into it: every few years was a special "tithing year" in which you had to give an additional 10%; there was a festival every so often that one other worker mockingly referred to as "the feast of the beast" at which you were expected to spend another 10%; and so on. I honestly don't understand how anyone working on those salaries could have afforded to belong to such a church, but it was old-school meet in someone's home true believer stuff.

One of the regulars told me the guy had been a regular hell-raiser before he got religion. He'd close bars down and invent new and different ways of combining swear words into formations previously not even dreamt of. I'm not sure what happened to cause his conversion, but it's always intrigued me. Maybe he did it to save his life. Who knows. If he wasn't ranting against the doctors, he almost never said a word.

Summer jobs only offer glimpses into other lives.

17 April 2006

When in doubt, go to the vault.

I'm a little tired today, so I thought I might post a little poetry I wrote a while back.

At the station.

Five years old and my mother drags me
down to the tracks
to see the station before the bulldozers come.
After McCrory's
we walk down the hill
past one room bars where 9 a.m. drunks
wait out the day,
to the rails that stretch fat across the old canal bed
and then tighten to one line
at the crossing
where the station sits.

In the light yellowed from dust shrouded windows
and weak bulbs in smoke-crusted shades,
the scavengers inspect what the railroad left:
doorknobs, mirrors, and light fixtures.
The woman with the cash box explains
that somebeody has already taken the sink with its brass taps.
Piece by piece somebodies will strip the building
to its four walls, roof, and floor.

Two men, tanned and creased, come out of the sun
and stand with their knotted hands
on the doorframe
on the ticket counter
on the worn and wrinkled map.
Although older than my mother
they cry beneath their caps,
and at five I don't understand;
I'm sitting in the corner
my hands thrust into a cardboard box
half-full of rusted spikes.

13 April 2006

Drawn ceaselessly into the past...

I'm from a little tiny town somewhere in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and I'm planning on heading back there this weekend to see some friends, drink a few beers, and hit the overstock stores that dot the landscape.

The place hasn't been the same since the Pennsylvania Rail Road collapsed and the steel industry died. I remember my mother taking me to the old train station to see what bits and pieces they were auctioning off before they tore it down. For years, rusting railcars sat on the tracks in the railyard, where another rail company operated a repair shop until a few years ago. Those cars are all gone now, and there's a huge expanse of empty space between one side of town and another, like a dried out river bed.

Houses there cost next to nothing, comparatively speaking. You could buy a new construction McMansion in one of the new developments for around $250K, or you could get a solid historic building in the center of town for far less. Of course, then you have to figure out what to do with yourself, workwise. There are a lot of retail jobs, so you could fold jeans at the Gap or corral carts at the Wal-Mart.

Still, I love the pastures and the stubby hills and the fact that 15 minutes driving from point to point is considered a long time to be in the car. Also that $1.10 will buy you a draft uptown. I am a cheap cheap bastard. There's a good deal of history there, something I spent a lot of time studying in my young adulthood as I bellied up to bars that had been there since the 19th century.

There are no Starbuck's, no Cosi, no Potbelly's. There's also no 9:30 Club or Black Cat. Mainly, there are friends, family, and memories, and in those three things there's a measure of security.

12 April 2006

Like a garbage strike, the trash keeps piling up.

It was only a blip in yesterday's print edition Post, which makes you wonder, but it appears in an expanded version on the web. And yes I'm late to the game, as several others have snapped at this one. Apparently yet another dirty trick can be traced back to the Bush White House: the phone jamming scandal in New Hampshire's 2002 elections. During the Nixon regime, Watergate was simply the most egregious of the dirty tricks Nixon's cohorts employed to ensure a second term. The aptly named CREEP (committee to re-elect the President) used similar disinformation and annoyance tactics to confuse and derail their political opponents.

The Bush regime has proven themselves to be apt pupils of the Nixon machine, and let's hope Mr. Bush follows Mr. Nixon into the ignominy of forced resignation before the damage to this Republic becomes even worse.

11 April 2006

Hanging out at the Mall...

I went down to the Mall yesterday afternoon for the Immigrant Rights March, as I am employed at an institution of higher learning -- really a land development company that runs a school on the side -- somewhat close to the Mall, and on the way down I saw groups of people walking, some large some small, decked out in white, heading their own way down to the rally. Buses and vans filled with people were stuck in traffic, too.

Down at the Mall the scene was festive -- people were in a good mood, although we had mainly come out of anger over immigration policy. However, it seemed many of the participants were there to make apparent what so many officials seem to deny or misunderstand: the United States continues to be a nation built by immigrants, still being built by immigrants. As the Washington Post headline put it, "We decided not to be invisible anymore."

Whole families -- encompassing several generations -- came out to the rally. At the center of the Mall, the crowds packed together, but that dense mass tells only part of the story. As far back as the Washington Monument, smaller groups sat together with their posters and flags, either resting before heading to the larger rally or taking a break from it. The same was true of the side streets. As I made my way up the Mall, people streamed back and forth over the street that runs between the Smithsonian Castle and the Mall. Their presence could not be denied.

Struggle against entrenched power takes patience. It takes confrontation. One of the first steps, though, is to participate, to get out and make your presence known -- you must become visible to others, even as zealots like Colorado Representative Tancredo attempt to disappear you.

This fight is not about crossing the border illegally; it's about the same issues that were evident in the early 20th century as eugenicists pushed their agenda to limit immigration from the "inferior stock" and "unassimilable" southern and eastern European nations. It's about right-wing assertions that the United States is a "white man's country" and a "Christian nation" (because although Latinos made up the mass of the protesters we can't forget that immigration is being used as a bully stick in the so-called "War on Terror" and gets attached to Muslim immigrants as well).

Many "illegals" have been in this country for decades and the dirty secret that the politicians and pundits try to gloss over is that our economy has depended upon them for well over a century -- they are integrated into the fabric of the nation's business.

10 April 2006

Pity the Poor Minutemen...

Today an immigrants' rights rally will take place in Washington, DC, and in other cities across the USA. The DC rally organizers hope to have somewhere around 180,000 people show up. The prospect of a large rally like this one obviously has the local Minutemen club up in arms. The Post was able to draw the following quote from one exercised member:
Stephen Schreiman, director of the Maryland chapter, said only U.S. citizens should have the right to protest on U.S. land.
"Unfortunately, American laws do not ban foreigners from protesting on our soil," he said. "They've got the legal right to go out there and protest."

Schreiman, whose name sounds suspiciously German to me -- he could be an agent for the Kaiser --, really puts the Minutemen out in wacko wacko land. Ban foreigners from protesting on our soil? In other words, suspend the Bill of Rights for non-citizens? I'm no legal expert, but from my sparse knowledge of precedent, I'd say even foreign nationals are protected from illegal search and seizure, have freedom of speech, rights of assembly, etc. Lawyers can correct or back me up on appropriate case law. However, it's my understanding that joints like Gitmo exist for the precise reason that the Bush Administration doesn't want those particular foreign nationals on US soil, where they would be protected by US legal rights.

Of course, Mr. Schreiman -- or should I say "Herr Schreiman" -- makes the assumption that the protest will essentially be made up of "foreigners," and maybe it will. However, I'm willing to bet that a good sized number of participants will not be the "illegal" foreigners that the good Minutemen are so adamant about keeping out. First and second generation naturalized citizens, children of immigrants, immigrant rights advocates, human rights advocates, legal aliens in the US on work visas or student visas or just visiting, etc., will probably also be part of the process.

In the end, though, we have to pity the poor minutemen, who mainly police only one immigrant population and one border -- the Latino immigrants and the Mexican border -- and probably couldn't field enough supporters to fill even the short bus, as they sit and watch the truth unfold before their disbelieving eyes: this nation has always been and will probably always be a nation of immigrants...

07 April 2006

This is not what happened.

I was in eighth grade but maybe it was much later. Maybe in college. Maybe I was only thinking of eighth grade because that's the moment of my greatest shame. Not sixth grade. Those were only bad marks. C was average anyway. Average means normal. Normal is good. Sixth grade was good, even if I didn't smile. The shame I'm talking about is fear and inaction. Cowardice. I was younger or older, I don't know, when I saw those kids flogging a plastic trash bag in the stream, the cat long dead before I could stop them. I stopped them, though, so that's not the time. I had never seen those kids before. They weren't from the neighborhood, I didn't have to face them day after day with hatred burning, knowing evil so close.

You were sitting on the bottom bunk, my bunk. You had the smell of light sweat from a long walk. We didn't talk. Not then or ever. We should have. When I said I didn't know you I meant it. I still do. Young people do stupid things, sometimes even more stupid than old people. We are stupid because we have time, our futures long against our short pasts. What's 20? I quarter of your life? What if by then you have already felt all the shame you ever want to feel? What if by then the shame you've felt means you will never feel shame again? What if by then the grass outside, the pine needles, the sofa, the floor carpeted or not, the car -- even bucket seats -- all mean the same thing?

I stitched together what I wanted. I keep scraps of memory like spare cloth, picking up this thread and that swatch when I need it. When it suits. I have favorite patterns, nothing ever really matches though. Now I'm disappointed but then I wasn't. In eighth grade not everyone made the team. Is retroactive shame the same? It took me ten years to feel bad about being cut. Ten years for squandering opportunities, for not working hard. For not learning lessons. I still don't learn lessons. Time repeats his lesson whether you learn it or not.

I can't say positively what I mean. I am holding back. We carry things more heavily than others; others carry things more heavily than we do. It's rare that two people carry the same burden with the same weight. I return like a thief to the scene of my shame, to the sunny weekend afternoon that I watched them threaten you, pinned against a tree. I sat as if watching television, the action somehow not real until it was over and I understood what I hadn't done. I don't know if you carry that with you like I do. We don't talk about it.

It's ridiculous to assert. It's only a game. Basketball drew me closer, drew me further. I salvaged one relationship and killed another. It's only a game. We still use that common language. I can tell the story this way: a coming of age tale. I can tell the story this way: reconciliation. I can tell the story this way: overweening pride. They are all truths in one way or another.

I'm not sure this can be finished.

The evidence continues to mount...

A while ago, when the whole Valerie Plame leak story broke, George Bush vowed that he would fire anyone who leaked the name. After it came to light that higher ups in his administration were involved, he changed his tune to firing anyone who was convicted of illegal activity. Now that he himself is implicated, can he please find it in his heart to keep his original word and resign his post?

To quote from another shameful episode of our political past, "You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? "

06 April 2006

That first line of Dante's Inferno keeps coming back to haunt me.

I had a very scary thing happen to me last night.

I was sitting in the living room, playing my acoustic guitar, when my daughter put herself in a situation in which I had to stop playing and attend to her. As I uncurled my fingers from the fretboard, I felt a sharp pain in my index and middle fingers. I'm hoping like all hell it was a cramp.

I couldn't straighten my fingers out for a few minutes, and I took a couple tylenols just in case, because, well, that's what you do with arthritis. It put me in mind of the librarian in my elementary school, whose hands were so stricken by arthritis they were permanently curled. At the time, it was eerie and made her kind of creepy, but looking back on it years later I wondered how much pain she was in daily.

In the past few years, as my body keeps telling me that I'm closer to 40 than I am to 30, I've understood that one of our tragedies is the loss of our body as we remembered it: the energy, the recovery, the resiliency.

My hands are fine now, and I'm fairly certain it was a cramp, but in the medical mood I'm in, I was of course jumping to all sorts of degenerative diseases conclusions.

"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

05 April 2006

Rooted to the spot.

I was reading through some of my regular blogs the other day, and I picked up this meme that centers on 4 things (as in 4 jobs you've had, etc.). I thought about it and went through what I might answer, and when it got to four places you've lived I realized there have only been four places I've lived in my already long life.

There's the place I was born. There's the place I went to college. There's the place I took my first job. There's the District. That's it. Now within the District, I've moved four times, but that really doesn't count, especially as one move was only down the street.

Maybe this lack of mobility is related to the fact that I had never flown on an airplane until I was 27. Maybe to the fact that my father still lives within ten miles of where he was born and where his ancestors first plopped themselves down in America back 1810 or so. My mother on the other hand lives a grand 40 miles from where her father plopped himself down when he came over from Wales back in 1910 or so (technically, his parents did the plopping as he was very young). To do away with any confusion, let me add that my parents are married and still live in the house I grew up in. The main point is that we never have moved around too much.

Here's a big surprise.

What a shocker. The New York Times (via CNN) reports that Bush's tax cuts have primarily helped the wealthy. No shit. Hello, like, the dude is a, y'know, Republican. The "theory" behind his cuts -- meaning the ideology used to cover the fact that Bush was doing nothing more than helping out his other elite friends -- was the same old "trickle down" crap, which is simply bastardized "supply side" economics. As Jake would say, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Unfortunately, a bit closer to reality is the increasing stratification of class. So if, as CNN summarizes the NY Times, "The newspaper's tax cut analysis showed that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers," what that means is that 98% of taxpayers received a bit less than 30% of Bush's grandiosity. But wait, the Right cackles, having more disposable income means the wealthy will invest more, and greater investment will lead to more jobs, and everyone will be happy.

It's a beautiful theory, but it's less realistic than the hippies' idea that running around naked and smoking dope would change the world. Let me turn to Marx -- and say what you will about the fools who pretended to implement his theories, Marx's actual writings are fairly solid -- and the essay "Wage Labor and Capital" lays out the basic stratification that occurs through capital investment: even as wages rise or more workers are fed, the increased return on investment lifts the capitalists boat ever higher -- therefore the wage gap increases. Eventually you end up with two worlds, such as existed in Marx's time (think Zola's Germinal), and which the United States was partially able to ameliorate in the 20th century through a progressive tax system and worker protections that created a large middle-class.

And guess what...we're moving in that direction again as gated communities and private-security patrolled subdivisions seal off the well-to-do from rest of society and the notion of social responsibility collapses under the ever-increasing privatized and isolated lived experience of many people (the internet may connect people to one another but it results more often in flame wars than blogger happy hours).

04 April 2006

Life's a Riot on Capitol Hill.

Tom DeLay has decided to resign -- get this -- rather than "allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative personal campaign." No. It has nothing to do with his indictment or his extremely close ties to disgraced and now convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. No. It's all about the nastiness of "liberal Democrats" (of which by the way there might be two or three left in office).

As if his seat were really in danger. The alleged money launderer easily won his primary campaign and received glowing moral endorsements from some gathering that claims to be Christian, although they're probably Christian in the same way that the "German Democratic Republic" was a democracy. Given that DeLay hails from the suburbs of one of the most loathsome cities in the United States, it should be interesting to see what sort of slime comes forward to replace him -- give him or her a GOP sticker and the upright citizens will vote that way, so long as the candidate isn't a child rapist.

However, the Democrats are a pathetic bunch, between their kowtowing to Bush's rush to war, their utter inability to develop cohesive responses or alternative strategies (saying "I would still go to war but I would do it better" is not an alternative strategy). Then there's the whole Cynthia McKinney story. Regardless of her guilt or innocence, it's a complete failure on the part of her as an individual and the Democratic Party as a whole that this story has continued on. For the fools who act as handlers for Rep. McKinney, here's a tip on squelching a story: apologize early. This entire matter would have gone nowhere had McKinney had the grace to apologize -- even if she was not in the wrong.

In fact, here are the bones of a sample apology: "Rep. McKinney deeply regrets the misunderstanding that occurred at the security checkpoint. In her rush to make a meeting, she overlooked the very important security policies put in place to protect all Congressional staff; she has the greatest respect for the dedicated officers of the Capitol Police, and apologizes for the confusion that arose out of the incident."

However, Rep. McKinney feels she was the one who was wronged, and it didn't take long for the race card to get played. However, I think she should have played that differently and gone for more political points -- she should have feigned astonishment that the officer didn't recognize her since there were so few African American congresspeople who should therefore stick out and be easily remembered. In other words, rather than dubiously claiming that the officer would have let an unrecognized white guy rush through the security barriers, she should have used his lack of recognition as a moment to discuss the dearth of minorities in the legislature.

Instead, here's the story: arrogant out of touch professional politician Democrat believes security is for "the little people." Great job.

Still, I'd rather be in McKinney's position than DeLay's.

03 April 2006

Morose Monday.

Growing old, we no longer read palms.

I am consumed with crazy health problems.
Either I have cancer or I'm constipated. I haven't decided which way I lean.
Cancer is everywhere. It hides in joints
and beneath the fatty tissue. It waits
to spring upon your good fortune like a fox
on new hatched chicks.
Now I have a pain, maybe a muscle pull,
or appendicitis, or it's possible
a lump like a golfball
but nowhere near as clean and bright
chewing up my insides.

Does anyone get hernias anymore?

The doctor will see me in three weeks, which will give
me plenty of time to brood and hope
that maybe I have a tapeworm. Something I can blame
besides myself for what I see in the mirror. Something
that can be removed, like a ball of hair in a drain,
to make everything new again.