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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I Can't Stop Myself

How do you tell the difference between a rut and a routine? A routine is a good thing to be in but a rut is something you have to pull yourself out of—and fast. A routine is something you get into on your way towards a better you and a rut is some God-awful sameness that you experience day after day. A rut grinds you down until there is nothing left but a soft, incoherent blob. But at what point does a routine become a rut or a “rut-tine” if you will?

Even if most of what you do throughout the course of your day is good for you, a mindless, grinding repetition of these activities is as self-destructive as any of the sins that land other people in rehab clinics.

If I so much as order a different size of coffee my day is shot to hell. That is a different size, lord help me if I order a completely new form of coffee—I’d probably need medical attention. If I don’t walk into my gym between 11-11:15 the gals at the front desk start phoning the local hospitals to find out what has happened to me (not that they care about me, they are just sales-oriented—God bless them) .

I recently watched the movie Matchstick Men that dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorders. Just because some guy opens and closes a door three times makes him a freak? Try a guy (me) who, because today is Tuesday, needs to get his heart beat up to 165 beats per minutes and he has a little electronic device that helps him do it. How creepy would it be if you knew someone who played piano and they had all of their diverse music bound up in one book with the exact fingering for each note scribbled on the sheet music in red pencil?

Getting scared yet? How about these freak-toids:

Coffee: 16 oz. drip, one equal and a half packet of sugar.

Breakfast at the Mecca (a local restaurant and bar): I get the #7 and I’ve never ordered anything else.

All bills face up in my wallet, no change in my pockets, before I have taken two steps from my bed in the morning I hit the radio button for NPR, although I have about 800 CD’s I only listen to Glenn Gould’s English Suites (and only one or two movements of that CD). Only if people are over and I don’t want them to know what a weirdo I am will I put on other music to show them what a diverse and spontaneous guy I am.

There is more but I will spare you the gruesome details. The sad thing is that the more I am in my “rut-tine” the happier I am, the more “productive” I feel I have been that day. Just exactly what I am producing in this productivity besides neurosis is not obvious to me. Beneath my calm, boring exterior lies someone who may one day order a latte instead of a drip coffee in the morning. I shudder at the consequences if this madman is unleashed on the general public.

Monday, March 29, 2004

A Dog's Life

They always say that writers should write about what they know. The problem is most writers—most people—don’t know too much. It takes an incredible amount of energy to go out there and learn new things to write about. This is where the problem arises. These internet blogs are mostly people looking to the daily news for their inspiration--if you can call what is written on these pages inspiration.

Lately I’ve been leaning way too much towards punditry in what I write here. On the one hand it is hard to see what is happening here in this country and not say something about it but on the other hand I would like to write something that goes beyond what is passing for news today. The word for newspaper in Greek is ephemeritha; today’s ephemeral news is tomorrow's bird cage liner or whatever the digital news equivalent of that would be. That should be the motto of pundit blogs: Read it today because tomorrow you can’t even use it to clean up bird poop.

Over this past weekend I took care of the adorable pit bull puppy I wrote about last week. She is three months old and just about the friendliest dog I have ever been around. Her name is Francis. Because I live in a building that doesn’t allow dogs, I had to sneak her in and out, so I started calling her Anne Franck. I am house-training her so that meant taking her in and out about twenty times a day.

To properly house-train a dog you have to get into a synchronized rhythm: either the dog gets into your routine or vice versa. I opted to get into three-month-old-puppy rhythm which can be broken down hourly like this: 3 hours walking, 30 minutes peeing, 15 minutes pooping, 15 minutes chewing on something you shouldn’t chew on, 4 hours relaxing, 17 hours sleeping. From Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon this was my exciting life. Not exactly the mother lode for a creative writer.

During one long stretch on the couch Saturday afternoon I read this week’s New Yorker cover to cover while Francis appeared to be in some sort of comatose state complete with snoring. That was the relatively ambitious part of my weekend. I farted around playing some Chopin mazurkas and waltzes on the piano that I once played fairly well until inattention wiped them from my repertoire. And then I would sleep, get up, take a nap, and then go back to bed. I am generally the world’s worst sleeper, getting by on 4-5 hours a night if I’m lucky. I was both appalled and proud of my sleeping performance this weekend. I didn’t ride a bike for two days and at my current level of fitness I could feel the atrophy in my legs. I imagine this is what withdrawal must feel like (I have never denied myself my vices so I can only imagine).

It’s Monday morning, the dog is gone, and I’m off to punish my legs and red-line my heart rate monitor. I realize this past weekend doesn’t make the best fodder for someone looking for a writing subject but at least I spared you my narrow-minded, ill-informed liberal political views--at least for today.


Friday, March 26, 2004

It's NOT OK to be Stupid

It’s not OK to be stupid. I realize this goes contrary with what you are told by TV but it is not OK to be stupid. It’s OK to be ignorant but being proud of being stupid is just not cool.

I caught a minute or two of the Ellen Degeneres show at the gym on Monday. She had as a guest some guy from Morocco and somehow the conversation got around to the languages he spoke. He mentioned French and Ellen blurted out some pidgin French and the audience got a big kick out of how funny and cool Ellen was for not speaking French. It just reaffirmed my view that most people on TV in this country are nitwits.

Had Ellen rattled off a bunch of French, or better yet a bunch of Arabic, I would have been impressed. I would think that here is a woman who is intelligent and cosmopolitan, someone whose show might be worth watching, she might say something worthwhile. But no, she’s just another dull drip in the sewer that makes up most of television. If she had spoken French she would have only made her audience uncomfortable with their ignorance. I went back to reading my book.

It certainly is OK not to speak French. My own French is certainly flawed and no one can be expected to speak every language. But it certainly isn’t cool not to speak another language. It isn’t cute or funny to butcher another language. If I were speaking with someone in Dutch I wouldn’t be proud of the fact that my Dutch is lousy. I wouldn’t think that my ignorance of that language was cute or funny. I would find it embarrassing more than anything else.

I suppose lots of people are comforted by the lame brains that make up most of our popular culture because they reassure everyone that it is OK to be an anti-intellectual slob. I used to keep track of how often I would hear of a celebrity confess that they never read, ever. If I didn’t read I certainly wouldn’t walk around practically bragging about it. This leads me to the curious question people invariably ask: If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich? I would ask people like Ellen and other non-reading celebrities: If you are so rich why aren’t you smart?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

1 Across: 4 Letter Word for NY Times Puzzle Solver

I sat down at the coffee shop this morning and found a paper open to the New York Times crossword puzzle. The whole thing had been filled in—in ink of course. My first reaction was to get angry at Miss/Mister Big Brain for leaving this behind to taunt those of us who are unable to fill in the entire puzzle. It’s like an animal leaving its scent right on top of the table. But then I thought that I’m the guy who is always complaining about how all we do in this culture is venerate physical beauty yet here is someone showing off their smarts and I am giving them grief. Leaving behind a completed NY Times crossword puzzle would be the equivalent of someone baring their midriff or wearing a pair of tight jeans.

Maybe what our culture needs is more ways for smart people to let other people know how smart they are. I mean, after you get fake breast implants all you need is a ten dollar tube top for the world to know how you spent your last $5,000. Spend a year studying art history in Florence and nobody would ever know. Spend the morning working your way through a Bach cello suite and when you go out for a cup of coffee you’re just another kid with bad skin. It’s not fair and I think it’s time we did something about it.

Why not make everyone do the NY Times crossword puzzle before leaving the house in the morning. After the allotted twenty minutes you have to cut the puzzle out of the paper and wear it around your neck for the rest of the day. This might drastically alter our whole mating ritual in this country. You’d see some guy with a chiseled upper body who has only filled in two clues to the puzzle—one of them is wrong and the other has to do with a TV actor. Girls, you’d think twice about flirting with this dimwit and there haven’t been a set of fake boobs made that are big enough to cover up a puzzle with nothing filled in.

I’m not much of a crossword puzzler so I’d be forced to mate with like-minded members of my species. I don’t think I like this new system because it wouldn’t do me a bit of good as far as meeting women. Let’s just scrap this whole system before we get started. Let me devise a system wherein my unique talents are held in esteem and guys and girls like me get the pick of the gene pool. I can’t think of anything I do that ranks up there with finishing the NY Times crossword puzzle. How about if we just drop our names in a hat to pick our mates?

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Whining My Life Away

I didn’t mean to frighten loyal readers of this page with yesterday’s completely irony-free essay on the joys of near dog ownership. As I said, dogs bring out the best in people but now the puppy is gone and I can go back to being my usual crotchety self. I can go back to complaining about things like the guy somewhere in my building who is learning the guitar. From what I can tell he is playing the world’s first three month guitar solo of Freebird using only four notes—not four chords but four notes. I thought people my age were supposed to start losing their hearing? I should be so lucky.

Then there is the really big guy I call “The Three Tenors” who is always at the coffee shop talking on his cell phone in a loud voice that is only really appropriate for football coaches screaming in plays from the sidelines. I wish that guy would shut his cake hole or I guess I should say scone hole since this is Seattle.

I realize this is Sunday and I should lay off but if there is a God why did he make donuts taste so good? Why are French fries with mayonnaise the best thing in the world? Why doesn’t he just make rat poison taste good so we can make our demise nice and quick? Let's just get it over with. Do you think rat poison tastes good? What about with mayonnaise? On the other hand, have you ever actually tasted tofu? It tastes like absolute crap even if you deep fry it and serve it with mayonnaise or with sugar glaze and yet it’s supposed to be good for you. That’s just being cruel. Who would do that?

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Dogs Bring Out the Best in People

I was dog-sitting a friend’s pit bull puppy yesterday. It isn’t really her dog. She has it on loan from the pit bull adoption agency or whatever the hell it is. Francis is about three months old and if there is something cuter than a pit bull puppy you guys have been keeping it from me my entire life.

I walked Francis from my apartment to the new dog park on 3rd and Bell that I wrote about before, or the Dog Zoo as I call it. She’s not the most enthusiastic of walkers and from time to time, for no apparent reason, she would plant all four legs firmly on the ground and make me stop—not good when crossing a busy street. I had to pick her up and carry her across the busiest intersections. Seattle is a very dog-friendly town so just about every pedestrian we passed stopped to marvel at Francis’ cuteness. A little girl about six years old was petting her. I told her to be careful because just the other day Francis licked a little kid so bad he had to go to the hospital. The little girl froze up for a second before she understood I was joking.

The puppy went over big at the dog park. Francis got into a little scuffle with a very aggressive cairn terrier (That Toto dog) but after I scolded her she cleaned up her act and played nice. There were about fifteen dogs at the park and it was a freaking free-for-all: Every dog for himself. As this was lunch hour there was a veritable crowd outside the fences as other people are as entertained by watching dogs play as I.

After we got back to my apartment Francis peed on the rug by my door. After that I cooked lunch and the dog passed out. I can’t have a dog for a lot of reasons but on this afternoon my day was a lot better than days when I don’t have a dog.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Conservative Travel Planning

The World Gets Even Smaller
 A whopping 77% of Spanish voters turned out for their latest election--that's what I call democracy! They turned out the ruling party and put the socialists back in power. A lot of people on the American right are now condemning Spain for giving in to terrorists. This is a silly argument when you consider that 92% of the Spanish people were against the war in Iraq from the beginning. Conservatives in the United States have added another enemy to their list: Evil Spain.

Countries that have traditionally been our staunchest allies are being called the vilest of names these days. Most of the insults having something to do with cowardice for not standing up to the terrorists, or Muslims, or Arabs (Aren’t they all the same anyway?). They are being called cowards by Americans most of whom can’t be bothered to show any heroics themselves. Why aren’t the Bush daughters in the military if their pop is so convinced this war is just and necessary? Most of the right-wing geeks probably think they are making a contribution to t he war effort sitting in front of their computer screens and spilling bile into the virtual sewer of the internet.

All of this enemy-making has drastically reduced the travel opportunities for the extreme right. France is definitely off-limits, Germany isn’t much better, and now Spain should be avoided. Better stay away from ‘Old Europe’ with its notions of socialized medicine, progressive tax structures, commitment to public education, and other dangerous notions that limit the freedom of the super-rich. Not that it was much fun to begin with but I’d stay away from Canada while you’re at it since they aren’t towing the party line these days.

The East and West coasts of our own country are bad news what with lots of people voting for Democrats. I think Disneyland is OK for you and the kids but just don’t talk to any Hollywood actors out there as they are all anti-war liberals. And be careful you don't come home married to a guy named Tony who has better hair than your wife. The truth is that you really shouldn’t venture outside of the red states in the center of the country. Not that you could actually afford to travel much outside of your home state since so many of you have lost your high-paying manufacturing jobs over the past few years.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Notes from the Seattle Underground

I am feuding with my internet provider so I am forced to go out to coffee shops that offer a free wireless connection. This isn’t a bad deal although it isn’t too convenient at times. It also makes me feel like an even bigger Seattle cliché than I already am. Come on, a fucking laptop at the café? What’s next? Next will be me wearing socks with sandals or one of those stupid Rasta knit hats.

Right now I am on the second floor of a really cool coffee/donut shop. Top Pot Donuts is on Fifth and Blanchard right underneath the monorail. The two story glass façade lights up the second floor where I sit above the street. Bookshelves line the walls on both ends and a marble staircase joins the top and bottom. It has to be the world’s most glamorous donut shop

I bought a new commuter bike yesterday; or rather I bought about a 15 year old Cannondale mountain bike that I tricked out with all of the stuff from my busted commuter bike. It is pretty decent and a lot easier to ride around town than my fussy full suspension mountain bike. It is also old enough not to be much of a candidate for theft like my expensive mountain bike. I looked at the odometer in my car the other day and I have put on less than 5,000 per year since I bought it. I have to log more miles than that on my bikes.

In other news from Seattle the city has made Regrade Park on 3rd and Bell into an off-leash dog park. Regrade Park is just a small corner lot that was always a cesspool of crack heads and passed-out drunks. Now it is a dog playground that I can’t help stopping by whenever I pass through. It looks like some sort of Lord of the Flies for canines. The dogs chase each other around and set up their mutt hierarchy with usually one of the smaller, scrappier breeds winning out. A couple of Seattle cops were checking out the park the other day and I asked them why they didn’t make this whole part of town an off-leash dog park and send the crack heads over to the next county. I call this park the Dog Zoo.

Friday, March 12, 2004

I'll Drink to That

If only all holidays were more like Saint Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve. What a better world this would be if on every recognized holiday people went from theme bar to theme bar drinking appropriately-colored beers and liquors until one or more people in their party is out back in the alley hurling in and on the dumpster. Think of how much easier Thanksgiving and Christmas would be if instead of all of the present rigmarole all you had to worry about is going out and getting shit-faced. This is the problem, people: you aren’t thinking about it. Once again I have had to do the thinking for you.

If you are old enough to remember, Saint Patrick’s Day used to be a pretty not-shit holiday. I was the one back in 1975, still drinking on a fake ID, who turned this boring, sober, and fairly anonymous holiday into the binge-drinking epicenter of American low culture that it is today. Before then there were no Irish theme bars in the U.S. Some friends and I simply used Saint Patrick’s Day as an excuse to drink a case of Rolling Rock on a school night. We didn’t even know the guy was Irish that first year, we just noticed his name on the calendar. The next year—after a bit of research—we did our boozing in the only half-way Irish-sounding bar in town. I think the place was called O’Shea’s Diner or something corny like that. We trashed the place but the guy had one of his best nights ever and the rest--so to speak--is history.

Irish bars sprouted like dandelions after that and now you have the boozing orgy that currently marks the passing of March 17th. Since Saint Patty’s Day has been such an overwhelming success I have taken it upon myself to do the same thing for Christmas starting this year. Forget about presents, cards, trees, decorations, and definitely the caroling this Christmas season. All of that stuff was getting totally out of hand and we all know it. Now all you have to do is go out with your friends and get wrecked.

There is a bar in Seattle called “The Three Wise Men,” which although has nothing to do with Jesus or his birth (Named after the three Ernies who own it), would make an excellent choice as the first Christmas theme bar. Other possible names for Christmas theme bars: “The Manger,” or how about “The Inn is Full Martini Bar,” or “The J,M&J Bar?” I could come up with a bunch of theme shots but I think you deadbeats should do some of the work of organizing this thing yourselves. You’ll thank me when instead of a huge credit card bill the only downside to this new-and-improved Yuletide is a vicious hangover. You can buy me a drink.

The thought of turning all of our national holidays into binge-drinking events makes my head spin with the possibilities. Take Thanksgiving for example. Instead of all of the cooking, and setting the table, and the "I should make real cranberry sauce but like any of these animals would know the difference," and the clean up, and the tedious relatives boring you half to death, and Uncle Myron and those horrible cigars, and "For the love of God didn't anyone teach you kids to flush?" instead of that you could just have a kegger with plastic cups. And forget about the diamond you were going to buy your ungrateful girlfriend for Saint Valentine’s Day; just get her a fifth of Old Grandad. Now that's romance!

Monday, March 08, 2004

What Lies Ahead

You can sense that Spaniards are excited about their future. Spain is a country that over the past twenty years has dramatically raised the level of all its citizens. It is a country that seems to be eradicating poverty, making it a thing of the past, treating it as if poverty has no place in the 21rst century. I saw Spain as a country striding confidently into this new century, practically giddy with the prospects of what the future will bring yet holding on to their past with an almost desperate effort to preserve every brick and cobblestone put in place by their ancestors.

The restoration of older buildings in Madrid borders on obsession yet beneath the city pulses one of the best metro systems in the world. They have decided that holding on to the past while forging ahead to the future are not collision courses. Madrid’s Atocha train station is a great example of how the past segues into the future. Built in 1889 Atocha Station has been transformed to meet the needs of a 21rst century metropolis, fully integrated not only into the nation’s rail network but also into the urban transportation needs of Madrid. The same can be said of Madrid’s Barajas airport. It too is connected to the city’s mass transit system and is only minutes away from any place in the city at a cost of less than a can of soda. I have to pay about $28 bucks to get from my apartment in Seattle to SeaTac Airport. Good thing I’m loaded.

Every Spaniard I talked to about their ever-growing network of high-speed rail lines was practically gushing with pride about the projects. They should be proud; the rail lines are truly a marvel of technology. You can either sit in your expensive automobile, paying your expensive insurance as you drive down the freeway going perhaps 80 mph while dodging other yahoos on the road like some horribly dangerous version of space invaders, or you can sit in a comfortable train sipping a glass of wine and go 180 mph safely. Take your pick.

The Spanish (and other Europeans) have picked and now they can’t build these rail lines fast enough. Rail lines that will cut travel time by as much as 75% on the Madrid-Barcelona line. Of course the lines are terribly expensive. These are dedicated rail lines without a single intersection with automobiles. Can you imagine thousands of miles of train track that every road must either go over or under?

But they are looking to their future. They are investing in their future. They are all in it together. Universal healthcare is a part of their constitution. Their commitment to public education is stronger than ever. They are committed to the future.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

An AMTRAK Eye to the Future

I took the train down to Portland, Oregon on Thursday. I left Seattle’s King Street Station at 10:00 a.m. on a train ultimately bound for Los Angeles. When we boarded there was a woman in our spot. She wasn’t given a window seat and wasn’t too happy about it. The car was rather full so I suggested that she move up to the cool observation car and just sit there for the entire trip. I saw her later and she thanked me profusely for my advice. We sat down in our extremely roomy seats and looked out the window like we were watching a movie.

This is just an incredibly beautiful ride as the track hugs the Puget Sound with the water framed by the Olympic Mountains to the west. Driving this way by car isn’t nearly as much fun. The train takes four hours and to go by car takes at least three hours. I would opt for the train every time. It’s just more civilized.

Portland is a great looking town although it seems a little sleepy. I would imagine that Seattle seems a little sleepy for visitors coming from bigger cities. The downtown area is as clean as a whistle. The street cars seem to be a truly civilized mode of public transportation and I like the fact that you can ride them with your bicycle. I haven’t heard much about how Portlanders feel about the system. I can’t believe thAT Seattle has yet to implement a rail network. The Seattle monorail project is mired in controversy even before a single rail of track has been laid.

I spent some time in Powel Books in Portland. This is an enormous new and used bookstore. I found an excellent copy of Richard Price’s Clockers which I read when it came out in 1992. Now that I have reread almost the whole thing I have to say that it is a masterpiece. Perhaps I’ll write more about this novel when I’m finished.

The train back on Friday afternoon was almost completely full. It made me happy to see that so many people are choosing to use this more responsible form of transportation. People need to get on board, so to speak. I think that a high speed rail down the entire west coast would be a great alternative to flying. I think a high speed line like I took in Spain could crank out the 961 miles from Seattle to San Francisco in about five hours—maybe six. When you consider that it takes you over an hour to get to the airport and clear security, a two hour flight, and then another 45 minutes getting from the airport to the center of town (Train stations are almost always in the heart of the city) I think a train would be a very viable and safer alternative. Fuck going to Mars; let’s start building a better railroad.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Right Wing Mantras Part III: Globalization Full Steam Ahead

The juggernaut of globalization is showing a few cracks after years and years of this ideology being taken completely for granted. Of course we must embrace the world economy; a world of efficiency and lower prices; a better world for every one of us. As this presidential race is showing, globalization now finally has more than a few critics. A few thinkers like John Ralston Saul have been pointing out globalization’s fatal flaws for over a decade but most economists were either all for it or at least waiting to see what would happen in the wake of massive outsourcing. Now we know: it is quickly turning into a disaster.

To criticize globalization was seen as the same thing as criticizing free trade. The opposite of free trade is protectionism. Everyone sees protectionism as a bad thing, and it probably is, but globalization is not the same as free trade. Manufacturing jobs have been pouring out of the United States at an alarming rate. Business owners claim that products can be made more efficiently in other countries. This is the central lie of the entire globalization argument: American workers are not inefficient.

What proponents of “globalization at any cost” fail to mention or remember is that we here in the United States spent the end of the 19th century and most of the 20th century in a sometimes desperate struggle to define acceptable labor and environmental policies. American manufacturers are bound by the social contracts forged on the fires of countless strikes and in countless senate hearings. The fact that manufacturers are bound by these contracts does not make them inefficient, it makes them responsible.

On the other hand, the Chinese side-stepped these messy labor-management struggles and their feet aren’t held to the fire on conservation issues. Of course they can make stuff cheaper if they can pay their workers next-to-nothing and then dump their waste in the Yangste.

I was paging through the Asian Economic Review a week ago when I came upon an article about Malaysia complaining about the loss of its manufacturing jobs. American manufacturers outsourced a lot of jobs to Malaysia. Now those workers have been undercut by workers in India and China. The same thing happened with U.S. steel production. At first we outsourced steel production to South Korea because they paid theie workers slave wages. As soon as the workers there rose up to demand better pay the managers packed off the steel industry and went to cheaper pastures.

For the most part globalization has been great at making some people obscenely rich while a lot of displaced American workers are stumbling around working two jobs to try to get back to where they were before their manufacturing jobs were sent overseas.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Chutzpah of the Working Class

I was going through a pile of papers at a coffee shop yesterday when I found the business section for The Seattle Times for Saturday, February 28, 2004. There was an article on Martha Stewart’s securities fraud trial, another about the government going after the $4.7 million dollar home and $50 million in assets of the former CEO of Enron, Jeffrey Skilling. Yet another story concerned the NYSE trying to get back the $120 million dollar salary it paid its former chairman, Richard Grasso. At the bottom of the page was a little something about 70,000 California grocery workers striking to keep their health benefits and their outrageous hourly wages of UP TO $15 FUCKING DOLLARS!! Can you believe the nerve of those damn grocery workers?

I have a train to catch so let me ruminate on the audacity of these uppity grocery store clerks.

Right Wing Mantras Part II: Take Responsibility for Your Actions

“Take responsibility for your own actions.” Just another bullshit phrase the Right shoe-horns into as many verbal exchanges as they can. Listen to a conservative long enough and I just about guarantee you’ll hear them say this. It's just one of their many stupid fortune cookie sayings they throw out; an axiom coated with bullshit and filled with something worse.

On a side note, I like stock sayings, too, like, “That’s not funny; my brother died that way.” I like to shoe-horn that line from The Onion into my conversations whenever I can. It is just as stupid as the mantra of the Right but it keeps me entertained.

“These people need to take responsibility for their own actions.” I’ll bet Rush Limbaugh has said this about poor people about 10 million times. They need to take responsibility for their own actions and become rich and arrogant and stupid like him. Of course, when Rush was caught with a huge stash of pain killers he took responsibility for his own actions by blaming his problem on back pain. Thousands of pain killers for back pain? Take the pain like a man, Rush. I’ve had debilitating back pain; most athletes have at one time or another. I passed on the pain killers and opted for weight training. I save drugs for recreational use and I don’t get addicted and I certainly don’t get caught. But I’m a liberal who can‘t take responsibility for my own actions.

Rich people are able to take responsibility for their own actions but poor people are always asking for help. The fact that the federal government helps rich people more than poor people is beside the point. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton got billions of dollars in help from the government in the form of fat contracts yet in the vice presidential debates of 2000 he claimed that the government had nothing to do with his prosperity. He took responsibility for his own actions by using his status as a former public servant to make millions. That isn’t the same as somebody cashing a food stamp for a loaf of bread.

And speaking of food stamps; Hey rich people, doesn’t it piss you off when you see people buy candy with food stamps? It would but in the current stratification of America rich people don’t come within ten miles of poor people so they tell middle income people to be pissed at people on food stamps. Middle income people who are one lay-off from needing help themselves. Middle income people whose manufacturing jobs are being carefully scrutinized by the rich to see whether or not it is feasible to send their jobs overseas if it means they can increase profits.

Why do so many people who have “made it” in this country think that they did it all on their own by taking personal responsibility? I know people like this who have benefited from good, inexpensive public education and student loans and think that they did it all on their own. Now they bitch about paying taxes to support the programs that got them where they are today. This mantra of personal responsibility is pretty much a lie. We all count on a lot of things to help us meet our goals. Stop thinking that you are such a fucking island.

If I wanted to make this essay longer I could further elaborate why this phrase is so dear to the Right and their notion of seeing themselves as self-made men but long essays bore people and that's not funny; my brother died that way.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Right Wing mantras Part I: The Private Sector is more Efficient than Government

I have been back from Spain for a week and a half. Because of all of the social progress that I saw there I seem to have a better ear for the political exchanges taking place here in America, both in print and on TV and radio. Certain things from the Right come out as screeches, like a nun running her fingernails on a blackboard. I have talked about this many times before but the Right has a series of mantras that they have all been repeating so often and for so long that to offer an opposing view is looked upon as naïve. One of these mantras is that we must privatize our economy because the private sector is more efficient than the government.

I guess no one has bothered to tell these people about the horrible failures in the private sector over the past few years. Even when a government project fails miserably, at least the spoils are spread over a lot of constituents. In the wake of the Enron, World.com, Tyco, and Adelphi failures only a handful of people made out with the loot. Even in their failure these companies furthered the poor distribution of income in the United States of America.

British Rail was privatized under the Tory government. At the time it was one of the world’s best rail networks. After a decade of private ownership it is now the worst railroad in Europe. Spain’s railroad is nationalized—like most of Europe—and it has gone from being one of the worst systems to one of the better ones on the continent.

John Evans, CEO of the Bellevue-based software firm, Solutions IQ, wants less government involvement in health care. “Less government in the health care system promises efficiency and reduced costs.” HUH? What the hell are you talking about, John? Once again he is just chanting his mantra and not opening his eyes. Have you ever actually looked at a hospital bill from a private U.S. hospital? I wouldn’t advise it unless you are pretty healthy. I can’t imagine any other sector of our economy that is as expensive, inefficient, and bloated as our health care industry.

Spain has national health care written into their constitution and I don’t think you could get them to abandon their system short of an armed invasion. I think we Americans would drop our current system in about two seconds if anyone proposed any reasonable alternative--every American except the people making fortunes from the current mess

I worked for the big bad government. I was in the Air Force and I worked hard, studied hard, and did my job. Are you telling me that a private institution could have done my job cheaper and more efficiently? I don’t think so. I know plenty of government workers who are highly motivated and efficient. I think we get our money's worth from the public sector. Are there inefficiencies? Sure there are but there is nothing like the graft going on in so many of the NYSE and NASDAQ publicly held companies. Not many government workers fly first class on the government dime.

For industries where we cannot allow failure such as defense, education, and social security ( I would also say health care) then we cannot allow these industries to be privatized. With privatization comes risks and failure is among those risks. You can’t have it both ways.