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Entries in globalization (8)

Sunday
Aug242008

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Human Rights Violations

stark image poster of america and a giant made in china stamp across it.Made in China: Because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsI wasn't really enthralled by the Chinese showboating these last few weeks. It all seemed like a distraction from the world-as-know-it-is. All this talk about the games being "about the athletes" is bullshit too, because there is clearly a lot of national ego on the line in any of these games, else we could scrap the ridiculous opening and closing ceremonies and just show contests of physical ability.

So Phelps cleaned up. I don't mean to rain on his parade—I certainly can't do what he does. (Hell, I can't even swim.) But think on this for a moment. You know he will be the darling of a lot of companies who want to put his name and image on their goods. And you can bet that some of that will be made in China at the sorts of factories and sweatshops that China would like you to not see in full disclosure. You know, the ones where people work seven days a week and 12 or 14 hours a day, and where people live in factory dorms and are escorted to work each day by security goons, and back again to their cramped rooms where they are responsible for paying for their own utilities back to the factory.

How much of what we buy in our fervor for the games will only make the situation worse? Isn't that the contradiction of our age? I can't help but think of how China is getting rich off our inability to shut off the endless flow from our wallets. Well, someone is getting rich, while the workers who prop up that whole system are experiencing their version of what our nation experienced a century ago when we struggled to figure out how to industrialize, and the industrial world had to in fact figure out how to make citizens into consumers in order to actually consume and use the things which the industrial process was now capable of making. Our growing pains included fights for union representation and social justice concomitant with that. It included the fight for an eight hour work day and weekends. Basically, it fought for human dignity in the face of the growing power of the Machine.

But China itself seems to be a machine. And the Olympic games were the user-friendly front end of it, but what lurks beneath?

Monday
May162005

Loss Of Self Empowerment

Peak Oil is daunting. We face the loss of the goods and services we use every day. We face having to do work that someone else has done for us. That might sound unnerving, and for a while, it will be. But indulge me for a while as I suggest that maybe it has done more harm than good to turn all our work and play over to them.

poster: made in china, because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsMade in China: Because we needed cheap shit instead of good jobsCorporations are unrelenting in convincing us that we need their goods or services, else our lives will fall apart. Actually, that may not be so because people had lives before corporations (B.C., I guess) and will continue to have lives after they fade away and lose their grip on most every aspect of our lives. Corporate practices have unsustainability written into their very nature. What you and I must do is imagine a life where we don't buy something because we are told to, or because our neighbor bought the same thing first. If we can be conditioned to buy, we can be conditioned to not buy. We were conditioned to buy on flimsy grounds, and we can recondition ourselves away from that for reasons that resonate in us for pure reasons of trying to preserve our humanity above all else. As the saying goes, a journey starts with the first step.

First off, let us remember American culture and corporate practices thrive on an assumption that people are stupid and can be herded like cattle. They thrive on people's desire to be part of the new and exciting. They thrive on people forgetting their integrity. They thrive on a culture they helped create: disposable culture. Seventy years ago, products were made to last because that is how things were done because it made the best sense. It still makes sense, but for a long time now, things have been made to be disposable. The euphemism we now hear and accept is "planned obsolescence." Things are made now that have little potential of being preserved for more than their planned lifespans. None of us would think of sharpening the blades on our disposable razors. We wouldn't think of reusing paper towels (or the more realistic option: use cloth towels once again). Most things are made cheaply now in part because the economy demands it. There has to be a reason for us to buy more of whatever we are using, or to get next year's model, etc. If goods were made durably in the first place, there would be less need to perpetually replace these widgets.

Even houses are made this way. One of the earlier steps away from the community based living patterns of old was to make the house itself a commodity that could be made cheaply by experts and sold to the everyman. But even in the early days, these houses were made in stylish and appealing ways, and now are regarded to be some of the most valued designs around at any price. But the house I live in is the perfectly boring standard issue suburban box. And it is not even made well! The useful lifespan of a property like mine is about 50 years. How do I know? Drive around my neighborhood and look at all the houses with significant remodel projects going on. Then compare them to the ones with no remodel work being done. My house and neighborhood were built in 1957. Coincidence? No. Not at all. These houses are not made with the same care as ones from 50 years before them. These houses were made quick and dirty all across San Diego during a boom time when we had more wealth than sense, and a desire to throw out the old simply because it was "old."

Another aspect of corporate control over our lives is the way corporations convince us that we are unable to do our own work, and that they have a solution that can do better for us. They breed the insecurity in us that leads us to trust them enough to turn over our dollars for whatever good or service they offer. One one hand, it is good for the economy because more widgets are made, and more people are employed, but what is lost is people's ability to trust themselves in their own homes. I am as victimized as anyone; I call a plumber too. I call an electrician for anything more than the most basic stuff. I hire a mechanic because I don't trust myself to do the work competently. I don't mind hiring guys because peace of mind is a good thing, but I do reflect on how somehow I have been scared by someone or something into thinking I can not do this work myself. Think for a minute about all the things you hire someone else to do that you could do yourself. And then ponder whether maybe you are losing a bit of personal pride and satisfaction by not learning to do this work yourself. Not everything out there for sale or for hire is necessarily something we need to pay for. But we are told that we should if we want it done well.

Entertainment is another centerpiece of real human living that has been distorted. I think each of us have heard grandma say "when I was your age, we didn't have television. We had to make our own fun!" Well, in a post carbon world, we might not be looking at so many films and listening to so many CDs. It will take oil to make the films and disks, and with entertainment being so slick now, it will take a lot of expense to move entertainers to far flung places to film or do tours. It will be harder to move mass produced " product." We can't rely on Jennifer Lopez or whatever popstarflavoroftheweek is to entertain us forever. We can't allow our culture to utterly fold up and disappear when all the lowest-common-denominator entertainment goes away. We might want to learn how to sing from our hearts again. We might want to learn how to express ourselves through our own efforts in the arts and drama and music. We need to know that what is in our hearts and minds is just as valid (and more so) than what we can buy at Tower, or what we can download from the iTunes Music Store. We need to relearn how to preserve our works of art on tangible media or in our community's collective memory because we can't trust that there will always be computers and the Internet to create and distribute such material around the world in a blink of an eye.

Another part of the corporate domination that flies right over most of our heads is the matter of what we throw out every day, after we have bought and paid for it. My own "a-ha!" moment came when I realized the sheer number of small plastic containers that got chucked into the trash maybe minutes after I opened them and consumed their yummy contents. I watched as small cups for yogurt, lided containers, or partitioned dishes for dips or other foods were just heaved into the bin. I shop at Costco and rarely cart my groceries home in 15 bags, but many of them come in what actually are good containers that can be reused. Well, each time I buy this stuff, I have more, so I needed to find a use for the stuff. My wife and I started to buy bulk foods more. She took a liking to baking bread from scratch. All these little containers helped store flour, seasonings, sugar, seeds, nuts, and whatever else came to mind. With her interest in baking, we cut out the need for store bought bread, and also cut out the "need" to buy the brand name Ziplock or Glad or Rubbermaid containers that do the same thing as our cast off yogurt and sour cream containers now do. And frankly, these product containers are actually better products than the stuff that can be bought from a brand name. Pardon the misleading labels, but it's working fine for me.

Corporations and their practices rely on us to forget our own inventiveness, resourcefulness, community potential, and the worth of our own labor or thought. I don't stall for a minute in thinking that maybe that business ethic of making people feel helpless has contributed to a range of social problems. We could watch how people are made to feel they must pay for all of their daily needs and wants, and must run to keep up with that system by struggling to get a "good" job that gives them the money to do all this stuff. Well, slowly, people are going to have to rediscover their own potential, and the shared potential of their community. What do we work for if not to meet our needs? And why did we let big business tell us we could not meet our own needs without their "help"? If our economy is founded on pressing more and more people into debilitating insecurity and self doubt, then what are we really asking for when we say we want economic growth? I don't think we can keep this up for much longer. Our system is already taxed beyond belief, and is already in decay in many places. America was not built on insecurity and self loathing, but it could fall apart if we have too much of the stuff.

Monday
Aug092004

Cheap Shit

Oh man. Kelli just dragged me in to Party City for some small nicknacks for the wedding. The whole time I was in there, I was thinking "goddamn, not one thing in this place is made in America." Party City owes its existence to the good (overworked & underpaid) people of China. And Vietnam. Apparently the consolation prize for destroying their country is to give them our cast-off jobs, and apparently the added insult to Americans, after having lost the war (and leaving with their tails between their legs), is that they have a country that sells out her own citizens by participating in this "free trade." Globalization. You gotta love it. It must be the single most celebrated way to fuck up everything that the world has ever known. It is the finest way to put Americans out of work while providing them with the cheap good and services they really want. And need, now that there are fewer and fewer decent paying jobs. Of course, we all need the cheapest of the cheap party favors. My god, what a horrible place that was!

I hope Americans realize the slap in the face that is just about everything around us. Our demand for cheap shit has really done a number on us. The way I see it is that there was once a time when people didn't buy what they didn't need, and the things they did need they bought, and there was a good chance whatever they did buy was built with some longevity in mind. But get to the 20th century, and some people get the idea that it would just be easier to manufacture cheap stuff that you can use and throw away. Well, there is the genesis of a whole host of problems we now face. Plastic became a key factor in disposable culture. And, you know, plastic is made from petroleum. What sort of stuff do we take for granted that is plastic, but maybe, in its earlier incarnation was made of wood, metal, or stone? Of course, if things are built with longevity in mind, people don't need to buy more of it. And if people don't need to buy more of it, the chances for a growth economy are weaker than if people are constantly buying new stuff to replace yesterday's purchases.

It's hard to do much of anything without spending money on this cheap shit. As for myself, I just try to make myself aware of where things are coming from, and if possible, seek out something that perhaps has a less controversial background. This is somewhat new to me. Alternatives are harder to find, and more expensive, but that is sort of the task ahead. I don't buy as much stuff as some do, so in some regards, I can afford to pay a little more for the stuff that I do need. I am keeping my eyes open for a supplier for shoes and general daily clothing. I hope I can get into some stuff that isn't from Old Navy or any other company that sells cheap clothing. Kelli and I are already trying to shop at Costco, which at least treats their employees like humans, and we also shop at Henry's for general food needs. I have all but stopped shopping at Vons, rarely shopped at Albertson's, never shopped at Ralph's. Food 4 Less is a tossup; they don't play the obvious chain role, but they are indeed owned by Kroger, a major name in supermarkets.

I'm as guilty as anyone for getting cheap goods, but the task ahead is to know about this stuff and allow it to influence decision making. For now, voting with the dollars is about all anyone can do.

Sunday
Aug082004

Republican Loyalty Test

Here are some things you need to agree to in order to be a loyal Republican today.

  • Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.
  • Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.
  • The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.
  • A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.
  • Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.
  • The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.
  • If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.
  • A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.
  • Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.
  • HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.
  • Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.
  • A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense.
  • A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.
  • Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.
  • The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.
  • Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness, and you need our prayers for your recovery.
  • You support states' rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have the right to adopt.
  • What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80s is irrelevant.
  • If you don't send this to at least 10 other people, we're likely to be stuck with Bush for 4 more years.
  • Friends don't let friends vote Republican.
Friday
Aug062004

Capital-ist Punishment

Today I was asked by one of the many people who force me to be a leftist (by showing their rather idiotic devotion to the right) what I thought of capital punishment.

Capital punishment? Well, I haven't formed an opinion yet. As far as I am concerned there are more important things to worry about, like what the hell makes us such a crime ridden nation. My response to this dude's question was this:

Capital punishment? Hell, I'm all for capital-IST punishment!

I think that dudes like Ken Lay should be burned at the stake and stoned simultaneously. Okay, maybe not, but a couple weeks of aversion therapy at Abu Ghraib might help. Okay, I don't know what really should become the fate of these modern day men of biblical scale evil. Make that MORE than biblical scale evil. Murder sucks, but so does stealing the livelihoods from hundreds or thousands of people at a time, which may indeed lead to some crime down the road. But such is our way of dealing with things in this fine land. Wait till too late, then pay more for a substandard "solution."

There is talk I have heard about the costs of helping people learn to read, get jobs, develop self-esteem, etc. One would think, one would HOPE that maybe that cost would be justified in the results that are bound to come back. Some people need more help than others, and if it took $10,000 to get a person through any of a number of courses that would improve their lot in life, allowing them to become valuable citizens, I think it would be a good thing to do at a good price.

But no, how do we handle this stuff? We get some crazy politicians in who got elected because they promised smaller government, and with that promise, so went the various social services that actually help people. Yes, the government is out of the business of providing care and nurturing services to citizens. I have heard that, in California now, the state's leading mental health care provider is the PRISON system. The prisons house more mentally ill than hospitals or other treatment centers. Now is it just me, or is that a little fishy?

Michael Moore has done a few movies now that sort of trace the paths of the modern American worker. Roughly speaking, the path goes from small corporation that needs all the dedicated employees it can get, then a long boom period for the whole company, leading everyone to think it will be a utopia, then the plant closes down because the company "needs to stay competitive," and this leads to depression, uncertainty, financial woes, family breakdown, and some to a life of survival crime, and worse. Some simultaneously become mentally ill AND criminal at once. What is going on here that crime is so rampant? My feeling is that these people feel it is the only way to survive in a world that has chewed them up and spit them out. And, with the social services pared back, there is more untreated mental illness, less literacy, less sense of purpose in life. There are so many things that can fail when people are let to fall through the cracks. Drug use and crime are mostly the result of some other series of events and decisions. Locking people up has now become the de facto response to these offenses.

But a prison is not a mental ward. You wanna know where the money went once it left the state, county, and community services? It went to build and staff prisons. Prisons are inelegant but effective ways to keep the mentally ill out of society. The prison guard union is one of the most powerful lobbies in Sacramento now. But look at this... the cost to keep a prisoner fed, clothed, and showered is somewhere upwards of $60,000 per year per inmate. And, there is hardly any good evidence that that course of action does ANYTHING to make the prisoner any more prepared to be a functioning citizen on the outside, should that day come. Prison guards are paid rather well—some over $100,000 with overtime rolled in. Hmmm, we have a lot of money to pay guards and keep prisons afloat, but dwindling resources to fight the crime where it matters most: before there is a population of lost and confused citizens. Some might need help from childhood, some might need it from adolescence, and some when they lose their jobs and have to fight for their dignity when their lives are shattered because they can't hold their finances and families together.

The prison guards have no incentive to actually rehabilitate people. Hell, business is good and, instead of there being less and less work to do, there is more and more! There seems to be a symbiotic thing going on here: Companies get to pull all sorts of shenanigans like downsizing workforces, depressing local economies (Wal Mart style), and generally creating instability in the name of making a buck. The unstable atmosphere is one that creates crime, drug use, and other social ills. The notoriety of the crime eclipses the work done to prevent it, and in this stealing of the show, the answer to the question of what to do about crime is to put everyone in jail. There are a lot of petty drug offenses that are just totally uncalled for. I suppose a lot of them are small time users who try to use enough so they can forget what a crappy life they lead at dead end jobs, and the hopelessness of it all. There have got to be thousands upon thousands of dollars tied up in the prosecution of these petty offenses. But no one has prioritized the cheaper solution to fight the trend: give people a life worth living. No, its easier to just lock people up for $60,000 a year than it is to counsel them, teach them to read, help get them jobs, etc. at a far lower cost, as a preemptive measure against the crimes that would happen, and DO happen as a result of the ABSENCE of these services.

For some criminals, life is better on the inside than on the outside—at least basic needs are met more consistently than on the outside. But realize this one thing: if we are all on the inside one day, we will not have that freedom stuff we say we like so well. And what a shame, that we chose to pinch pennies where they are needed most. Or what a shame that we wanted Wal Mart here so we could save a few bucks on Chinese crap, only to find many employees can't survive on the wages, and a number of other locally owned shops were put out of business. Either way, it is a great problem for the community. Sometimes being out of work altogether is easier to reason with than working 40 or 60 hours a week and not being able to make ends meet, unless you go peddle some meth on the side.

It's greed at work, I tell you. Greed (otherwise known as capitalism) is what is sending our society down the shitter. Capital punishment is just a band aid on a chest wound. In some cases, we are killing the worst criminals for being victims themselves of a criminal class that is celebrated as the foundation of our way of life. The real problem is what happens when the bottom line comes first and foremost before the well being of the citizenry. This is a dangerous trend. Corporations give no reason why they should be trusted. They steal, they pillage, they abuse people and the environment and yet they are more powerful than politicians! If government lets go of the reigns with regard to social services AND prisons, we will literally be up shit creek without a paddle. The government, criticized by many conservatives to be too big and bloated, actually serves a purpose: to keep people working. What bailed the nation out in the New Deal era? The government putting people to work, to build their communities and the nation. The government, as an employer, has a role to fulfill, and that is to keep the nation on track when times get hard. But a corporation looks the other way; when times get hard, they put people OUT of work (and sometimes times don't even need to be bad for this to happen), which leads to even more hard times because people can't afford to live the way they did. Now that Bush has let all his corporate buddies run free, and record numbers of people are out of work, the government is a lame duck. They got elected on the strength of letting free enterprise be free, but is now stuck holding the bag of unemployment thanks to the companies deciding to offshore, lay off, close plants, etc. I think if the government can afford a war, it can afford to put some people to use in rebuilding our failed cities and towns, and restoring some dignity to citizens.

Capital-IST punishment. It will attack the heart of the problem.

Thursday
Jul292004

Letter to Congress

Here is a letter I wrote to our representatives regarding the need for immediate work (not waiting until after a summer vacation) to be done based on the proposed ideas from the 9/11 commission.

Let me frame my request this way: If, at some point in my days working for a fast food company I were to be caught standing around or taking the day off when I was supposed to be there, I would certainly invite disciplinary action all the way up to being asked to leave because I would not be fulfilling my job. The boss needs to make his money and conduct his business, and I can't get in his way without some consequences.

But that job is meaningless. My careless approach to working there will only cause me to suffer.

But your job of doing everything within your power to ensure our national safety is of importance to ALL Americans, EVERY day, ALL the time. I like a vacation as much as the next guy, and I'm sure you do too, but we need you to work for US now. The lapses in security and intelligence have already been terrible. Not all our challenges are going to be as slow moving as the Cold War was. Now more than ever we need to know all of our representatives are putting US first.

My real feeling is that we need to radically adjust our foreign policy so that we can avoid making enemies in the first place. I believe we need to use our brains more than our brawn. This administration has been an utter failure, and has erased whole decades of progress we have made in the international community. It comes as no surprise then, that since we are such a failure in diplomacy, the only way people wish to relate to us is through the terrible acts of terrorism. I am not pro terrorist, but somehow, we have sufficiently angered a chunk of the world's population into doing things not many others have had the conviction to do. I think we need to address, fully and honestly, why we make enemies. It is not simply because we love freedom and they don't. No, that is just a copout. We are intervening in the Middle East for oil. We are not there for the sand and the sun. We certainly aren't there for the good friends and camraderie we have in the region. The emperor has no clothes, and I won't believe any American is doing right by believing otherwise.

The greater cause though, is how we as a nation choose to live—at the expense of the rest of the world. And, it comes as no surpirse that we are rubbing people the wrong way. This is what I feel we need to address. Surely war and terrorism are worse than investing in our own energy future, our own people, our own manufacturing and agriculture. At least I hope it's that way.

These bigger issues need to be addressed, one way or another. I hope they will be addressed sooner than later. But if you are only prepared to provide a band-aid to cover a chest injury, then so be it, but even that requires all the time and attention you can possibly give to it immediately.

Since you representatives are really the employees of Americans, please do what WE need you to do, and not what YOU feel needs to be done. Especially at this critical time.

Friday
Jun112004

On This Day, 13 Years Ago

I graduated from Madison High School in Sandy Eggo. There was a Bush in the White House back then too. Oh, and a war with Iraq just a few months earlier! But at this very time, I was looking forward to traveling to Europe to meet up with my good friend Steve, who had been my buddy that year in school as an exchange student from Germany. Part of my trip was to see his town and stay at his place for a few days. The following year, I went back for six weeks. On this particular year of 2004, I don't particularly think overseas travel is too wise an idea for an American. I have heard mixed stories. I guess most of Europe would be pretty safe overall, but right now, world events are sort of making me shelf the idea. And yet, I realize that isolating is part of the problem. My world view was well improved from traveling, and these days, I think a huge part of the problem is the American world view, or lack thereof. American hubris has been a huge problem lately, and some think the solution is more hubris. Some think the problem is solvable with more attitude, more macho, more guns, a nastier outward look, tougher talk, et cetera. If anyone from a non-American country is reading this, let me separate myself from this idiocy.

Thirteen years ago, I fell for the party line. I had no political affiliation, but from my years as a military aircraft buff, and proximity to a Reagan/Bush republican war vet grandfather, generally speaking, I was not opposed to the Gulf War. I was just stupid, and went along for the ride. I think I would have seen it differently if I were 18, but at this moment, I was 17. I was always enamored with military firepower, but the human cost of that power was not something I appreciated. I still get a hard on when an F-18 flies over, but now I think that as amazing a feat as it is to create such a machine, we still don't have the means or the sense to render them unneeded. There was a lot I was not awake for. I did have a great teacher that year though who did in fact lay down some foundational material for me in the government class, and he did eventually be the cause for me listening to NPR many years later. I never would have thought that years later, the survey course in government and politics would come in handy as I seek to understand and now protest another war in Iraq brought to us by another Bush in the White House. Jeeze, I hope this isn't going to be a trend!

There was this picture of me taken sometime in the Gulf war days, of me standing in front of an American flag in my bedroom, spanning the entire width of my covered-over window, with my drums in the foreground (maybe because of a pose, but likely because the room was small). I see that pic now, and I cringe. But then I think, 'why should I cringe because I once believed in my country?' I was never really a flag waving patriotic dude. Not that I never waved one or put one out, but I just never got passionate about it. Now, too many times, I feel pretty ashamed of being an American. We've fucked up. We really have. I pin the blame on the government AND the people. The people let the government do things, some by neglect, and some by their own greed. Americans don't want to give up the mad consumption of resources to which we have become accustomed. That isn't the government's fault, though the government is doing the same thing, giving a certain validation to civilians. Maybe the government could do something to encourage conservation in its varied forms, but really, this is a capitalistic, opportunistic place. Our economy DEMANDS that we consume, and not just what we consumed yesterday, we need to consume MORE than that. So really, some of our problems now in foreign affairs come from—what else?—consumption. Our nation is largely defined by its productivity and economy. We put our faith in the markets, in profit, in growth. Well, we came to our natural borders of oceans and neighbor countries, and now we take our rapacious demand for resources to consume, to resell, to pillage, all the way to the other side of the world.

This country was founded in the company of trade interests, greed, and the severance from traditional values. The Spanish wanted gold, the Dutch wanted furs. The English wanted to get free of religious persecution. The rest is history. The New World was a place that didn't need to be respected because no one who came here from Europe felt there was anyone or anything to respect, and the ethos of individuality was growing up in tandem with the development of this land. So blatant and exploitative commercial and development interests are really part of the national DNA. In light of today's mess, well, it is easy to see the lineage. Four hundred years ago though, there was almost no way this land could be destroyed so recklessly, and so efficiently. Well, since we are "Christian nation" (cough), we have now established dominion over the earth, what do we do with that dominion? Destroy her and her people. We really got that down to a science. All of a sudden, a little hunting and trapping, and gold pillaging doesn't look so bad, given the crass commercialism we deal with today, and are attempting to export to all corners of the globe.

There was some irony after 9/11. We felt sorry for ourselves. Sorry for what? Sorry for the long-delayed response to our creeping imperialism and colonization? Do we really think our shit doesn't stink? After 9/11, I heard that people didn't want to cash in on the tragedy with T-shirts and hats and other souveniers. Why the hell not? We love to cash in on everyone else's loss and pain. Why the double standard? Isn't it the Great American Way to sell shit no matter what? So why can't people raid the 9/11 rubble and take whatever they can find and go sell it on the corner, or on EBay? Geeze—it would be so American! I mean, you want the government to look the other way so you can do business, right? If the government shouldn't get in your way, why should good taste and compassion? Sell stuff. It's the American way.

But I digress. I was talking about being a patriot. I suppose 13 years ago I was a patriot because I followed a pack. I never voted Republican, so I wasn't that blind, but wasn't clear over to the other side either. It was really more apathy than anything else, and lack of any sense of connection to anything larger than me. Well, people ask me (when I talk like this) if I hate America, or some even ask me why I hate America, as if it were unquestionably true that I do. I don't hate America. But I am not the flag waver, or the dude who goes to political fundraisers, or the one who enlisted for the service, or the one who absorbs hours and hours of media, and buys all the fluff. No, I am the patriotic American who wants to reawaken what is good in this country. Just today, I did something that I am proud of but really wish I didn't have to do. Actually, I did it all week. I think of it as a lesson in civics and civility.

My job as a home delivered meals driver just got a small extension to administering a congregate meal program at one of the company's sites. Just yesterday, some administrative lackey consultant announced to the assembled seniors that if there was food left at the end of the lunch hour, it either had to be served as seconds for the usual fee, or thrown away. The thing is, this entire program operates on a donation basis, and legally, we can't even ask for money, though the "suggested donation" is $3.50. Some pay that much, some pay less, and some pay more. Some don't pay. Our job is to feed people, and providing a reservation is made and there is food, we can't tell a person "no" because they can't pay the suggested donation. But the zenith of absurdity is the idea that if there is food left in the trays, it must be thrown away or sold. No middle ground. And even more absurdly, this is being told to a whole room full of people who lived during the Great Depression! These are people who know and appreciate the value of the food and don't generally waste it. Needless to say, there was unrest in the room after this.

Okay, then back on the driving part of my route, all this week there have been too many meals at the end of the day, from late cancellations and absences. So I have up to five meals left, and that is way too much. I don't like having that happen, but happen it does. Some I give to the harder up clients, but occasionally, I take some home, or give it to the random homeless person. This week, I had to actually seek out some homeless to give this to. This is food that, since it was not paid for by any client, supposedly needs to be thrown away. Is that stupid, or is that stupid? Realize our program is always running a threadbare budget, so it is never really in the black anyway, but to actually throw food out is just the finest in bureaucratic nonsense. Today, after hearing that county consultant urge us to waste food, I had this burning resolve to do the opposite. There was this one homeless guy I passed at a busy intersection, and had to stop by on the return trip. I grabbed a couple of meals and gave them to him while I was stopped at the light. They were nice and hot, and the side items were nice and cold. He was overjoyed, and sat down on the grass with his stuff, and started chowing down, his back to me. All this emotion was welling up in me, partially from cold hard rationale, and some from a growing sense of compassion I have from doing the work I do. I sort of gazed at this guy, feeling really good about what I did, but then realized how wrong it is that I should ever have to do that. I sort of had to choke back a tear as I thought about it all.

This country loves to think of itself as the richest, most compassionate or ethically sound, etc. etc. True, we have great resources, great minds, and maybe even great compassion. But it isn't always on display. Can anyone tell me why I had to give away food that was slated for the garbage can? The guy didn't pay for it. Does that mean he shouldn't eat, or does it mean he can't eat it off a plate with a modicum of dignity, like the rest of us? Should he wait to pick it out of the trash? Is this something to be proud of? Is this America? But wait—we can send food aid off to foreign countries. We can pay farmers to NOT grow crops, or to NOT take them to market. People can become obese from gluttony. Restaurants and grocery stores don't sell everything they buy and stock. We have more corn than we can use, ultimately turning it into a wide range of products from sodas to gas additives to chips. Seriously, we have more food than we know what to do with, but we can't or won't give it to people who can't pay, even within our own borders. But we can promise African nations $15 billion for AIDS prevention, and the absurdity du jour, we can pay for this stupid and morally bankrupt war, with a ticket of well over 100 billion dollars. Sorry folks, that just isn't the hallmark of a compassionate society. How many meals can Dick Grasso buy with that $180 million dollars he got from the NYSE, just for LEAVING? Of course, it is folly to ever think that he could ever part with a few bucks, even though he is richer than sin, and would be at a quarter of that amount.

So am I a patriot, or an America hater? Does the true patriot simply take the party line, with a chaser of soma, and just go on with the blinders? By that definition, I suppose I am not a patriot. Or should I just slap a "United We Stand" or "We Will Never Forget!" sticker on my jacked up F250 or Excursion? I have neither, and would never put one of those absurd stickers on my car. Strike two, I must not be a patriot. Well, sorry, this un-American just wants to feed a few people without fanfare, preferably using the system against itself to the benefit of those who otherwise stand no chance. Sort of a Robin Hood, I guess. Or I just want to tell people to wake the fuck up from this silly fantasy we have about being a great nation because we can kick anyone's ass. That alone, does not a great nation make.

I have one American flag. It was the one my grandfather's casket was covered in on July 10, 1996. I have never unfurled it from that day on. It remains just as the Marine color guard folded it—tight as origami. I don't fly the flag now. But when I did 13 years ago, I was completely missing the point. I hope at least that much has changed in 13 years.

Monday
May102004

The Joy of Essay Writing

Okay, I have a 3500 word essay due in a week and a half. I sat myself down and started doing it in earnest today, but it is hard as hell to do that when the computer is in a state of change (with me taking hours upon hours to configure it, and this isn't even the new one! Nope this is the older one that just got the OS X treatment and a nice complement of my favorite programs. Yup, I still have the new machine to configure. Part of it is just the task of learning some things about OS X, but certainly pillaging Limewire for all it's worth is time consuming!

But I digress. I meant to tell you about my essay.

I sort of already wrote chunks of it in blogs that you will never see because of some errant finger on a mouse button. The topic is one about America not being too ideal a model for globalization/free trade. I have about 30 articles and books sitting here with tales of corporate corruption, labor abuses, short sighted business aims, and dinosaur-like institutions that do just about everything for us except make us happy citizens. Fast food, record companies, big energy, Wal-Mart... it's all bad news. I mean, bad. And I haven't even mentioned the government's part in things, which primarily is to stand back and call it good, but dressing it all in happy language, calling it "free trade" and "open markets" and shit. Yup, right. Wal-mart is free. Free to exploit, free to plunder, free to utterly destroy communities. Yeah, truth, freedom, justice and the fucking American Way.

Oh, then we have a mad cow out there, but no one can find it, because it and 5000 others are all mixed up at the meat plant so we can eat burgers at McDogfoods. Instead of killing one herd, the whole fucking nation and world needs to get in on the hype and hysteria because one cow ate bad food. Now it will be harder to sell beef or a lot of other products to foreign markets. We've abandoned tried and true practices in agriculture, entertainment, commerce, ethics, family life, politics, and the arts. When our fallacy of greatness is dispelled, we will be more fucked than a Siamese whore.

We are great because of oil. One day we will have to fight for it tooth and nail. Not a lot of our tanks and ships will run without the stuff. Our cars don't seem to be able to yet. All our jet fighters won't fly without the old dinosaur juice. We only really have total air superiority over nations. We certainly don't have what it takes to fight some militia fighters in a desert town. I've heard we have less infantrymen in our army than the NYC police department has officers. Now that Dipshit in the White House went and messed stuff up for us beyond belief, no one trusts us. So where are we gonna put our air forces so we can keep fighting our wars for oil? Turkey didn't want us. A lot of Europe is growing impatient, South Korea isn't too hip on having us. If anything, we will need a lot more oil to fight for oil.

I see idiots in big cars. SUVs are a subset of "big cars." I see joyriders, I see people using cars senselessly. Doesn't anyone realize what a foul thing that is? Owning a car and driving it is one thing, but getting absurdly bad mileage, and driving needlessly (like to the corner store) is just stupid. I mean, what other word applies here? My roommate and my neighbor both get into their trucks to go to a liquor store that is only three blocks away. I just don't have the heart to call them idiots.