Ambivalence

6 November 2008

(Cross-posted to my Tribe.net blog)

As I watched Barack Obama give his victory speech, I felt so proud of us, at least the 52% of us, who made this happen. His words made me hopeful for healing that can extend across the world. 

In the Frontline special The Choice: 2008, I learned Obama’s reasoning for one of my biggest complaints: This was Hillary’s time, wait your turn! You’re young, and there’s plenty of time for you to become experienced; why knock her out now? 

Interviews with former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yielded this information: 

*** 

Q: In 2006 … he talks to you about the possibility of running for the presidency. What do you tell him? 

A: I tell him he should do it. We went to my favorite restaurant and took the kitchen table in the back where nobody could see us. We had a bottle of wine and a great meal and what was supposed to be a conversation that lasted about an hour I think went over three. 

And during that time I told him that I thought his lack of Washington experience was one of his greatest assets. And I argued that windows of opportunity for running for the presidency close quickly. And that he shouldn’t assume, if he passes up this window, that there will be another. I had that experience, and I wouldn’t want him to see the same thing happen to him. 

Q: Why the 2008 window for Obama? 

A: I think the window is important for a couple of reasons. One, it was an open opportunity — that is, he wasn’t running against an incumbent; and secondly, because the longer he’s in Washington, the more history he has, and the more history he has, the more he’s going to be explaining his votes and his actions and his statements and his positions that undermine his message. His message is one of change, his message is one of new direction, and it’s harder to do that after you’ve been in Washington for a long time. 

www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/f…aschle.html#2

*** 

Okay. Fair enough. Why didn’t anybody have this conversation with Hillary so that she could be free to decide not to spend millions upon millions of dollars on a campaign herself? Why didn’t anybody clue in Bill as to *why* Barack was the Anointed One by other party muckety-mucks? 

This still pisses me off. One of the anchors on one of the election-night TV programs spoke rather dismissively of those of us who thought that it was Hillary’s turn and that the Dems owed her, as though those arguments had been rendered obsolete by Obama’s victory. 

I’ve been branded irrelevant enough during my lifetime, thank you very much. I don’t need more of it from the political party that claims to be “democratic.” 

It’s still true, sez I, that the Dem party owes Hillary, and it’s still true that this should have been her time. 

I think Barack will do well. I think he will be a uniter, and I know that people all over the world are going to regain respect for the US because of him. 

But the fact is that he ditched in line in front of her, and that wasn’t fair. 

So I listened to Obama’s victory speech, and I wept with relief and with opportunity to release the eight years of dammed-up horror with which I’ve been living since that ghastly day when the Supreme Court anointed The Village Idiot instead of that fine man Al Gore.

But I thought, “Damn. That shoulda been Hillary.” 

Both the Clintons got a raw deal in this election: Too many citizens listened to Karl Rove’s minions and bought into the idea that Bill and his administration should be condemned for their strengths. And they blamed Hillary for it even though she was a victim of Bill’s weaknesses. It was fucked up from the git-go. 

At least there’s a chance that Hillary could become Senate Majority Leader… like Tom Daschle was… 

Again, I think good things will happen in this administration. Obama seems, by all accounts, to be an unequivocally fine man himself, and I have to admit, Daschle’s argument has merit, even though it was an awfully big gamble to take with my country. 

But I wonder, too—When will we get our Benazir Bhutto, our Indira Gandhi, our Golda Meir?

Full Disclosure

10 October 2008

Been thinking a lot about the economic meltdown and my own poverty.

Fact is, I’ve learned so well how to be poor that the global financial crisis isn’t affecting my lifestyle a whole lot—I’ve been surviving on next to nothing for so long that it doesn’t much matter if the world around me is a thousand times as wealthy as I or twice as wealthy as I: 1,000 times nothing = two times nothing. I’m far enough under the radar that I have to scrounge and hustle for every scrap in any event.

I like to quote the line from my favorite movie, The Princess Bride, in which Westley points out that being prepared for the worst is good preparation indeed:

“We know the secrets of the fire-swamp. We can live there happily for some time, so whenever you feel like dying, feel free to visit.”

Once one has become a survivor, one knows that survive is what one does. And one has a leg up on anybody who hasn’t yet become a survivor.

Right now I’m being kept alive by a charity program through a non-profit hospital system. The meds to keep my nearly-49-year-old body alive cost roughly the same as the meds to keep my 80-year-old father’s body alive. He has Medicare and nearly no retirement, thanks to the steel industry having gone bust in the ’80s. I’ve never been quite sure how they’ve done it, Mom and he, all these years, but I do know that the foundations of my own compulsive thrift were established at my mother’s knee.

The way things are going, Medicare and Medicaid and the like will be defunct in 17 years when I reach 65 and am theoretically old enough to benefit from them; I haven’t earned enough in my lifetime ever to draw from Social Security.

At this point, my life, I have it on good authority from smart cardiologists, is imperiled if I skip even a day’s dosage of Plavix. I don’t know what I’d do if the healthcare system on which I depend ever went belly-up. I just hope the end would be quick and painless. I am uninsurable by pretty much any reckoning these days: I suspect that more conditions pre-exist in me than don’t. (About the only thing that hasn’t affected my ancestors or siblings, knock wood, is the C-word.)

I don’t appear to be as poor as I am, thanks mainly to my educatedness and my ability to barter. I am told that the education provides me with “cultural capital.” Culturally, from a global perspective, I am in the upper echelon of the élite, with my master’s degree and my prodigious ability to articulate myself. Economically, I am unquestionably poor, or at least impecunious: I doubt that my income will reach $1,000 this year. Heck, it’ll probably not reach $500, at the rate I’ve been going.

But I know the secrets of the fire-swamp.

It’s an odd paradox, this living-between-the-worlds that I do. I’m a fine illustration of the notion of the “shabby genteel.” Because I have mastered the earnest, “emo,” spiritual hippie persona, I can pass myself off as being a lot more honest than I really am: in my day-to-day affairs, I do in fact put a high premium on honesty, integrity, authenticity, congruence. But the fact is that collection agencies call me all the time, and not without justification. I almost never answer them.

One collection agent even said to me once, about my Sears credit account, “But you promised!” She was right: I had. And then I defaulted on the account. Not on the whole thing—I had paid on it until I went under, and then Sears refused to budge even a little bit in helping me out: rules were rules, and they reserved the right not to meet me any part of the way, let alone half. So they inflexibled themselves out of ever getting another cent out of me on credit. I’ve not shopped at Sears since then, nor do I ever intend to. And K-Mart pretty much lost me in the merger, to boot. Too bad—I unashamedly bought most of my clothes there for years.

I really don’t want to get started on my the saga of my grad-school loans: I knew, when I graduated, that I would be in debt to the Feds for the rest of my life for those, but at the time I expected my life to be much shorter than I expect it to be now, at least if my medical charity holds out. I’ve been in default for so long on those loans that I’m probably a criminal by any definition of the word at this point. Pretty sad for someone whose master’s-degree program started out as being ministry.

I’m more or less alienated from my folks right now—not by any dislike for them so much as because I can’t seem to have a conversation with them any more without feeling lousy about myself, so I just avoid the Near Occasion of Teenage Angst Revisited. By all rights I should probably be disinherited, because I’m no longer any such thing as a Good Son. But I suspect, because equity is a value in my family, that I will probably have some kind of modest inheritance when their time comes. I fully expect that the entire thing will be garnished by the Feds, which is actually fine with me—I don’t begrudge any of my creditors what I promised I’d give them. I just don’t have it to give yet. When I do, I don’t mind giving it. Why should I? The Feds paid for two of the best years of my life: that grad-school experience was particularly exhilarating, and I am grateful for it. My hopes for the job market after I graduated, at which time we were a nation at war and No Child Left Unregulated was an entrenched institution, had just been spectacularly exaggerated.

I don’t know what I am—an honest man or a scoundrel of the first water: cases can be made for both. I like to think that I am pretty practiced at the “fearless moral inventory,” as they call it in Twelve-Step programs. Yet the fact is that I will sign on any dotted line if it means I get a crack at having my life saved in the ER, even if I haven’t a clue if or when I’ll ever have the means to do it. What kind of life is that, if I would lie to save it? I don’t know. What I do know is that if I die, there is no chance that anybody will ever get a cent out of me, so all other things being equal, I’d rather stay alive, thanks.

As a child, I read (repeatedly!) I.G. Edmonds’ account of the renowned judge Ooka of Edo (old Tokyo), who determined, on one occasion, that a certain thief was an honest thief, for he only stole enough rice to feed his family for the next day.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not an extravagant man: I really do live on next to nothing, and I ask little, materially, of life. I scrounge and scavenge and recycle and jury-rig and make do. I entertain myself on the cheap—usually for free—all the time. (My greatest guilty pleasure is dollar books from reduced racks.)  I’m really quite conscientious for a scoundrel.

It’s difficult for me, when asked to provide proof of income, to imagine what they could possibly want out of me: I haven’t made enough money from any one source to acquire a 1099 for years, let alone a W-2. I make so little that I can’t even prove how little I make without asking enquirers simply to take my word for it. The world doesn’t have a context for the likes of me: one who is poorer than lots of street-junkies yet blogs from an air-conditioned bedroom office with a reliable roof over it.

So I don’t know what to say. I assume that my sordid past as a liar and a thief will catch up with me sooner or later—and probably before I manage to win any super lotteries—and meanwhile, I continue to skulk around in plain sight yet largely under the radar, because, just as databases aren’t set up to render my surname as two words with its two capital letters (hence “LeFey,” not leafy or leffy), my life doesn’t compute. It’s not so much that I set out to be a hustler: I didn’t. I’d like to become an honest man again. I just can’t see how to have it both ways, and I’m not ready to die for it quite yet.

And at this point, I can’t see the justice in slamming me for a few thousand dollars while robber barons are tap-dancing away to the tune of billions. So I live this precarious existence on the lam… in plain sight.

 

Reuters

credit: Reuters

If you don’t want your sexuality brought into the analysis of the debate, then I advise not wearing your come-fuck-me pumps onstage.

Sorry, evangelical “feminists.” The heels are fair game.

You’re the moose-hunter, Gov. Palin—you know that success is all about exploiting the obvious. (Adult male moose can’t complain that hunters spot them by their antlers.) You can’t possibly have believed that an issue wouldn’t be made of your ruby slippers, can you? Or are you really that stupid?

This already-famous flowchart is absolutely, brilliantly spot-on. I think this guy is my newest hero.

Watching the 5:00 evening news and seeing that The Bailout passed the House (Need I have checked to verify that Deb Pryce voted for it? No, but I did anyway because I’m a responsible writer.), I realized that there might, theoretically, have been a bailout plan that I might have been able to get behind. This just wasn’t it.

The rush to pass it was an act of cowardice on the part of the nation’s economic and political leaders, who are unable to trust even their own kind, let alone the Great Unwashed Masses.

Nobody really wants change. If they did, they would have been willing to suck it up and tighten their belts and dig in for the long haul. (‘Nuff clichés, methinks.)

It’s the same situation as everybody longing for a third party but nobody being willing to vote for third-party candidates: nobody’s willing to live through the disastrous transitional process while the old phoenix burns up.

The fact is that the economy would have recovered if the bailout had not been passed, and it might have become stronger than it used to be because people might have learned something. But no, we’re throwing good money after bad and keeping a de facto colonialist system on life support.

If Wall Street were a junkie, the bailout would be “enabling.”

Wall St. doesn’t need to be enabled any longer: Wall St. needs rehab. And the bailout wouldn’t rehabilitate anything.

If Wall St. were the head of a household that depended on it and everybody decided to stop enabling said head-of-household and the head-of-household were to go into a months-long residential program, the household would suffer. And the head-of-household’s dealer would suffer, too. Crack dealers or heroin pushers (or tobacco companies or whiskey distillers…) don’t thrive when customers go into rehab.

But if the family systems theorists are right, then it’s not only the head of household who’s sick, it’s the entire family. And if everyone who’s sick with addiction has to go through withdrawal, then the entire family has to go through withdrawal—which is pretty much always a bitch.

Did I mention that the bailout is not rehab?

I weep, I tell you, weep, for the Wall Street aristocrats who have to sell one of their seven mansions and fire nannies and poolboys. Times certainly are hard all around these days.

The problem with Conservativism of the Republican stripe is its exclusivity: it removes one from humanity.

I live in a rather shabby two-bedroom flat. I don’t sleep in either bedroom: I sleep in the basement. Like millions if not billions of human beings on Planet Earth today, I sleep in a hollowed-out patch of ground. It happens to be spacious and finished with cement and painted, so I have it far, far better than many of those other millions of people who, like me, sleep in a hollowed-out patch of ground.

Why should I think that I’m entitled to more than I have? Should I not be grateful for the fact that my basement is dry, that it has windows, that I have a phone and electricity there, that the largest predator that’s ever crawled in was the neighbor’s kitten?

When I was a child my parents taught me to share, to be a generous giver and a gracious receiver. They never said to me, “You must now learn no longer to share, and you must stop being thankful for the things you’ve been given.” They never taught me where to exclude, where there might be a socioeconomic line below which I was to call out-of-bounds on the impulse to share.

I can appreciate that people would prefer to live according to the manner to which they’ve become accustomed, really I can. But nobody is entitled by the Constitution to more than life, freedom, and the right to self-actualize. Second homes, let alone sixth or seventh ones, are not part of the deal. People finally began to get it, after the Civil War, that the power to enslave other human beings was not part of the deal. Give them a few centuries and they may figure out that even well-paid hired help isn’t a God-given right, either. (PS: Manifest Destiny was a crock, too.)

The fact is that the poolboys and nannies and cooks and social secretaries are all enablers of this sick, sick system every bit as much as crack dealers and heroin pushers and tobacco growers and whiskey distillers are enablers of sick, sick family systems. Because it’s systemic, everybody has to cooperate in the recovery. The rationale that we can’t let Wall St. collapse because all the co-creators of the sick system will suffer, too, is untenable. No rehab facility director worth hir salt would encourage a graduate of hir program to go back to an environment that continues to enable the household’s primary illness.

Reagan Republicans, especially, can’t appeal to the well-being of the Great Unwashed Masses as a criterion for having mercy on godzforsaken Wall St: trickle-down works both ways. If the help benefited from your prosperity, then the help is gonna have to suffer with your adversity if it’s all to get any better. It’s up to each of us to live with our lot, not up to you to rescue us from it. Y’all gotcher hands full with your own $700 billion mess. We all got to walk this Lonesome Valley by ourselves—you can’t rescue me, and I for damn sure can’t rescue you.

I find it awfully suspicious that a course of action so contrary to the spirit of recovery is being advanced by a president who repeatedly evinces the most salient features of a dry drunk and who no more confesses to a sobriety date than he does to a date on which he ever actually got “saved.” The man is a farce and the plan is a farce.

What we as a nation need to do is hit a wall, bottom out.

Speaking of counting blessings, I’m definitely thankful that the House had the good sense not to approve a bailout.

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20228488,00.html

I’m just unable to generate any excitement over Clay Aiken’s brave decision, now that he’s independently wealthy and has a baby made of his own sperm to prove his virility, to come out of the closet.

I saw how he treated Diane Sawyer two years ago when she asked him. I think he owes her an apology, and I hope she gets one from him.

He’s been quoted, also in People, as saying, at the time of the Sawyer interview,

What do you say? It’s like when I was 8. I remember something would get broken in the house, and Mom and Dad would call me in and say, ‘Did you do this?’ Well, it didn’t matter what I said. The only thing they would believe was yes. People are going to believe what they want.

What he didn’t say was whether or not his parents had guessed correctly when they chose to believe “yes.” That makes a huge difference, because if he hadn’t broken the something, then comparing that story to the story of his deceit for lo these five years is apples and oranges, because yoo-hoo! We believed “yes” and we were right.

There is no one so self-righteous and prone to rationalization as a Christian who has just come out as gay after having lied about it for a long time. I know whereof I speak: I was one myself. He’s trying to weasel out of having to admit that we’d told him so. Suck it up, babe: we all had to do it, because, with rare exception, somebody else had our number before we did.

I’ve never done most of the normal American rites of passage: never married, never bought a house, never had a kid. So I can say with confidence that for me, coming out was the most important rite of passage in my first 48 and 2/3 years. (I suppose Clay can’t say the same of himself, because he’s had a kid.) I know how important coming out is.

But after the years of deceit and the public denunciations that will, thanks to the Internet, never, ever die, his coming out doesn’t strike me as much of a triumph or an act of courage. I’m much more about “Well, it’s about frickin’ time!” than about “Congratulations on this brave step” at this point. Dragging it out made a definite anticlimax of the declaration.

I’m having a hard time telling him welcome-to-the-fold because by saying of the likes of me, “I’m not one of them!” so vehemently for so long, it’s like, after you kicked and fussed and screamed your way onto my bus, now you expect me to want you to sit next to me with all that residual bad vibe? Go find Neil Patrick Harris, he’s a few rows back somewhere. Famous people who deny that they’re in the closet while they’re in the closet don’t realize how “protesting too much” is profoundly derogatory to all of us who made ourselves vulnerable a long time ago. I’m just not impressed if they wait until they’re set for life before they finally take the risk. It’s not like Peter didn’t have reason to feel ashamed after the cock crowed three times.

Aiken says that he wasn’t raised to lie. Well, guess what: 29 years is a long time to do what you weren’t raised to do.

I think Clay Aiken is probably a great guy: by all accounts he’s charming, personable, generous, disciplined, and an exquisite chanteur to boot. I’m sure I’ll like him again some day (especially if he apologizes to Diane Sawyer—I’d be really impressed then). But for now, I just can’t see him as any kind of a hero or any kind of a role model: right now, three days post-closet, the only thing he’s a model of is a fraud. If you want a different opinion, ask me again after he’s weathered a storm or two that’s been whipped up directly as a result of his coming out.

For some reason lately I’ve been thinking about Transactional Analysis, or TA.

Being a bookish (read: nerdy) child of the ’70s, I came of age in the days of I’m OK—You’re OK, and because it was on the New York Times Bestseller List during my junior-high years, when I became old enough to want to flee the Juveniles section of the library for the “Adults” section, it was never not in my consciousness as a self-help classic.

I’ve read lots and lots of self-help and advice books, and I’ve taken Youth Effectiveness Training and looked at philosophy and psychology and the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and I got myself a Master of Theological Studies degree, and one might think that I had had enough of studying ways of deconstructing human relationships… But one would be wrong.

It’s kind of funny to me, this move toward ’70s wisdom, because just a couple months ago I felt an urge to revisit Fritz Perls’ “Gestalt Prayer.” I guess it’s a function of being a child of the ’70s. Nostalgia? Returning to one’s roots? Surely I’m more a product of my environment than I like to admit.

Oh. Here’s a link to a review of I’m OK—You’re OK that I thought was interesting as I was compiling the links for this entry.

I dunno… I have this creeping dread that what I’m about to say will cost me my Progressive credentials or something. It somehow feels creepily… Conservative…

The people who want The Bailout want to use the US Treasury as their slush fund.

Back when I was an underemployed, underpaid customer-service guy at a Kinko’s store, I made a joke one day about a slush fund. The woman preparing the deposit as I said it looked at me solemnly and instructed me that we were never to make references to “slush funds,” even in jest. Puzzled, I asked what was wrong with it—wasn’t a slush fund just a slang term for petty cash or other kinds of reserves? No, she explained, the phrase had a technical meaning in banking circles, and the meaning was always shady: It meant that whatever fudging was going on was unethical.

My Canadian friend Justin, who is underemployed and underpaid in a customer-service job, says that it’s patently illegal in Canada to top off the till from your own pocket if your drawer is short when you count it at the end of your shift. I suppose that’s why Sarah at Kinko’s all those years ago told me that it wasn’t even to be joked about.

Yet now I see that a whole lot of world leaders and people in the banking industry want to use taxpayer money as the nation’s slush fund.

Me, I like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland)’s idea (guess I can’t be too awfully conservative, then, can I?). Don’t donate public money to private enterprises. Do what poor and/or frugal people everywhere do when they can’t afford to pay our bills: barter. At least have the decency to sell shares of your stock to the people who are being drafted into service as your knights on white horses. I don’t really care if that means selling stock to 300-odd million people. You bastards don’t cut us any slack, why should we cut you any? Do what needs to be done. That’s what you make your collections people tell us when they badger us at all hours of the day.

The best I can figure out is that the people who are too poor to buy stock are now being asked to give money to the people who are too irresponsible to turn their principal into interest and dividends, without even getting shares in return. We weren’t willing to shell it out when we had the chance to make money with it, and now you want us to shell it out when there’s no chance that we’ll make money with it. Uh huh.

As songwriter Fred Bailey would say, “Not without a condom!”

Cronyism trumps “No-Big-Government” every time, don’t it?

from my comments to a friend’s LiveJournal blog:

I find that “liberal” and “conservative” just don’t work for me… Even “progressive” is becoming meaningless. If the Democratic Party were still the party of FDR, I’d feel more comfortable calling myself Progressive because I think that the New Deal was one of the better things that have happened to the US. But it’s not—it’s become a “stand-for-nothing/fall-for-anything” sort of party, in my view.

I stopped wanting to identify as “Liberal” a long time ago, for a lot of the reasons Phil Ochs highlighted in “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.” It seems to me that a lot of Liberals—many more than I feel comfortable identifying with—seem to be a kind of conservative Leftist, so that the conservative part becomes the operative word, trumping the notion that “New occasions teach new duties/Time makes ancient good uncouth/They must upward still and onward/Who would keep abreast of truth,” which I think sums up well the spirit of Progressivism. I am becoming more comfortable, these days, with labels like Socialist. I don’t trust human nature enough to be comfortable with Anarchism: I think most people are basically stupid, or, worse yet, willfully ignorant. A part of me that’s not hippie-dippie leans heavily toward Social Darwinism. How messed up is that???