Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Is Over

Well, almost. I love holidays. They give you a chance to feel good, specifically about family and more generally about your world, however wide that is.

I admit, though, that I don't spend too much time sorting through what I'm thankful for, mostly because the exercise too often turns into a self-directed puff piece. Even a statement like "I'm grateful to have all of you here together" might sound like an outpouring of love for friends and family, but more likely it ends up sounding like a "I rate cool friends and family" statement. A private "I'm glad you could come" might better do the trick.

I guess my real, and personal, problem is that I don't like to all of a sudden feel like I'm in a Diane Keaton movie. I just can't pull it off.

Still, when Juan Cole, a professor/journalist/Middle-East expert I admire, gave his list of things Americans can be thankful for, I was happy to be reminded. Also, his list was outward-looking and therefore humble.

His landscape of gratitude was different from mine but included events and trends I should have noticed. It is good that the Iraq War is over. We do, because of cable news and a pervasive hysteria that I've never understood, fail to recognize that crime continues to decline and is at a 48-year low. Many of the hotspots in the world, including the Middle East and the India-Pakistan conflict are slowly being mitigated. There are awakenings of democracy in the Arab world, and Al-Qaeda is on the run, if not nearly gutted. And, yes, there are a near-constant set of health breakthroughs that portend a better and more prosperous ripening of old age at a time when the baby boomers could sure use it.

Thank you, Juan, for perking me up. I'm grumpier and more self-centered and likelier to think that "I'm glad the roof on my condo is holding up" than to be pleased that world peace is expanding, however slowly. And I do let my disdain for what passes as economic policy, here and abroad, cover up the fact that I, personally, and my little town of Sonoma more generally, seem to be in pretty fine spirits most of the time. I've pursued happiness and for the most part have found it. I'm lucky, I guess, and grateful.

Even that, though, sorta pisses me off because, dammit, I am egalitarian and wish that more people were being treated fairly and given the opportunity to make it in this world. It's galling that Our Galtian Overlords, as Atrios puts it, wreak havoc, then grab their bonuses and cut and run. There's a lot of heartbreak left in their wakes. And that heartbreak is real and involves real people, by the millions.

It's no less disturbing that it's happening to greater and lesser degrees in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Iceland. Nor is it less disquieting that Europe's Galtian Overlords demand that loser countries pay some respect by suffering in silence. I'm a great admirer of the German juggernaut, hell, I've got a VW to prove it. But do they have to force such absurd prescriptions on their Southern European brethren, such as Paul Krugman, in true Atrios fashion, laid out in his blog last week:

1. Slash government spending

2. ??????

3. Prosperity!

I've never taken a single econ class in my life, and I can figure out the paradox of thrift and attest to its validity as a concept and, what's more, its complete applicability to this time and place. So, why in hell do the conservatives here and abroad, want to ignore the simplest of principles and demand austerity and reduced government spending at a time when doing so is wildly counter-productive? It does cause one to dredge up the old stupid-or-evil Richter-scale measure of the character of those at the helm of government, and the results can't help but be a good dose of both!

The most generous judgment is that we are ruled by incompetents who go out of their way to prove the validity of the Dunning-Kruger Effect -- which, roughly, states that our self-confidence in our abilities rises in reverse proportion to our competence -- and that they truly wish the best for us but are just damned shitty at getting it for us.

Trust me, I'm not that generous. Our leaders are money-grubbing, power-hungry hacks who will do anything to keep the money stream flowing into their pockets. The difference between the liberal elite and the conservative elite is a crucial one, though: the liberal elite know that it's in their self-interest to spread the money more widely around society, while the conservative elite believe that the poor are scum that deserve to suffer. They both, however, think they deserve to rule and accrue more money and power.

Self-interest is a slippery notion, hard to grasp and oddly elusive. I remember waiting one day in a Midas Muffler shop for my car to get finished, and I watched the proud shop owner play the whistle-while-you-work entrepreneurial schtick to a tee, glad-handing every customer who came through his door and answering telephone calls and getting us coffee, all the while producing a steady stream of ain't-the-American-Dream-grand patter and "your car'll be done in a minute, buddy!"

One anecdote he shared was how proud he and his wife were that they had just driven their daughter down to Dominican University to start her college days. No doubt he was justly proud, having worked hard to provide for his child's future.

But it wasn't long before he started bitching for some reason or another about the deadbeats the hardworking class had to put up with. His muffler shop was in Vallejo, a middle-lower-middle-class town with a hearty dash of minorities, sitting kitty-corner across the bay from San Francisco. "What I want to know is," he asked, assuming I'd quickly agree, "why do we have to pay for the poor bastards?" (I think this was during the Clinton-era welfare-reform debate.)

I sorta smiled and nodded, mostly as an alternative to what I really wanted to do, which was to say, "Well, maybe so we'd have a healthier, more broadly successful society and so one of those poor bastards doesn't have a bad day and rob, rape, and murder your daughter, maybe that's why."

That was a less-merry way of saying we're all in this together, so I held my tongue.

So you can well imagine that, in spite of enjoying the holidays with friends and family, I'm glad Thanksgiving is over. I'm not a I'm-glad-I've-got-mine kind of guy (though I am glad), so I'm deeply upset about those who, through no fault of their own, don't have theirs, and just as upset that there's a stupid-or-evil class of overlords hellbent on denying others their chance. This is a kind of reverse-engineered American Dream, in which the stern father derides the son, saying "You have no one but yourself to blame!" before throwing him out of the house with a curt "and don't come back until you've made something of yourself!"

Somewhere out there are future leaders with a sense of balance, who just might realize that urging people -- or governments -- to cut back or "tighten your belt" in a recession is like throwing gasoline on a campfire. I doubt they'll step forward before Christmas. So don't be surprised if I lay it on a little heavy with the brandy in the egg nog. Did I say I like the holidays?

I do, just maybe not during an election cycle in the midst of a severe economic downturn, with a Socialist Fascist Kenyan Muslim in one corner and St. George in a Newt suit in the other.

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