THE WAGES OF WEAKNESS I

19 11 2009

PRELUDE

I’m 61. I’m White. I live in a city in the Southern US that sprawls for many miles. Its structure has been shaped by and for the car. Recently I choose to give up driving because I’ve always had a phobia for it, which has gotten worse every year, to the point that the last few times I drove I had severe anxiety attacks, and came home totally exhausted from the experience. I also have a history of depression, which put me on Social Security Disability for three years a while ago. I now have a job that comes with a very good health plan, one that is known to practitioners throughout this city because so many people here have it.

Now that I’m not driving, I’m very assiduous in finding ways to work around that detriment. I do most of my shopping on the Internet. For my frequent trips to health professionals, I’ve found a fine organization that gives ride to the afflicted.

STORY #1

Several months ago I set out to develop a relationship with a small pharmacy located about 3 miles from the downtown of this city, where I live. The listing of that pharmacy in the Yellow Pages said “We deliver.”, and that’s why I chose to use it. I had several conversations on the phone with a pharmacist there. I filled out two sets of forms he mailed me. My downtown address appeared prominently on both. I received no questions or comments from the pharmacist on any of the information I supplied. I then went happily on with my life, figuring I had the prescriptions problem well provided for.

Several weeks after that, I came home with three new prescriptions from my doctor, which he had also faxed to that drugstore. I called them the next day to place an order. The pharmacist informed me, out of the blue, “We do not deliver to downtown.” Nothing I said would change his mind, even though either he or his partner had received my earlier telephone calls and the forms I’d filled out, both of which had contained my downtown address — which, again, is located less than 3 miles from their place of business.

I wondered angrily for a while why this sudden reversal had occurred. I decided that I will never know. But I wonder: Could it have anything to do with the fact that the downtown of this city is known to be a place where many Black people live?

STORY #2

Over the last few weeks I made a couple of calls to a local audiologist, asking to make an appointment to get my broken hearing aid fixed and get an updated hearing test. I explained that I would have to get a ride there, since I did not drive. I mentioned that fact in both calls.

I showed up today and the audiologist fixed my broken hearing aid by cleaning it out. The whole interaction took no more than 10 minutes. The audiologist’s  manner was abrupt and dismissive. She then informed me that she did not have a time to give me a hearing test, and I would have to come back another day.

I was very disappointed because I knew I couldn’t come back, due to the difficulty of arranging a ride and the fact that the hearing test was just a precautionary thing. It wasn’t essential.

Then I sat in their waiting room awaiting my ride home for half an hour. I didn’t see any new customers come in. I started to wonder why I had been denied the hearing test, and complained to the audiologist’s receptionist. She said that she had put me down for a hearing test, and had no idea why the audiologist wouldn’t give me one.

I left, bemused.

Why this dismissal? As in Story #1, a health provider had denied his or her services to someone who needed them and was in a position to pay full price for them. Could the reason for that have anything to do, in this case, with the fact that during my talk with the audiologist I mentioned that I had received my 2 pairs of hearing aids free from the State Vocational Rehabilitation Office over the past 9 years? (That happened while I was coming off Disability status and returning to work.)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

This is the redstate American South. I grew up here. It has a history of the most vicious, heartless racism, amounting to American apartheid. I remember things being said in my home about Blacks that, even as a child, I found vicious and cruel. In my middle-size town in the 1960s, Blacks lived in an enclave of their own, and no interaction occurred between them and Whites that I could see, except those strictly necessary for business (which did NOT include their being allowed to hold any good, white-collar jobs).

Though much has changed here since then on the surface, such a fundamental cultural wellspring as that old racial hatred does not go away in a single generation. Does it still flow here as strongly as ever, but now all unspoken, and does it explain the mystery of Story #1, and, indirectly, of Story #2?

This is Ultra Right Wing home base. The radio-host pygmies on local AM station WJBO strive daily to stand as squarely in Rush Limbaugh’s huge shadow as they possibly can. Folks who call into the shows of those mini-Rushes love to hear the hosts’ vituperation, and from time to time make it clear that they, too, take it as given that all recipients of social programs are cheats, thieves, and/or layabouts.

This drumbeat of propaganda is endless and unrelenting. The generalized fury of the local AM talk radio listeners is so thick it’s almost palpable. It has an emotional intensity way beyond what I think can be motivated by mere disdain for the awfulness of liberalism alone. But the power of xenophobia, now…THAT is strong enough to do the job!

I’ve come to believe that the triumph of extreme right wing sentiment in the South arises from continuing hatred of Black people, an unusual number of whom live in poverty here in the South, and so are the the main recipients of those hotly-condemned social programs. Hate the program and consider it worthless = scorn its beneficiaries.

By being stridently Right, folks down here have found a way to be racist covertly.

Did I, a White man, then, get unceremoniously shown the door today due to merely being associated in someone’s mind for a moment with the hated minority group? Did the audiologist simply show me her dislike for a presumptive cheat/thief/layabout?

Or am I just being paranoid?

Even if I am, as we’ve all heard many times before:

“Just because I’m paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me!”

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BEWILDERED WORKERS

1 10 2009

When I was a little boy growing up in a poor family WAY back in the early 1960, I was really into learning things. My stern mom always gave me a smile when she signed my report card.

Later I became a teenager and began to wonder just why we were so poor and others in town so clearly weren’t. What did they know or have that we didn’t, that condemned us to be perpetually one mortgage payment away from the streets? I became then and remain to this day furious at that disparity, well expressed for me in 1966 by the Doors in these two lines:

Some are born to sweet delight,

And some are born to the endless night.

Still later I went to college and some of this mystery was dispelled…but that’s not what this post is about.

No, this post is about how I’ve always been able to see over the past two decades why Rush Limbaugh et al. appeal so strongly  to poor people — poor white people in the South particularly –, even though the fundamental program of the Right has always tended to work to the advantage of the rich, not the poor.

This lady (commenting on an article in the New York Times that I’ll cite later) expresses my understanding of this strangely self-contradictory phenomenon perfectly:

“I don’t know whether to call it nostalgia or anachronism, but this idea that there is some “working class” or “blue collar class” in this country does not fit the times. Outside of the wealthy we have a remnant of what used to be the true middle class. At this point, these are mostly sales people who can manage $100k plus along with a few remaining professionals, technical workers and some managers. If you don’t fall into one of those two categories, you’re just poor.

The poor are the people with the $10 hour jobs, if they have jobs. No benefits — no paid vacation, no paid days off, no paid sick time, no health insurance. If you show up and work, you get paid. If you don’t show up, you hope you don’t lose the job. If you’re part of a family and live in a home together, probably most people living in the house have one or more such jobs. You’re never sure you can get enough money to pay the rent, electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage collection, medical bills, credit cards, etc., etc. You feel under siege most days.

The poor generally do not have the thinking ability afforded by a good education. In a country with a failed basic education system, they may be high school graduates, but they cannot read well enough to clearly understand meanings in things like newspapers and magazines. They are large consumers of “free” media — broadcast television and radio. Without critical thinking ability they are the rabble being roused by hucksters with nothing but their own self interest at heart. Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Rupert Murdoch care only about possessing power and the money that comes with it.

Consuming that media, the poor are angry because they see themselves as being left out. Every show, fictional or otherwise shows people they believe are like them as being far better off than they are. The TV characters have better cars, nice houses, and they have no real worries outside of the scripted drama that is resolved so easily in the denouement. In the morning, the poor have to get up early, hope their 12-year-old car will start and make it to work if they can afford to put gas in it. This is a harsh and bitter reality that is almost a cognitive dissonance in contrast to the way they believe life is for most other people.

When they drive too fast on the way to work, police give them a ticket for speeding and the fine amount rivals their weekly take-home pay. Meanwhile they see politicians accused of crimes, and years later nothing has been done about it. They see police officers shoot apparently innocent people, and they get away with it. They hear about corporate executives being released from their responsibilities (fired) and given $25 million to take home with them. And when the poor don’t have the money to pay their speeding ticket a warrant is issued for their arrest. That leads to the loss of the car and the job and perhaps everything else they thought they had worked for.

These poor people are angry. They have a right to be angry. They were told in school they were being prepared for the “American dream.” Life was going to be the pursuit of more happiness today than yesterday. But they didn’t understand that their education was woefully inadequate to comprehend the current world. They weren’t told that corporations care about profit and nothing else, least of all them and their lives. They can’t accept that what they see and hear in the media they consume is a fantasy meant to take advantage of them in a hundred different ways. I could compare them to lost children wandering aimlessly around huge shopping malls angrily screaming at people in the food court who somehow have enough to eat.

We adults who have figured out how to get some food are at a loss to understand these people at their rallies saying the president is a monster. And calling them the working class or blue collar makes no more sense than labeling them “conservatives” or “patriots” or loose cannon for that matter.

They are simply poor. They are without hope. And they cannot understand what’s going on when they look at the Mercedes next to them at the stoplight and a black woman is in the driver seat. So they turn up the radio and Glenn Beck tells them Obama is causing it all. It has nothing to do with either work or class.”

— Tracy

If I had stayed in East Texas and  stayed uneducated, and there had been a Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck on the radio then, I would have believed everything he said!

___________________________________________________________

The comment quoted above was to this article:

http://egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/working-class-zero/





PALIN REDUX?

11 07 2009

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I received this collection of quotes today from a friend:

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“There was a surprising announcement over the weekend. The governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is leaving office. She’s stepping down. Something I said?”

– David Letterman, referring to his feud with Palin

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“President Obama right now is in Russia. Obama went there because from Russia you can actually see Sarah Palin cleaning out her office in Alaska.”

– Conan O’Brien

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“I was talking to a lady here in the audience, she was from Alaska and we were wondering about this. How does a thing like this work? She steps down and she’s no longer the governor of Alaska. And we figured it out: Miss Congeniality steps up and is now the governor of Alaska.”

– David Letterman

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“A lot of public figures do this. When you have trouble, you blame the media. And today as a matter of fact, Sarah Palin was up in a helicopter shooting Wolf Blitzer.”

— David Letterman

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“Over the weekend Sarah Palin shocked the country by resigning as governor of Alaska. Yeah, Republicans aren’t sure who is going to fill her role in the party, but they are in talks with several of the Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

— Conan O’Brien

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“This is weird, in her resignation speech, Sarah Palin said she polled her children on whether she should resign and the count was unanimous. Yeah, even her children thought she was in over her head.”

— Conan O’Brien

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“Well, according to a new post-election survey, people want Sarah Palin to run for president in 2012. It says she’s been getting thousands of calls from people pleading with her to run, all Democrats.”

— Jay Leno

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“I have said Sarah Palin’s political ambition combined with her intellect is like putting a jet engine on a golf cart; lots of horse power and no steering capabilities. Today she proved it.”

— Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, whom Sarah Palin is threatening to sue

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“Sarah Palin decided to chuck her responsibilities but still wants to have an impact on public debate. So what does that make her, a community organizer?”

– NPR’s Michel Martin

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“Watching Sarah Palin’s press conference on Friday was like watching a drunk seal trying to land a plane, or in basketball terms (which Sarah prefers) like watching a grade-schooler try to score on Kobe while jabbering inanely.”

— Huffington Post blogger David Stemler

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“Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy.”

— New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd

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“I think Sarah Palin is on the verge of becoming the Miami Vice of American politics: Something a lot of people once thought was cool and then 20 years later look back, shake their heads and just kind of laugh.”

— Republican media consultant Todd Harris

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Could Sarah STILL be elected to high office? Some people compare her to Reagan, who back in 1980 lots of people swore could never be elected President because he had been an actor.

But when he ran for office Reagan had never made a fool of himself like this.

…Well…there WAS Bedtime for Bonzo

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THANK GOD!

27 06 2009

(and I don’t even believe in Him)

Supreme Court Lets Stand a Central Provision of the Voting Rights Act:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/us/23scotus.html?ref=us

As someone who lives in the South and was brought up here, I can assure you that without the Voting Rights Act, the states down here would be back to poll taxes (You had to pay a substantial tax just to vote!) and open harassment of Blacks at the polls so quickly  even fast-talking Yankees would be amazed.

I grew up in the South when segregation was the law in all Southern states. I know how routine, heartless, and nearly universal racism was in Southern Whites. You don’t change a whole culture in one generation.

Even if racism is in retreat in the minds of some white people in the South, our legislators routinely provide the “lowest common denominator” of  political representation. If they were freed of the restraints of the Voting Rights Acts, those legislators would not hesitate to play to the worst instincts of the yahoo element of our Southern White folk, as they did for 100 years before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.





BE A MAN!

16 06 2009

Here’s a very intelligent discussion of why many Caucasian men are primarily interested in Asian women:

http://letters.salon.com/books/review/2009/06/16/east_west_sex/view/index8.html?show=all

Buried in the middle of that discussion  — which is fascinating in itself — is this jewel of a comment:

“Speaking as a white female who has always been attracted to sexy East Asian men, I have a few thoughts about this dynamic.

Generally speaking, women always have a lower social status in their own society than men. As a result, within their cultures, women are much more oppressed than men — but paradoxically, if they should venture outside their culture, they may have a lot more freedom to experiment than men from their society would.

For example: in Western societies, men are esteemed above women, and this situation penalizes women in many ways with one huge exception: as children, girls who are “tomboys” are tolerated, encouraged and admired (for “aspiring” above their lowly female status), while boys who are “sissies” are despised, rejected and often brutalized (for disrespecting the Sacred Masculine and transgressively choosing a lower status). Hence, girls have much more freedom to explore their personalities as they grow up. Boys are mostly condemned to force themselves into a narrow box of “Not-Feminine” qualities; if they are gentle, or artistic, or intellectual, or pretty much anything that’s not loud, coarse, violent, aggressive and dominating, they are branded as “faggots,” irrespective of their sexual orientation.

In East Asian societies, women’s lower and men’s higher status is even more exaggerated than in the West. As a result, Asian women may have quite a bit more freedom to explore the world outside their culture of origin, and unsurprisingly, many Asian women have enjoyed exploring Western men and have found beloved partners from foreign cultures. Asian men, on the other hand, are often paralyzed by the expectations of their families to the point where, no matter how attracted they might be to a woman from a different culture, it is simply unimaginable to become involved.”

….

(In other words, “Yes Virginia, it is possible to be a male heterosexual and yet be gentle, sensitive, artistic, imaginative, creative, and not interested in football.”)

Set in boldface in the quoted  language is nothing less the story of my childhood and youth. I never heard anyone else describe it ’til now. But for some time I’ve known that the deviation from the norm (of East Texas) described in the quote was a large source of the ostracism I received as a child. For a long time I’ve also understood that that deviation was normal, etc.  Still, to hear, at last,  someone else state a truth that one has unearthed all on one’s own somehow makes its truth more substantial.

As I get older I am repeatedly amazed that I understand and can articulate truths about society and myself, that, if I had been able to understand them at 20, would have changed my life infinitely for the better.





BUSH-SPEAK V. OBAMA ORATORY

3 05 2009

(I’m lifting another comment from an online news story.

It’s a bit further down here.)

I grew up in East Texas in the 1950s and ’60s. My mom was a Scottish immigrant, and, under her influence, while making my weary way to adulthood in Texas, I read a lot of classic novels from England.

My dad, meanwhile, was a classic Texas farmboy redneck.

So it was nasal slang all day at school from my peers, and again at home each night from my dad — as against my mom’s orderly Scotch English and the elegant British English of those old novels. The cognitive dissonance was stunning. The linguistic dissonance was worse. My dad and my peer-group lost the battle for my soul (a poor prize at best, I guess!) because I disliked them both. My mom and those English novelists seemed to share certain ideals of honor, gentlemanly behavior, and economic disinterestedness. My peers and my dad, on the other hand, posited a world where toughness and business success were the only recognized manly virtues (aside from going to church a lot, of course).  I joined up whole-heartedly on the side of my mom and The Sceptered Isle, and gladly brushed the dust of Texas off my shoes (not boots!).

I went to college in the North and majored in English.

Only those who have grown up in poverty in the sticks, speaking the stripped-down language of a place and time where “danger is double and pleasures are few”, can appreciate how desperately such a person may struggle to leave behind not only the benighted place and time, but also its characteristic dialect. Even if one does not have a fine ear for language, the associations with the dialect are all bad.

(I think of James Baldwin here, for some reason.)

In light of the above, imagine my disgust eight years ago when I heard George W. Bush’s twangy malapropisms begin emanating from Washington and the Highest Seat in the Land! Conversely, imagine my pleasure eight years later as I’m beginning to hear the cultivated tones of Barack Obama from that same lofty seat!

I listened to Mr. Obama’s third news conference Wednesday night and immediately decided to post something on this blog about the way he speaks — which meant that I spent quite a while thinking in detail about why I felt enlightened after listening to him. (Yes, ASIDE from the fact that he was saying mostly things I agreed with!)

And then, today, wonderfully!, I was spared the trouble of trying to figure it all out in detail when I read the best description I’ve ever heard of the difference between the ways Bush and Obama talk. It is a post commenting on the Leonard Cohen column in the New York Times of 4/29/2009:

Link
“Mr. Cohen, it is not the language, it is the quality of thought that is wonderful in a politician. What people see in this president and did not in Mr. Bush, is the ability to express his own high caliber thinking in his own words which he has thought about before expressing them publicly. His language makes clear that this time around the presidency is not a committee of oligarchs for whom the president is the spokesman.

President Obama talks, listens, thinks, answers and sometimes rethinks. This is new for this generation. You just have to listen: Bush wanted to be obeyed; that was clear. And he refused to take responsibility for errors. In 9th grade language his speeches were either lies or excuses. President Obama, on the other hand, wants to be right and he lets the people in on his plans and ideas. Nevertheless he can also be deceptive because he uses language as a painter of fine art uses his palette of colors  and his fine brushes to achieve shadow and shading. Mr. Bush did the best he could with his box of seven crayons.

— Moishepipik34, NYC”

(My thanks to Moishepipik34 for explaining so well and to the New York Times and Mr. Cohen for creating the occasion for him to do so.)





UNFLATTENED IN BATON ROUGE

27 07 2008

The Uses of Snobbery

I plead guilty to being an intellectual snob. It comes from having been a poor outcast fat kid in the backwards backwoods of Texas long ago. I had to cling to SOMETHING to have value in my own eyes, and I chose the contents of books. The ability to read “hard” books and to become lost in them was the only thing I had going for me.

Compared to those contents, as illuminated by my imagination, the squalid surroundings and dimwit country culture of my small-town Texas childhood became dismissible. It was like being thrown into prison and coping with the noise and danger and ugliness and cruelty and excess macho nonsense of the other prisoners by dreaming about your life when finally released. Seen through the mist of those dreams, it was all dismissible, hence bearable.

There is lots in American culture now, 40 years later, that remains unchanged (after a brief abortive flirtation of the USA with being civilized that occurred in the 1960s). If you actually live within the soup of media-business-religion-sports that constitutes all the “culture” that the USA has, then you will slowly be de-brained. I understand that this lowest-common-denominator culture is the natural product of a country made up of persons of so many ethnic and national backgrounds that, other than a burning desire to make as much money as humanly possible, they have historically had very little in common. But I don’t have to join the de-brained brigade just because I was born here.

After a lifetime of being regularly fed drivel, I now watch no TV, read no magazines (celebrity, so-called “news”, or otherwise), consume only carefully-selected contemporary movies, go to no theme parks, read no best sellers, and listen to no radio but NPR.

But I still actually live in the American South. People here are friendly and polite in their personal lives and daily contacts. And this state I now live in is unique among Southern states in having a strong minority population (the Cajuns) with a distinctive culture that influences many aspects of life here. But the public reality that reigns in this place and time is still highly driven by the larger mass of US media ideas and images that flood in upon us daily, and by a good deal of local self-deluding nonsense about the glorious Old South. The result needs continually to be dismissed if one is not simply to despair for one’s country. I can’t turn on the main local AM radio station without hearing a local Homer or Jethro imitating Rush in order to book his own transient local fame. (The usual chorus of drawling dittoheads always obligingly call in to agree.) This city, Baton Rouge, has a paroxysm every time the LSU Tigers play a football game and doesn’t notice much else that happens publicly. In politics it is cruel, in art is is limited to country and rap and phony Cajun music, in public thought it is limited to a slavish love of business and business persons, and a widespread desire to try to guess what they might want before they want it, so they won’t get in a huff and take their many dollars to some even more accommodating Southern state.

Oh yes, the folks did stir from their torpor recently to get incensed when the state legislators voted themselves big raises—raising themselves from tiny salaries originally based on the fact that theirs was once a part time job to middle-class level salaries. Smart people I knew joined the brigade of the incensed. I didn’t point out to them that if you pay people with power peanuts you give them tremendous incentives to take bribes.

It would have been pointless, and gotten a lot of folks mad at me.

The USA has a history of driving its artists and intellectuals into exile. In the 1920s through the 1940s it seemed as if most such folks were to be found in Paris. Now they have found a precarious home in academe. For those of us who are unacademicized, there is only the internal exile of dismissiveness. One gets ones information through the Internet, and lets the drivel go.