Sometimes middle-age seems like a daily reminder that somebody declared the game over and not only didn’t you win but the whole time you were playing you didn’t know the rules.
While the winners are gleefully collecting their prizes and posing for photographs, you’re left standing there begging for one more turn.
That, by the way, is the short version of my explanation for the rise of the Tea Party, but never mind.
But reading New York Magazine, which I happen to be doing while waiting for the Mannion guys to get their haircuts, intensifies that feeling. It’s like the editors declare the game over every week and have started a new one while you weren’t paying attention and you’re already way behind.
It doesn’t matter that what the editors seem to count as winning---life as a hanger-on in the various worlds of celebrity, political, financial, and cultural, that rule the city---not only doesn’t seem like a prize, it’s looks exactly like Sartre’s idea of hell. You lost! You’re old and out of it. Nobody’s going to invite you to the party. Go back home to Scarsdale and try to pretend you’re living the life you wish you were living here.
---I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Colored they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say. That’s where we’ll go on our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy…
---You should have been a poet.
---I was. Isn’t that obvious?
Living close but just not close enough to New York City, I just can’t get into town as much as I’d like but feel I should and could if I just made the effort or planned it better. If I had world enough and time and a whopping big pile of cash, I’d be down there every week, seeing a play. I’ve missed an awful lot of good ones over the years but the one I think I’m going to regret having missed most is Waiting for Godot, starring Sir Patrick and Sir Ian, which closed Saturday night.
I’d been hoping to make it, but I had to stick around home.
I was waiting.
Waiting for what, you ask?
A bicycle rider from Belfast. You were ahead me on that one, weren’t you?
By the way, I typed that quotation from Beckett almost verbatim from memory. Back in high school I played Gogo. That was Bert Lahr’s part in the original Broadway production in the 1950s, Sir Ian’s in this one.
[He] was born on January 30, 1941 in Lincoln, Nebraska, to a family of New Deal Democrats who struggled through the Great Depression and were proud their oldest son was born on Franklin Roosevelt’s birthday. His grandparents lost everything in the crisis except their house. His father…dropped out of college and worked for decades for the Soil Conservation Service teaching farmers how to rotate their crops. His mother…waited tables at the family-owned Dickey’s Cafe in Syracuse, Nebraska, until meeting the young public servant. At various points growing up [our man] lived on an uncle’s farm in a family friend’s basement.
You got it in one, right?
Just started reading Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker. I’m not very deep into it but so far Baker hasn’t explained or even given a serious look at the question, How did that happen? How did the son of New Deal Democrats grow up into not just a Republican conservative but the arch-Republican conservative of the first decade of the 21st Century? Maybe he’ll get into it later. The focus of the book is the eight years of George W. Bush’s Presidency and at this point Baker’s on a quick march through the five decades leading up to it, providing both personal and historical background, and he hasn’t slowed down often to editorialize, psychoanalyze personalities, or philosophize about politics. All he’s offered is that Cheney worked for Donald Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld headed Nixon’s “Office of Economic Opportunity overseeing the war on poverty” and then:
Cheney stayed with Rumsfeld when he took over the inflation-fighting Cost of Living Council. Both jobs soured Cheney on government intervention in the economy and the son of New Deal Democrats became a conservative Republican.
Which not only doesn’t explain anything, it seems wrong. Cheney was already a conservative Republican by then. That’s how he came to be working for Rumsfeld and Nixon. And along with that, Nixon’s way of fighting the war on poverty was to scale back Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society wherever and however he could---that was what “benign neglect” meant---and Cheney would have known that and approved. In fact, most likely he’d have seen his job as helping to sour others on government intervention in the economy and if anything his experiences would have soured him on the kind of Republican moderates and liberals who were in the Administration and Congress at the time and Cheney would probably have thought insufficiently neglectful and way too benign about it. (Baker does a good and swift job of establishing Cheney’s contempt for Nelson Rockefeller and implies that contempt extended, at least in the late 1970s, to George Herbert Walker Bush.) There’s an irony here that Baker also doesn’t explore. Cheney’s father’s job was essentially to implement the government’s interference in the economy at the most local level.
Like I said, so far Baker hasn’t shown interest in looking at how Cheney went over to the Dark Side and I have a feeling he’s not going to get into even when his story opens up and there’s room for it. Days of Fire is shaping up as a straight-forward chronicle of the Bush years told from the inside, which means that almost all of Baker’s sources were there and they have good reasons for putting the best face on everything about those days including their bosses. Who wants to go down in history as having worked for the most inept and corrupt Presidency since Warren G. Harding’s? And Baker, well-trained journalist that he is, perhaps too well-trained---he’s the White House correspondent for the New York Times---doesn’t seem inclined to report anything he didn’t get from straight from his sources. Baker zips right through W’s National Guard service without mentioning how he managed to come out of it without becoming the fighter pilot he later like to boast he was. So I suspect Days of Fire’s going to be a tough-read for a partisan like me who demands the kind of criticism and complaint I suspect are going to be in short supply.
At any rate, Baker leaves us to guess how and why Cheney came to reject his parents’ politics. We have a pretty good idea how that former staunch New Deal Democrat Ronald Reagan came to be the leader and prophet and now patron saint of Movement Conservatism. It started with his anti-communism and was completed when his work as a shill for General Electric showed him how much fun it was to be rich. There’s nothing that clear-cut in Cheney’s biography as reported by Baker in Days of Fire. Cheney’s story may have as its moral that where we grow up and the friends we make in high school and college---or didn’t make; Cheney didn’t much care for what he saw at Yale before he flunked out---have more influence on what kinds of adults we become than do our parents. It may be the case that Cheney’s relationship with his parents soured him on New Deal Democrats. It may be that he just inherited a dominant conservative gene from one ancient ancestor or another who didn’t like to share his mastodon steaks and thought the best way to handle possibly threatening visitors from other clans was to preemptively club them to death.
Probably not going to find any of that out from Days of Fire and that’s ok. But there is something I would like explained. Not necessarily by Baker but by Cheney himself.
Cheney’s days in the Ford White House proved formative to his governing philosophy. In the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam era, he served at the nadir of the Presidency, when Congress was chipping away at executive power through the War Powers Resolution and other legislation that altered the balance of power in American government. The Church Committee investigation into abuses by the CIA, he felt, undercut the nation’s premier spy agency. Bryce Harlow, a veteran of the Eisenhower White House and a colleague in Ford’s, warned Cheney about the need to protect the prerogatives of the executive. “One of the things he would say is, ‘Look, we have to make sure we leave the institution of the Presidency with the same authorities and powers that the Constitution intended,’” Rumsfeld later recalled. “Once an executive acquiesces in something that infringes on that or is weak or the Congress is a quid pro quo for something, it doesn’t just affect your Presidency; it affects the institution.” That, Rumsfeld said, made a lasting impression on him and Cheney. “I felt that way, and I know he felt that way,” Rumsfeld said. Cheney later told reporters as vice-president, “A lot of things around Watergate and Vietnam, both, in the 70s served to erode the authority, I think. The President needs to be effective, especially in the national security area.”
We know how this attitude played out over the course of Cheney’s vice-presidency and it’s bound to be a theme of the main part of Days of Fire. The question I want asked, not necessarily by Baker, unless he gets the chance, is “If this is how you feel, Mr Vice-President, why have you taken every opportunity you’ve had since 2009 to encourage disrespect, even contempt for President Obama and undermine his authority and cheer the Republicans in Congress on as they attempt to embarrass, weaken, and humiliate him?”
Makes it tough for the President to be effective, especially in the national security area, don’t you think?
[Director David] Ayer knows that this has been done before, so the only way to keep the viewer in the dark is to distract or divert their attention. He does so with the edgy expertise of a veteran action filmmaker. Chase scenes are shot from a first-person perspective inside the car. Gunfights frequently occur with the camera at either or both ends of the barrel depending on who Ayer wants you to feel has the advantage. At one point, Breacher's visit to one retired teammate is cut in such a way as to fool the viewer that the parallel action between the team leader and his former subordinate are occurring simultaneously when there's a very distinct reason it turns out that it's not. Viewers are enlisted into being part of the action from the get-go, both implicating them as accomplices in the crime and making them perplexed victims of the betrayal committed by one of the once trusted teammates.
Schwarzenegger is rarely called upon to give as complex a performance as the one he gives in Sabotage. Breacher is a man who sacrificed the stability of a regular family for the thrills of this volatile one and has begun to realize it was a horrible exchange. Save for an ill-advised, valedictory coda that comes across as a bit of a western spoof, the movie grants Schwarzenegger the chance to play the role of an action star's lifetime. Breacher may be Schwarzenegger's Rooster Cogburn…
Some day I’ll write a fuller post about a movie star’s Rooster Cogburn role as the last great showy part of his or her career that somehow sums up everything that went into making them a star and then adds a little something to our appreciation of their star power and their talent. Not every actor gets one. Bogart didn’t. Cary Grant didn’t. Henry Fonda’s was in a play, Clarence Darrow. Cary Cooper’s was High Noon, obviously. Spencer Tracy’s was in Inherit the Wind although a case can be made for Bad Day at Black Rock.Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was his valedictory and that’s a different thing. Paul Newman’s came a little early with The Verdict. Redford might just have had his in All Is Lost. Wayne actually had two. True Grit and The Shootist.
Hollywood is usually done with its great actresses just before they’re at the point where they’re ready to deliver such a performance. Katharine Hepburn defied the sexist ageists, which is why we have hers in The Lion in Winter. Bette Davis remained a leading lady just long enough to do All About Eve. Helen Mirren’s, The Queen, re-energized and extended her career as a leading lady. Meryl Streep will likely have hers sooner or later, but maybe she already did and if so my vote is Julie & Julia.
At any rate, if Breacher in Sabotage is Schwarzenegger’s, then maybe I’d better re-think and make the time to see it.
Both classes I’m teaching this semester are seminars. Means students are supposed to do most of the talking and I keep the lecturing to a minimum. Sometimes I lapse. Too often. And there are days when either their mood or the subject at hand keeps them quiet and I have to hold forth. And even when they’re feeling gabby there are topics that have to get covered and points that need to be made and I have to move to get things back on track. So I go in with notes. Nowhere near as detailed as the notes some professors work from, which is probably wrong of me or right of me, depending on who you ask. But like the ones below I made for Wednesday’s Harry Potter and his Avatars class.
Class turned out an acceptable mix of lecture and discussion, with students answering all my questions and adding good points of their own, leaving me only the job of providing background. See if you can reconstruct the discussion.
How to read Shakespeae. Soliloquize like a pirate.
Greenblatt: Lords of misrule. The Vice.
Mischief for mischief’s sake. Tempters. Manipulators.
How tempters work.
Henry IV. -->Falstaff
Where in the Chosen One myths?
Who in Harry Potter?
Voldemort = Satan. But not Milton’s Satan.
Mischief for mischief’s sake?
Opening the Marauder’s Map.
Fred and George?
Tom Riddle. Voldemort more interesting when he was still Riddle.
Vader tempted not a tempter. Luke is the one saying Come over to the light side, Dad.
Disney and Hades.
The Legend of Hercules. Hercules NOT a warrior. Not a soldier. First superhero. Going about doing good deeds.
Lex not a trickster or a tempter. Wants order, but with himself doing the ordering.
Batman-->Joker. Riddler. But Batman’s not a Chosen One myth.
Lord of the Rings?
Sauran = Satan. Saruman a fallen angel.
Grima Wormtongue. Creature of Saruman, no power of his own, no object of his own.
Sauran=Voldemort=Palpatine=Lex. Order. Rulers not misrulers.
Morgan le Faye. Morgause. Mordred.
Temptation in the desert.
Only joke in the New Testament, according to Vonnegut: “The poor you will always have with you.”
Tradition and Judas. Mary Magdalene/Woman taken in adultery.
Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas accusing Jesus of being the tempter.
Chosen One myths short on Vice.
Game of Thrones?
No Chosen One. But…
Littlefinger. Varys. Others. But all of them want power or are just maneuvering to survive.
Who doesn’t care? Who’s just in it for the mischief of it?
Tyrion as a short, thin, young Falstaff forced to play hero and responsible adult.
Shakespeare or George R.R. Martin? Falstaff or Tyrion? “What is honor? A word? What is in that word honor?...Air.”
After class one of my students posted this to our Facebook page:
Always amazed and appalled when I think about what Elizabethans were willing to suffer (and inflict) in the name of their religion. Grisly torture, grislier and torturous deaths, disembowelment, hanging, beheading, drawing and quartering, immolation. Catholics took the worst of it during the time Shakespeare was learning and plying the playwright’s trade; Protestants, a generation before. Catholics and Protestants both went to their deaths or sent others to their deaths, all over how much God had invested in a piece of magic bread.
Still reading Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and I’m having no trouble imagining living in Shakespeare’s day, except for that. It’s not that I can’t imagine people doing all that to each other. I can’t imagine caring enough to do it. Of course, much of it was really about power not God. It was political more than it was religious, whatever the martyrs and martyr-makers told themselves. But it just seems to me that it would have been easy for anyone of either sect to pretend to be practicing whatever was in favor at the moment.
“Are you Protestant or Catholic?”
Probably that’s what most people did.
It’s what I’d have done.
But then I’m imagining that if I’d grown up in the late 16th Century I’d have somehow grown up into a 21st Century American.
But it’s a big mistake, an act of self-delusion and self-flattery to imagine that if you’d lived "back then", you’d have known better. You’re imagining that you’d have been you, that is, the you you know. Think you know. The you who from birth to wherever you are in life’s passage has lived in a world lit bright as midday in the middle of the night by electric light, in which medicine works, where news travels instantly around the world, and not in a time when most people couldn’t read, when they were helpless against the regular outbreaks of plague, when friends and relatives in the next county over where farther away and harder to get word to or from than people an ocean apart are today, when executions were state and Church sanctioned atrocities, grisly, grotesque, intentionally cruel, appallingly frequent, and a form of public entertainment.
No wonder people back then believed Heaven and Hell were as real as London. They lived in not just a demon-haunted world but an angel-infested and God-bothered one. They believed the borders between this world and either of the next were permeable and devils and angels were roaming back and forth between here and whichever place they called home and taking living human beings with them as they went. Essentially this meant they believed that this world wasn’t quite real, and you can hardly blame them for that.
I half hope so myself sometimes, 21st Century American that I am.
At the doctor’s office this morning. Blonde woman around forty in a belted camel hair coat, glasses, with a Russian or Eastern European accent, at the reception desk, talking to a friend at the next window:
“Today is my first day to come back into work. I still don’t feel good.” She waves at her head. “I still feel not great.” The receptionist hands her a piece of paper, which she scans quickly, then folds into her purse. “Thank you, my love,” she says to the receptionist. “Good day, my ladies!” she calls to the other women working behind the desk. She turns to her friend, hugs her, kisses her cheek. “Goodbye. Take care! Take care!”
But I didn’t know it. And it wasn’t that I thought she was straight. I didn’t think she was one way or another because I didn’t think about her one way or another apart from what I thought about her performances in movies of hers I’d seen.
What I knew about her sexuality was the result of a quick edit my ego did on my memory so I could appear smart to myself.
This is a favor people are always doing for themselves.
“I knew that!”
“I was just going to say that!”
“Tell me something new.”
All of the above are usually lies or, more charitably, the after-thoughts of reflexive acts of self-deception.
My point in that post was that memories aren’t to be trusted because they’re easily revisable. It’s as easy and as much a matter of course to “remember” something that didn’t happen as it is to forget something that did.
I figured what happened is that the file clerk in my brain stuck Page’s news with all the other information about Page I had stored in my mental attic but wasn’t careful about where he put it. It was just jumbled in there so that it looked and felt like something I’d known before. When I reached in to pull it out, I didn’t double-check the date stamp because I liked thinking I was in the know, even though I don’t really care about being in the know when the subject’s gossip about celebrities’ sex lives.
At least, I thought I don’t care.
Turns out I may actually have known and that, if I don’t care, I don’t not care, at least not enough to make sure I don’t pick up on any of the gossip.
Not too long after Page’s announcement, we were talking about her my Wired Critics class, not so much about her announcement, but how it might have an effect on her career, and not her sexuality so much as any information about her audiences have in their heads when they’re watching her on screen. I was leading into talking about John Wayne and The Searchers, which we’re going to be watching soon, and how what we know about movie stars and what we remember of them from other movies can affect our perception of their performances---that Ethan Edwards is played by the good guy might make it hard for some people to see him as a bad guy while the fact he’s a bad guy, or at any rate not the kind of good guy we’re used to see John Wayne play, might give other people a new appreciation for Wayne’s talent as an actor. But the discussion got deflected when my students expressed their surprise that anyone would be bothered by Page’s news in this day and age.
Bless their sweet, idealistic Millennial hearts.
This was the week after Arizona passed its No Gays Served Here law.
One of them went on to say that not only was she surprised anyone might mind that an actor in a movie happened to be gay, she was surprised anyone didn’t already know about Page.
It’s been pretty much an open secret, my student said. The reason for the announcement was that Page’s partner wants to get married and she didn’t want the news of their engagement to be overshadowed by the “news” a movie star is gay.
Now, it’s possible that my student was editing her own memories, “remembering” she’d read articles or seen stories on the web (Honors Students apparently don’t watch television) before that she’d actually read after. I didn’t quiz her. I just accepted that she kept on these things and knew what she was talking about. What occurred to me, however, is that whatever she’d read or seen I might have read and seen too.
Could have been an article. Could have been a video clip. Could have been a photo of Page with her partner, identified as a “friend”, in which their body language gave the “secret” away. Whatever it could have been, what very likely happened is that I read it, saw it, or decoded it, filed the information away, and then forgot about where and when I’d acquired it.
It was up there in my mental attic on an out of the way shelf that I had no reason to look into until Page’s announcement made the news.
So I did know it. (Maybe.) I just don’t know how I knew it.
And not too long after that class, I was talking to a friend about I forget exactly what except that it wasn’t about Ellen Page but must have been about some celebrity because whatever or whoever it was my friend took the opportunity to observe that I sure seem to know a lot about the lives of the rich and famous.
“A lot” is relative. She meant in comparison with herself.
She was curious about where I picked this stuff up, I think so she would know what to avoid and her mental attic wouldn’t get cluttered with it.
I couldn’t tell her.
I didn’t know.
But then, not long after that conversation, I was signing onto Yahoo to check my mail and instead of going right to my inbox as I often but not usually do, I decided to scan the headlines on Yahoo’s front page to see if there was any news I needed to know and that’s when I noticed!
I should say that’s when it dawned on me.
I don’t have my filters set so that the headlines get sorted into categories. This means that along with the news I get “news.” Stories about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke are mixed right in with stories about the Crimea, health care, earthquakes, and traffic accidents in my home town. Lots of sports in the mix too. And when I scroll through the lists, looking for stories I want to read in full, I necessarily although reflexively and almost unconsciously read the headlines and blurbs of stories I don’t want to read.
Tell myself I don’t want to read.
Doesn’t take much to get the gist.
There’s more to it.
You can’t escape this stuff.
It pops up on Twitter. It’s all over Facebook. Tumblr, Reddit, even Instagram. Never mind social media. I might think I’m paging by it when I read the newspaper, but I probably read or at least skim whole stories without thinking about it on my way to reading something else or after reading something else on the same page. Watch TV anytime but especially as it gets closer to the time for the news and you’ll see it teased during commercial breaks. It gets into articles I do want to read, reviews, interviews, making-of stories. It’s there in the sidebars of serious websites. Can’t read Pierce’s blog without learning important stuff like “Olivia Munn Gets All the Sunshine She Needs.”
So far I haven’t learned who Olivia Munn is, but it’s just a matter of time and a few absent-minded page clicks.
Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, leave the newspaper out on the porch, and still, all it takes is for my gaze to wander while I’m in the checkout line at the supermarket.
But this isn’t a rant about the way the information stream is polluted with gossip and how all the news has been reduced to entertainment and entertainment is assumed to be gossip of one kind or another with the point being to use sex and celebrity to sell us more and more useless toys and junk.
This is a long sigh about the problematic nature of memory.
I don’t look for this stuff, but I don’t filter it out. Not enough of it. I’m not Sherlock Holmes keeping a jealous guard on the door of his mental attic---“I have Mrs Hudson on semi-permanent mute.” Stuff gets up in there and stored away without my noticing and I wind up knowing stuff I didn’t know I knew and don’t really want to know or need to know.
What’s more, it’s useless, not just in its being mostly trivial and irrelevant to my life. Since I don’t know how I know it, it’s filed away undated, unlabelled, and unsourced, I know it without knowing if it is in fact fact.
I can’t verify it. I can only go by memory, and my memory is unreliable.
And this is the case with just about everything I know.
Everything you know too.
It’s the problem with how we acquire information.
We pick things up and put them away as we go along without taking note of where we picked them up or taking care where we put them away in our heads. Things get mixed up, not just the good and the useful with the trivial and the false, but the apples with the oranges, the A’s with the B’s, the B’s with the apples, the oranges with the tangerines and grapefruit and kumquats and horseradish and car batteries. Little of it labeled. Little of it dated. Little of it sourced. All of it only there to the degree we clearly remember it.
We mix up fact with opinion, speculation with observation, fiction with history, not just mistaking one for the other but accepting all of them as valid at the same time and treating them as interchangeable, even as the same things.
We reach up into the spot where we’re sure we stored the socket wrenches and take down a unicorn and then fail to notice it’s a unicorn or even convince ourselves that the unicorn is what we meant to get.
Once upon a time, human beings knew and had to remember only what they picked up from direct personal experience or what they were learned from people they knew intimately telling them stories about their personal experiences.
This is how it went for millennia and it seems to have worked out well enough, except for its getting in the way of the development of civilization as we sat around the campfire telling each other the same old stories over and over again. But then somebody went and invented writing and all hell broke loose.
Now it was possible to know things second and third and fourth hand from people we didn’t know and wouldn’t ever know because they lived too far away or were dead. This should have meant that we no longer had to rely on our own memories or the memories of the people right next to us. We could just look it up. But that’s not how we’re wired.
We’re none of us Sherlock Holmes who actively and diligently doesn’t remember things in order to have room in his attic for other things as he needs them and in order not to make the mistake of depending on his memory.
Trust that we’ll remember it’s there, remember it completely, and remember it exactly.
All conversation that isn’t about what’s in our hands at the moment is a memory dump.
We think we’re stating the facts but it’s the facts as we remember them and while some people are by training, habit, and temperament better at remembering than others, most of us remember very badly. We end up telling each other stories based on what we remember we remembered.
This is just the nature of things, and I’m not sure how much it matters since most of the time what we’re saying to each other is just talk.
We need to be careful when the talk occurs on the job or in the classroom, but most of the talking we do we do to keep ourselves and each other amused, diverted, consoled, comforted, or from getting lonely. It doesn’t matter what we say as much as how we say it. It doesn’t matter what we think but what we feel. It’s the sound more than the sense we need. We talk to hear ourselves talk. We talk so that we know someone’s there to listen. We talk for the pleasure of each other’s company.
But what’s been true offlline for centuries has been true online for the past two decades, at least.
Here we are in the Information Age exchanging not information but opinions and just-so stories.
We sit at our computers or stare at our mobile devices and tell each other stories over and over again, depending mainly on our memory and assuming our memories match with everyone else’s because, well, that’s the way it happened, I remember it plain as day!
This is mainly a concern when the subject is work or learning, not so much when it’s cake recipes and cats. Most of us are mostly online for the company. But it causes trouble in the political precincts of Blogtopia (TM Skippy) where the virtual talk is intended to have consequences in the analog world.
It’s hardly worth mentioning the Right Wing Blogosphere here. It’s always been a department of the Republican Party’s Ministry of Propaganda. It’s a fact free zone devoted not to passing along information but to sharing outrage. Truth is decided by the degree of anger against THEM a story or a post incites an email incites. The object is to shout down opposition, especially the opposition that occurs inside one’s own head.
So forget them.
But it presents a problem for us on the western side of the bandwidth, precisely because we pride ourselves on having the facts. We are the reality-based community and we make a point of testing what we “know” against what’s really going on in the world.
We think we do, at any rate.
We’re constantly and voraciously gobbling up information, diligently and obsessively storing away facts. We visit all the important websites, read newspapers and magazines, check in with the A-list bloggers. We follow the links. We promise to Google it and sometimes actually follow through. We bookmark and like and favorite, reblog, retweet, and embed. The hopelessly optimistic among us g+. We watch Maddow, and Matthews, and Moyers, and Colbert. We live-tweet Presidential addresses and Cosmos. Some of us still even read books.
If we don’t have the facts at hand ourselves, we trust that Ezra, or Digby, or Silver, or Pierce, Coates, Krugman, Greenwald, or name your favorite do. We rely on the professional journalists to have gone to the source, forgetting that not only do the journalists have depend on their memories of what their sources told them but what those sources are telling them is mostly what they remember.
It all goes up there, uncatalogued, undated, unsourced, and unverified, stored haphazardly in the mental attic where it gets mixed up, recombined, revised, while it degrades and decays.
The result is that we spend a lot of time telling each other stories and arguing for our beliefs and our opinions as though they are facts.
We can’t be sure if what we know is drawn from something we read or it’s something we concluded or even made up based on something we read. And what was that something? Did our favorite writer or wonk or pundit or journalist really say it and if she did was it something she knows for herself or something somebody told her. Was she stating her opinion or quoting somebody quoting somebody quoting somebody. It’s almost impossible to know if we know something’s because it is true or because we failed to follow a link.
We don’t keep in mind that the very act of remembering can alter the memory.
We don’t keep in mind how easily our vanity can edit our memories so that socket wrenches come out as unicorns.
We’re engaged in a World Wide Web-wide exercise in editing each other’s memories.
This isn’t a criticism or a complaint. It’s just an observation. I don’t know if anything can be done about it. It’s the way things are. It’s the way we are.
Blogging and Twitter pal Philip Turner reports in from NYC: “Out on a late aft bike ride at the Hudson & the great gray bridge, w/the little red lighthouse. Mid 40s, light wind’ Thursday. March 14, 2014.
Be sure to visit Phil at the Mannioville Daily Gazette’s Favorite Blog of the Week, The Great Gray Bridge.
Maybe Fallon’s good with his guests. I wouldn’t know. I turned it off right after the monologue.
If you can call it a monologue.
I’m not sure it counts because monologues are supposed to rev the audience up, put them in a good mood, and include these little verbal games known as jokes.
Morticians greeting grieving relatives at the door of the viewing room are livelier and more cheerful than Fallon was. He practically mumbled the entire monologue so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think he told a single joke. I didn’t even hear many things that had the structure and rhythm of jokes. He’d mumble his way through a couple of sentences then pause, and the audience, realizing he was expecting a reaction, would laugh uncertainly. It wasn’t the case he was bombing. He wasn’t trying.
Here’s one of the few less than wise cracks that registered.
After observing that Vladimir Putin has seen his poll numbers go up after invading the Crimea, Fallon said, President Obama has decided to invade Mexico.
I know that analyzing a joke kills the joke, but since this isn’t an actual joke, it’s just meant to pass for one until the next one comes along…
To be funny, a political joke has to have some truth to it. The truth behind this wouldn’t have to be that President Obama was contemplating an invasion of anywhere let alone Mexico. But it would have to take into account several things:
That at the moment, the President is weathering intense criticism from the usual neo-con and Right Wing suspects fighting for camera time and bandwidth for not being tough enough, specifically or generally, for in fact not being likely to invade anywhere.
That the President’s poll numbers are doing what they always do during media ginned up crises, fluctuating, going up or down a few points, day to day, almost hour to hour, and they’ll probably finish the way they always do, where they started.
That this President has seemed less interested in his poll numbers than any President in the last fifty years, certainly less interested than his immediate predecessor who, let’s not forget, used to issue terrorist threat alerts every time he felt he needed a popularity boost or to distract the media from yet another screw-up.
That not only is the President not likely to invade anywhere, let alone a country that has nothing to do with the geopolitics of the moment, he has un-invaded one country and is in the process of---or at least thinking out loud about---un-invading another, both countries, in case anyone’s forgotten, invaded by his immediate predecessor and one of them having had nothing to do with the geopolitics of the moment and invaded under false pretenses and for even darker reasons than pumping up his poll numbers.
So, if you were trying to come up with a joke about the President, and came up with this one but gave it some thought before feeding it to the teleprompter you’d hit the delete key because all the above makes the joke not a funny way of telling the truth about President Obama but an unfunny way of telling a lie.
Very simply, nothing about the joke describes him or the situation.
Now it happens that there are some jokes that work in the One Joke Fits All Presidents category. They’re usually not very funny. This isn’t one of them, anyway.
But maybe Fallon’s writers are so lazy and jejune that they thought it was because they needed it to be because they were stuck for an opening joke and Hey, Crimea’s in the news today! They might have been thinking, well, thinking is obviously not the word, but letting themselves be guided by the general feeling that all politicians will do anything to pump up their poll numbers.
But like I said the “joke” isn’t about all Presidents or about Obama at all.
It’s about George W. Bush.
It’s about Bush in that it actually describes him. He was the kind of President who would invade the wrong country for political gain. We know he was because that’s what he did.
But it’s about him in another way because of how I suspect Fallon’s writers came up with the joke.
They stole it.
Various iterations of it have been bobbing up in my Twitter stream for the last couple of weeks, most of them along the lines of “If George Bush was still President, he’d have handled the Russian invasion of the Crimea by invading [insert wrong and helpless country here],” many of them finishing with Mexico, although Canada’s been a popular punchline too.
As it appears on Twitter, it’s barely a joke. It’s sarcasm. A snarky way of reminding people about Iraq.
If, as I suspect they did, Fallon’s writers saw it on Twitter, they knew what it was and got the point. They decided to steal it anyway, probably thinking---and I really wish I could come up with a better word for what was going on in their heads---Hey, our audience still includes gangs of leftover Leno fans, they don’t know from Twitter. They still read newspapers.
But then somebody said, Hold on, a second. Bush? Iraq? That’s ancient history! We need to be current!
Ok, somebody else said, let’s just make it about Obama. After all, isn’t one President just like another when it comes to doing stupid shit?
At least, I hope that’s how it came about.
I don’t like the idea that what really happened was that somebody said, We can’t tell a joke about George W. Bush! People will think we’re liberals!
Doesn’t matter. One bad joke doesn’t have to kill a monologue. Fallon’s delivery and the fact that there were no other jokes, good or bad, did the trick.
Maybe it was an off-night, but if this is how it’s been going, please? Can we bring back Jaywalking?
It may be worse than I thought. Searching for a photo to go with this article I came across another of Fallon’s political “jokes” from a couple weeks back.
It’s a killer.
“The ‘True Detective’ finale crashed HBO’s streaming website, HBO Go. Then out of habit, President Obama issued an apology.”
I wonder if David Brenner was the smartest comic Johnny Carson brought to fame.
Carson liked them smart, and Brenner was one of his favorites.
When I was a kid, just getting to becoming a regular watcher of The Tonight Show, Brenner was one of my favorites too, one of the regular guests whose appearances I most eagerly looked forward to seeing when Ed McMahon announced they’d be on that night. I’m not sure I found him all that funny. I just liked his delivery and the way he smiled at his own jokes. It was a smile half apologetic, half full of mischief, like he couldn’t believe he’d said what he’d just said and gotten away with it and he couldn’t wait to try that trick again. His whole manner was like that, a mixture of the shy and the brash, a basically modest man who knew how talented he was, a vain man who found his own vanity funny because he knew how homely he really was but what was he going to do, argue with his mother, his aunts, his teachers, who must have been telling him his whole life, Such a handsome boy, and so smart! A lot of ego and self-confidence tempered by insecurity, Jewish guilt, Jewish humility, and a Jew’s understanding of just where he stood with God---I don’t mean he was a believer. I don’t know if he was. I mean he knew where a comedian, even the very smartest and funniest of them, fit in the grand scheme of things…But still, wait till you hear this one…
Brenner, David Steinberg, Robert Klein, George Carlin, Richard Pryor---they were the ones just coming up when I was just getting old enough to stay up and watch.
There was a third way Bruni annoyed me with that column, but I didn’t get around to writing about it right away and before I did I calmed down, moved on to other things, and forgot about it.
It was this:
Then there’s the outcry, equally reflective of the times, from adults who assert that kids aren’t enjoying school as much; feel a level of stress that they shouldn’t have to; are being judged too narrowly; and doubt their own mettle.
Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless? Isn’t stress an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper? Aren’t certain fixed judgments inevitable? And isn’t mettle established through hard work?
“Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless?”
Like I said, I forgot about that one. But I’ve been reading Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt and when I came across this description of what Shakespeare’s school days were like Bruni’s apology for mirthlessness as a given of getting a good education came back to me like a smack across the…well, you’ll see across what:
In the summer the school day began at 6 A.M.; in the winter, as a concession to the darkness and the cold, at 7. At 11 came recess for lunch…and then instruction began again, continuing until 5:30 or 6. Six days a week; twelve months a year. The curriculum made few concessions to the range of human interests: no English history or literature; no biology, chemistry, or physics; no economics or sociology; only a smattering of arithmetic. There was instruction in the articles of the Christian faith, but that must have seemed indistinguishable from the instruction in Latin. And the instruction was not gentle: rote memorization, relentless drills, endless repetition, daily analysis of texts, elaborate exercises in imitation and rhetorical variation, all backed up by the threat of violence.
Everyone understood that Latin learning was inseparable from whipping. One educational theorist of the time speculated that the buttocks were created in order to facilitate the learning of Latin. A good teacher was by definition a strict teacher; pedagogical reputations were made by the vigor of the beatings administered. The practice was time-honored and entrenched: as part of his final examination at Cambridge, a graduate in grammar in the late Middle Ages was required to demonstrate his pedagogical fitness by flogging a dull or recalcitrant boy…
A 10 to 11 hour school day? Year round? That’s a school reformer’s fondest dream. After privatization and the squashing of unions. And there aren’t just teachers and administrators who long for a return of corporal punishment, there are parents who’d like to bring it back too, although probably only when it’s used to keep other people’s kids in line. But it all sounds pretty mirthless to me.
But aren’t aspects of school supposed to be mirthless? Schoolmasters and many parents and even graduates of the schools in Shakespeare’s day would have told you so and defended that mirthlessness using the Elizabethan equivalents of digging deeper and establishing mettle.
As it happens, I think the Common Core curriculum is a good idea or rather a core curriculum, rigorously taught, which it won’t be by underpaid and demoralized amateurs teaching to the test. There are things all students need to learn and learn by a certain point in their educations (and intellectual and emotional developments), and I’m a proponent of STEM, as long as it’s understood that the world needs poets and painters and philosophers along with technocrats. (Or maybe that’s just an idea I picked up from an Apple ad.) And I’m as in favor of increasing stress and making students dig deeper and establishing mettle through hard work as Bruni, that is, I’m in favor of stricter and strictly enforced standards, although I hope that when I’m called on to make my case I’ll know better than to crib from a Nike commercial.
I’m not, however, a fan of mirthlessness.
Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be mirthless?
Because nothing in life is supposed to be mirthless.
Mirth isn’t a thing.
It doesn’t exist apart from us.
It’s not there or not there depending on conditions of a particular part of the universe, like water or sunlight or gravity.
Mirth is something we create for ourselves.
It’s there because we’ve brought it there. That’s part of what we’re here to do for each other. We’re here to share our mirth. Share joy, share laughter, share comfort, consolation, solace, which means sharing tears, sorrow, and pain. We’re here to share our strength and our wisdom. We here to share jokes. Even bad ones.
Help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.
When things are mirthless it’s because we didn’t do our job or because other people have stamped it out.
It’s conventional wisdom that a certain amount of pain and suffering is good for us. It teaches us fortitude, perseverance, and patience. It makes us realistic. It makes us compassionate. We feel each other’s pain because we’ve felt our own. We learn to endure.
Of course, one of the ways we endure is by spreading mirth.
It doesn’t follow from this, that we should inflict pain and prolong suffering, as many austerity fetishists, right and left, and apparently every Republican these days appear to think is a swell idea.
Good for the soul.
Reminds us life is stern and earnest.
Makes us get off our duffs and start working. Reach higher. Dig deeper. Establish our mettle.
Teaches us to know and keep our place.
Certain aspects of life are supposed to be relatively mirthless.
“They’re not here to fish.” Somali pirate Abduwali Muse (Academy Award nominee Barkhad Abdi, second from left) prepares to lead his less than reliable crew on what will turn out to be, for them, a tragic attack on an American container ship in the thrilling true-life adventure at sea Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks giving one of his greatest performances in the title role.
They aren’t an awesome team of professional warriors.
The aren’t the embodiment of the might and majesty of the United States.
And they aren’t the cavalry rope-dropping to the rescue.
Nobody looks forward to their arrival. Nobody wants them there, least of all the United States Navy.
They are, simply, Death.
This must be understood going in or you might think you’re watching the wrong sort of movie, a simple true-life adventure at sea, which it is, in addition, or a triumphal celebration of America’s righteous wrath, which it’s definitely not.
Captain Phillips is a tragedy.
And Captain Phillips himself (in the person of Tom Hanks giving one of his greatest performances, his best in a very long time) isn’t the hero of the tragedy. He’s its witness. This is the tragedy of Muse, the chief pirate who, very briefly, takes Phillips’ container ship, the MV Maersk Alabama. Phillips is Starbuck to Muse’s Ahab, Marlowe to his Lord Jim. He’s on hand to watch as the hero magnificently but maddeningly pursues his self-aggrandizing obsession, to reach out on our behalf and try to pull him back, to offer both our sympathy and our censure and our warning, and then to mourn in advance as hubris and then fatalism and despair take hold and the hero embraces his fate.
This plays out beautifully in Captain Phillips but I’m thinking it might be obscured by the casting of Barkhad Abdi, who despite his own remarkable performance, in which he more than holds his own against Hanks, he often takes the screen from him, can’t take hold of our imaginations the way Hanks does by virtue of having become at this point in his career an icon.
Actually, I wonder if audiences might be so impressed by what good work Abdi does in his very first time in front of a camera that they might not notice what good work he’s doing, if you see what I’m saying.
While it was admirable and effective and the right thing for the filmmakers to have cast real Somalis to play Somalis, it might have been better from a pure storytelling point of view to have cast an actor with a more powerful movie star presence as Muse---Idris Alba, David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Or Omar Sy, whom, if you don’t know who he is, you owe it to yourself to see in The Intouchables.---someone who could take up equal space in our heads with Hanks.
Or they could have gone the other way and cast a star who was less of an icon and more of a character actor as Phillips. Would have made a fitting final bow for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But then, I suppose, without Hanks, the movie might not have gotten made.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Captain Phillips would have been a better movie with a different Captain Phillips or a different Muse. It’s a very good movie as it is. It’s hard for me to imagine how it could have been better. I’m just trying to call attention to the fact that there’s something else going in Captain Phillips along with its being a gripping tale of a true life adventure on the high seas featuring a tour de force performance by Tom Hanks and I don’t want anyone to miss it.
Captain Phillips is Captain Phillips’ adventure, but it’s Muse’s story and his tragedy. And it’s important to note that within that tragic story the Seals do not appear as the good guys. They barely appear as guys, that is, as human beings, at all. They’re mostly seen as shapes in the dark. They’re an outcome not a solution. They are, as I said, Death.
The closer they get to the scene, the more we dread their arrival. Director Paul Greengrass has us rooting for what we know happened not to happen.
Captain Phillips is the story of a brave, daring, resourceful, and intelligent young man who makes a fateful decision out of anger and vanity and finds himself trapped and forced to take on the role of hero as his only way out---“Look at me….Look at me…I’m the captain now.”---knowing he’s not up to it and more likely than saving him and his crew it will lead to their destruction.
My Lord Jim reference is apt in a number of ways, but here’s one: like Jim, Muse jumps. Unlike Jim, he jumps the other way, onto the ship, impelled by courage and a sense of duty (and ego) instead of fear and an instinct for self-preservation.
In the most thrilling scene in the movie, Muse skippers his small boat through the jets of water from the fire hoses that are the Maersk Alabama’s only defense against pirates and, while both boats are moving at full speed, he and his small band leap onto the ladders they’ve hooked to the larger ship’s side and scramble aboard. It’s as daring and audacious as anything you’d see in a traditional pirate swashbuckler made even more exciting by its being true.
But the reason Muse and his three-man crew are taking such a risk and going it on their own is that Muse is determined to show up a rival pirate with his courage and skill. It’s an act of vainglory and as soon as he makes it, the Seals are on their way and Muse has doomed himself and his men.
“You can’t win,” Phillips says to Muse at one point, trying to persuade him to take the thirty grand in the ship’s safe and go while he still can. “The Navy isn't going to let you win. They would rather sink this boat than let you win.”
What Phillips doesn’t grasp---what he can’t grasp---is that Muse starts from the position of having already lost, of having been born into that loss. There’s no winning for him in his life as it is or as it’s likely to continue to be. That’s why he’s a pirate.
It’s intrinsic to the story and to Muse’s and Phillips’ characters that Phillips, a kind-hearted, intelligent, well-meaning man, can’t get his head around what Muse’s life is like. He can’t imagine a life without options, without at least small wins on a daily basis. He can’t imagine what it’s like not to be an American.
Captain Phillips opens with Phillips at home in his picturesque farmhouse in Vermont as he’s packing up to head off to the airport and fly to Oman to take command of the Maersk Alabama. His wife Andrea (Catherine Keener in a brief but emotionally effective cameo in which her face is almost never shown) goes with him to the airport and on the drive they have a meandering but anxiety-ridden conversation ostensibly about how their kids are doing at school and their uncertain prospects for the future. But what they’re really talking about is their dread of separation. After twenty-odd years of marriage, they still hate it when they have to be apart because of his job and what we’re being told is, despite their worries, the Phillips have a happy marriage and a comfortable and comforting home and family life.
The scene switches to Muse’s village in Somalia, and we see at a glance that he has none of that. He has little to call his own, not even a few hours to himself to catch up on some sleep. What he has is work. On some days that means fishing. Today it means piracy.
Back again to Phillips as he arrives at his work. The Maersk Alabama is essentially a giant floating warehouse. The bridge is as clean, shiny, well-organized, well-staffed, and technologically up to date, not to mention as high up, as an office in midtown Manhattan.
Muse’s office is an open skiff with a balky outboard engine staffed by an unreliable crew of three, a frightened teenager, an easily irritated psychopath, and a competent but not noticeably intelligent mechanic and pilot.
(Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali.)
Later, when the highjacking is beginning to go awry and Phillips again tries to persuade Muse his best option is to get while the getting is good, Muse says he can’t give up now, he has bosses he has to answer to. Phillips, thinking he’s found a way to establish a sympathetic connection between them, says, “We all got bosses,” and it’s a wonder Muse doesn’t fall on the deck laughing.
Phillips’ bosses don’t arrive for breakfast meetings with teams of guards brandishing automatic weapons in armored SUVs trailed by trucks with mounted machine guns. They give Phillips his instructions by email and not at gunpoint.
Once Greengrass establishes this gap between the two men, he never tries to bridge it. Phillips and Muse never bond. They never even begin to like or respect each other. They don’t even connect through anger or hatred. They each have too much else on their minds that keeps them from truly caring about what the other is thinking and feeling, although Phillips has to pretend that he does in the hope Muse will respond in kind and so will be less inclined to harm Phillips’ crew and the pretending is easy for him because he’s naturally a compassionate man. Muse understands Phillips a little bit better because he understands what it is to be an American better than Phillips does and a lot better than Phillips understands what it is not to be one.
“There has to be more than fishing and kidnapping people,” Phillips insists, thinking he’s making a reasonable point.
“Maybe in America,” Muse replies with the movie’s most heartbreaking line. “Maybe in America.”
But basically they remain mysteries to each other.
Their inability to understand each other and form any sort of emotional bond, though, doesn’t mean there’s no connection between them.
One of my favorite moments comes when after the first attempt to take the Maersk Alabama fails because Muse’s rival gets scared off and Muse’s skiff’s engine stalls, he and Phillips lock gazes through their binoculars and both feel the shock of recognition.
They know each other on a fundamental level as fellow captains. Each recognizes the other as intelligent and competent and therefore formidable. But the real point of sympathy between them is their aloneness, how being in command isolates them.
Greengrass uses his camera to insist upon this. Abdi and Hanks rarely appear in close-ups with other members of the cast or with each other. When they are shown with people around them, it tends to be in long shots that emphasize the spaces between them and those people.
This aloneness is stressful, even frightening for Phillips but it’s a defining fact of his job and he’s learned to deal with it and can deal with it because he knows that when he needs help, it will come.
Part of what’s devastating about the utterly devastating final scenes of the film is Phillips’ realization that that help is not going to come in time.
But for Muse, aloneness is the defining fact of his life.
Whenever the camera isolates him, it shows him thinking. Abdi is excellent at conveying the intensity of Muse’s thinking and how it’s going on on several levels at once. And whatever else he’s thinking, there is always one level on which he’s thinking, How did I wind up in this mess? This mess being not this misadventure but his whole life. I’m too smart for this. I’m too ambitious for this. I’m too good for this. And we recognize that that’s not vanity. It’s honesty. He is smart and ambitious and too good to be a pirate. He is in spirit what he wishes he was in fact, a born American.
He’s exactly the kind of person we want to come here. Which makes for the wrenching irony of his ultimate fate.
It’s wonderful, then, the way Abdi and Hanks are able to interact given the inwardness of both their performances.
As Phillips, Hanks is quiet, self-contained, reined in but not repressed, laconic but not taciturn, dour, or sullen, not humorless or unfeeling but practical above all else, a definite There’s a time and a place sort. Muse, to the extent he understands Phillips, understands him as a typical American. We understand him as a typical New Englander.
I loved it when the British Naval Officer Phillips has contacted by radio to report that he think pirates are after his ship assures him, “Chances are they’re just fisherman” and Hanks submerges all his anger and fear in a sharply but still calmly delivered understatement, “They’re not here to fish.”
That’s a Yankee sea captain talking.
Captain Phillips is thrilling and suspenseful but it’s interesting how after the boarding of the ship and the taking of the bridge, which concludes the first act, there’s almost no more action.
In the second act, suspense builds as we watch and wait for Phillips to figure out how to get the pirates off his ship or for Muse to come to his senses.
In the third act, suspense turns to dread as we hope against hope that things work themselves out before the object of our dread arrives.
That object is, as I’ve been insisting all along, the Seals.
Which is to say, again, Death and the inevitable end of the tragedy.
Under the high-arching openwork of the Bayonne Bridge. Oil storage tanks, tanker traffic forever unsleeping. Addiction to oil gradually converging with the other national bad habit, inability to deal with refuse. Maxine had been smelling garbage for a while, and now it intensifies as they approach a lofty mountain range of waste. Neglected little creeks, strangely luminous canyon walls of garbage, smells of methane, death and decay, chemicals unpronounceable as the names of God, the heaps of landfill bigger than Maxine imagines they’d be, reaching close to 200 feet overhead, according to Sid, higher than a typical residential building on the Yupper West Side.
Sid kills the running lights and the motor, and they settle in behind [Isle of Meadows], at the intersection of Fresh and Arthur Kills, toxicity central, the dark focus of Big Apple waste disposal, everything the city has rejected so it can keep on pretending to be itself, and here unexpectedly at the heart of it is this 100 acres of untouched marshland, directly underneath the North Atlantic flyway, sequestered by law from development and disposal, marsh birds sleeping in safety. Which, given the real-estate imperatives running this town, is really, if you want to know, fucking depressing, because how long can it last? How long can any of these innocent critters depend on finding safety around here? It’s exactly the sort of patch that makes a developer’s heart sing---typically, “This Land Is My Land, This Land Is Also My Land.”
Photo by longtime visitor to Mannionville, PA Reader, who was up and out catching worms with the early birds this morning. This is the view out his Philadelphia office window looking east towards the Delaware River and New Jersey. Six fifty-five AM. Thursday. March 13, 2014.
A note to well-remunerated suit-wearing libertarians, continued:
As I was saying, I believe you work hard, maybe even as hard as you think you do. But hard is relative. And just because you spend a lot of time at work, thinking about work, and worrying about work that doesn’t mean you are spending that time working, let alone working hard. Putting in the hours is not the same as putting in the work. It depends on what you do while you’re there.
As the great Wev McEwan points out, it’s “not that we all don't love the incredibly stupid game of Staring Intently at Minesweeper on a Monitor Like We're Seriously Working on a Difficult Problem (or whatever variation one's job may require)” but putting in time at the office just to be visible to the boss isn’t the same as being productive.
A lot of what we’re all paid to do, no matter what the job, is be on hand in case…
And think on this.
It’s indoor work, in comfortable surroundings, requiring no heavy lifting or physical risk. No one’s shooting at you. No one’s asking to rush into burning buildings. People’s immediate physical well-being doesn’t depend on you making the right snap judgment. You don’t have to stop any bleeding, re-start any hearts.
And you got good benefits. Paid vacations. Paid sick days, personal days, family leave. I know, like you could dare take advantage of any of that, especially the last one, if you’re a man. Hell. If you’re a woman. But they’re there if you need them and, who knows, maybe your bosses aren’t the assholes they pretend to be, and even if they are you’re not going to get fired on the spot if you ask for the time, like what happened to your favorite waitress as the diner you like to have lunch at on Thursdays, the one who, now that you think of it, hasn’t been there for the last few weeks and, if you’d bother to ask, you know it’s because one day she had to stay home to take care of a sick kid, one of the three, or is it four, she told you once, you should remember, she’s raising on minimum wage plus tips and whatever he loser of an ex gets around to paying in child support, and her boss, who was there even though his kids were home sick and he couldn’t take the day off, lost his temper or maybe he’s just an asshole.
And you get paid well. Paid a lot, really. Maybe as much as you think you deserve. But deserve is relative too.
Take a look around at the people you work with, the ones making as much or more than you. They all think they work hard. They all think they deserve what they get paid. Do they? Does she? Does he? Are they as deserving or more deserving than you?
Turn it around now.
Are you really as deserving or more deserving?
It’s a question of how hard you work plus how much money you make for the company plus how much good you do for the world at large plus how much that work and that money and that good depends on you being the one who does it. You. Not someone like you with your background and training and experience. You.
You get sick, you get laid off---hey, it happens.---you get a new job, the place going to fall apart without you there? Company going to tank? People going to go broke? Anyone going to starve?
No matter how hard you work, no matter how good a job you do, no matter how much you deserve to make, what you’re really being paid to do is fill a space and stick around until somebody better at it comes along.
Now think about it. Isn’t that what everybody’s paid to do?
We’ve fashioned an economy in which we’re all all interchangeable and all disposable. No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we deserve, we’re there until somebody---something---better comes along. We’re treated as widgets in the money-making machine.
So, like I said below, take your money, spend it how you want, but stop whining, stop bragging, stop expecting the rest of us to be grateful, and start showing a little sympathy for your fellow widgets.