Friday, September 4, 2009

Brown Bag

Brown Bag
Three months ago we were counting the days until summer, the sweet expectation of sleeping a bit later and going directly to the office. Now I count the days until school begins on one hand. There is a knot in my stomach. Summer is over. Have I gotten my money’s worth? I return only to lunchmaking, relentless driving and cruel homework interrogation. For the kids though, the first day of school is giddy and fraught and sets the tone for the unforgiving year. Choice of clothing for boys who have grown out of most of what they started the summer with is a maddening science. Wearing all new clothes is geeky but pants that barely reach ankles aren’t too cool either. My crystal ball says they’ll opt for the new jeans and t-shirts that are hip and/or insider and/or thinly straddle the line of taste and decency.

Himself comes home from graveyard teaching just as I am falling asleep. It is hot and I remark that I don’t remember the last heat wave that was this relentless. “It’s global warming,” he comforts me. He is on hell schedule and is not with us until after bedtime, mine at least, three nights a week. The only consolation is that we can eat things he despises like salad and meatloaf and artichokes for dinner but after the kids abandon me for electronica, even the salad isn’t really worth it. But it’s 2009 and you’re lucky if you have a job. I wonder how many more lonely spouses and kids there are now that most breadwinners are friggin’ petrified and groveling and doing the extra work of laid off former comrades. Of course, the approximately 15% of American adults who are unemployed would delight in having an employer to grovel to.

Alan, my penpal, noted diplomatically that Himself’s political proclivities, as contrasted to my predictable Volvo driving sanctimonious over-educated pinkish persuasions, are more than a little outrĂ©. A link to Himself’s blog is one of the first provided at the provocative whose mean spiritedness for the cult of Obama caroms perilously from dead-on, to unfair and outrageous. Nevertheless it is a site I admire and find funny. I just need to temper it with Bill Maher, the sort of Hollywood intellectual-poser pothead godhater Liberalrapture reviles, and the East Coast pedigreed liberalism of the New Yorker.

A Ron Paul interview that was apparently “banned” for broadcast on ABC is linked on LiberalRapture. Paul points out that state should just get out of the business of marriage altogether and the institution return to the religious provenance of its origin. Some of his other “government hands off” rhetoric frightens me but it makes sense that the faction of the liberal establishment who has thrown in the towel on Obama may find it compelling. I want a little “government hands on” with things like social welfare, health care, education and criminal justice though. Government has failed and institutions that were once a source of pride are broken now, seemingly beyond repair. But there are eloquent voices and it is time to listen. People are beaten down and cynical and selfishly hoarding the little that’s left and until we rise above this, it is good for the government to lead us to the better common good. I have not yet totally given up that this is the government Obama envisions and will boldly pursue.

The State Assembly did pass a watered down bill that will lead to the early release of 17.000 prisoners within the next ten months. Inmates will receive sentence reductions based on their participation in rehabilitative and educational pursuits. There is also a redesign of the parole system which should create a more efficient use of its resources. A huge chunk of money could be saved by closing down death row and abolishing the death penalty. But the murder of Lily Burk by a parolee is still fresh memory so this isn’t timely. I wonder if Lily had a position on the death penalty and how she’d feel about her death being exploited in defense of it. Republicans evoke kidnapper rapist Philip Garrido lest, we consider for one moment, going soft on crime. Did anyone point out that if the prisons weren’t stuffed to over double their capacity with inmates serving long three strikes sentences for heinous crimes against humanity like receiving stolen property or selling marijuana, there would be more resources available to identify and treat mentally ill convicts, like Garrido or Lily’s suspected murderer, Charlie Samuel?

In the summer of 1991, newly married, we toured the Gold Rush Country in a big rented Ford and listened to the surreal Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings on a.m. radio for hour after hour as we survived a flat tire, traversed covered bridges and ODed on twee little towns. Thomas came off like a nasty little dweeb with a stick up his ass and it was like a weird dream when he was confirmed by a narrow margin for the Supreme Court. Thomas has not asked a question from the bench in over three years and has consistently been the harshest justice in interpreting the 8th amendment rights of the convicted.

There is a lot of press about Texan Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed for the arson murder of his three daughters.
It is a fascinating, horrifying story because it reveals a profoundly broken down system that sanctions the execution of a clearly innocent man. I am pleased that this piece is getting such wide attention but readers should bear in mind that this is not an anomaly and there have been serious questions about whether justice was properly served in a number of past and pending executions. Clarence Thomas supported an opinion rendered by Antonin Scalia that states, “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeus court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Himself and other illiberals are cynical about universal health care and see overpopulation as a constant deterrent to doing anything positive in the world. Ever. I can see the glint in his eye when he reads that a member bit off the finger of a man demonstrating in opposition to proposed healthcare legislation. Thousands of people wait in long lines for free treatment at a medical fair in Inglewood. Forty five million Americans have no health coverage. We don our Medicare or private policies like blinders and whine that we cannot afford to provide this very basic human right for everybody else. A Japanese company, Dainippon purchased the American pharmaceutical Sepracor this week for 2.6 billion dollars. This is reported quietly in the back of the financial pages although it seems that those lobbying for universal coverage should scream from the mountaintop about the healthcare industry’s obscene profiteering.

Healthcare is a huge creator of personal and corporate wealth. The wealthiest one percent control 23% of our country’s income. Tax rates on the richest have not been lower since before WWII. Investment bankers and hedge fund managers, as a bonus for having nearly brought the world to economic collapse, do not have to declare their earnings as income. Via a loophole, their plunder is classified as capital gain and therefore only taxed at 15%. But we can’t afford education or healthcare.

My Beloved’s prescription for a better world may be limited only to the addition of contraceptives to the water supply. Ironic, because otherwise he is of that Irish Catholic, born to suffer and pray the rhythm method works with only with the comfort of an occasional beer, mindset. His cynicism finds a kindred spirit at bad assed LiberalRapture but just like when I looked over at him on the balcony at the El Capitan during a matinee of Beauty and Beast to find him weeping, I found a trace of sentimental optimism at this unusually ornery website that took me by surprise.

There is a new website called Splendeed.
If the nasty assed Liberal Rapture hadn’t directed me there, I would have written it off as being trite and simplistic. The site posts a suggested good deed weekly. The first suggestion:
Make a sandwich (or buy one — it doesn’t matter). Bag it ‘school lunch’ style with some chips or fresh vegetables, maybe something sweet, and a bottle of water or a hydrating sports drink. Find a stranger on the streets of your community who needs a meal and give it to them. Click the “I’ll Try” button below to let us know you’re game. Once you’ve done the deed, check back here and click the “DONE!” button below to let us know that you were successful and perhaps tell us a bit about how it went.

There are only a couple of responses. One involved tears and hugging and seeing God but another addressed drolly the weirdness of taking this on. My favorite response was from an uptight do-gooder who wrote, " I bought a sandwich this morning along with a Gatorade, a pear, a bottle of water and a dessert item. I also bought a bottle of hand sanitizer and a pack of Kleenex. " I’m not sure if the Kleenex and hand sanitizer were for her or the sandwich recipient.

I was sort of surprised that instead of making mincemeat of such a hippie dippy scheme, LiberalRapture seems a bit soft and smitten. True to form he asks, “Should I be cynical about this? Frankly, doing 1 good deed - or 2 or 3 or 16 - in your personal sphere is a direct counterpoint to all that Hope and Change bullshit from the Obots...Without the element of star fuckery 75% of the "liberals" in America would be M.I.A." But then in perhaps a brain chemistry lapse into a more gentle people with flowers mode, “This idea is simple and eloquent. And frankly, a relief from the usual assault of online petitions that get nowhere. Simply doing a single good deed is deeply satisfying whether one is spiritually oriented or not. I sure hope this site takes off.”

So maybe this Splendeed thing really has more substance than visualizing world peas. I’ll be making lunches for the kids everyday. I can see them snickering and rolling their eyes when I tell them why I’m making an extra. They humor me and make birthday cards for prisoners and collect clothes for charity and take the train home so I can tutor. They get that it’s more about cleaning up personal karma than making any meaningful dent in the world and indulge me by letting me at least think of myself as aspiring to be a good person. The hard thing will be to take this brown bag in my hand and go out into the city in search of someone who looks poor but not dangerous and that terrifying moment of handing over to a person something of mine that I have decided, based on a split second decision, is what he needs.

Shabbat Shalom


FionnchĂș said...

If it restores your lack of faith in my humanity, I got slammed in an "ad hominem" attack today when on a classmate's FB comment praising Obama's speech to schoolkids, I sided with a rare dissenter who wondered why-- whatever the party or president-- we had a lesson plan made up for all teachers to follow for his speech beamed into their classrooms. I questioned this mandate, however cloaked in a smiley-face Democratic costume.

Here was one tolerant liberal's reply to me: "Only someone who was completely detached from reality could think that. Complete and utter lunacy." xxx me

Blaiser said...

I enjoyed this very much. I'm a newcomer to LR and found you through your husband's blog. He was one of the few voices of civility I've encountered there in my limited time as a commenter.

Would love to hear the conversation at your dinner table! I bet a transcript of that, published on both your blogs would be fun.