Friday, November 18, 2011

Face of the Tiger

"There was a young lady from Niger"

My hip is aching tonight, so when the little cat jumped up on my chest (she likes to climb on me in the night and sleep, and she's so small that usually I give her a pat or two and go back to sleep myself. But not tonight.) I got up, shuffled into the kitchen to drop some kibbles in her bowl, then to the bathroom, and then here, where we left the laptop on all night because it is developing some sort of boot-issues and Mojo needs to use it for work tomorrow.

And I spent an hour or so visiting some electronic friends.

Isn't that odd?

I am a great believer that we are really fairly consistent monkeys; I honestly believe that human behavior hasn't changed all THAT much since Sumer. So our hopes and hates, our dreams and nightmares, the way of a man with a maid or a mother with a child have more commonality than difference whether we live in little brick houses or in temple-cities.

But electronics really have made a difference in scope.

So whilst jim and Lisa are in Florida a continent away I can drop in on Ranger Against War, or Lisa's posts at Big Brass Blog, and see what they've been doing. Or e-mail Lisa and chat (always a worthwhile thing, since she is as wise as she is lovely). And Labrys, whose ferocity and intelligence are as great as the goddess she bear, lives almost in my pocket here in the Northwest and I feel like she's a neighbor although we have never met. And there's a whole damn digital bar full of cronies; basil, Andy, Al, Publius, Ael as well as the welcome random visitors over at MilPub.

And then there's the whole Facebook deal. I wish I could hang with Britt and talk about her photography, or enjoy Carrie being serious amid her twinados, or kid India about her roller-derby hip (which is something like "keeper's-hip" which is what woke me tonight...) or hear Linda read her poems or fuss over Emme. But they live in New York or Texas or Arizona or California.

The thing is that with Al Gore's great invention we can visit whilst never moving from out of our chairs so far apart.

And that's a pretty terrific thing.

It doesn't replace going to the Thirsty Lion with my pals Brent and Julie to cheer the Timbers and hang out, or going biking with Devora and Ed, or playing D&D with Will (I swear, we will, soon, I promise!) and talking Portlandia with Meghan...but I value my Internet friends in their own way; not more, not less, just in another key, a blue note - because I wish we COULD be physically nearby. But their songs are part of the complex music that is my life.

And - as much as I worry about what seems to be my problem with keeping close to people I like - it's a pretty damn good life, a rich, strange, and varied piece of music.

"Who smiled as she rode on a tiger"

Which sometimes delights me. But which also sometimes amazes me - how did I get here? How did I deserve this brilliant, lovely woman and these smart, funny kids? - and sometimes confounds me.

And sometimes disturbs me.

Because for all that I love my life; my family, my friends, my work, my home and the place I have found to live and, I hope, to die, here in Portland and the Northwest I adore...when I look at my country I feel positively feverish; a hot flush of anger followed by a shiver of despair.

I think everyone feels that they are living in turbulent times. Peace and rest are for the dead; living people are always troubled. But I look around me and what I see is very ominous.

I think my nation, as a nation and as a people, is not socially, economically, or politically sound. For most of my generation (I entered the Army the year that Ronnie Reagan was elected) we have been dismantling the America I grew up in.

I know that America was not a perfect thing. I know it had many flaws, although as a son of a relatively wealthy white couple I wasn't forced to confront most of them. But it had a lot of strengths, too.

For one thing, it was much more coherent that it is now. We had our wealthy, and they pretty much ran the place (after all, those well-to-do planters, merchants, and attorneys didn't meet in Philadelphia to create some sort of paradise for layabout and yahoos, right?) then as now. But they were less distant, and you could still make a pretty decent way in the world even if your parents weren't in the yacht club.

A college education was affordable, much more so than it is now (I just talked to a Facebook friend from college whose child is looking into attending the small private school we payed something like $40,000 - pretty big money in 1975 - to attend and is looking at something like a quarter of a million over four years) and with a much better chance of leading to a decent job.

And the notion that taxes were the price of civilization was much more widely accepted. I've watched that - beginning with Measure 5 here in Oregon in 1990 - entire concept fray as a third of my compatriots take on the Leona Helmsley Philosophy of Life, that taxes are for the Little People.

And, of course, there's the Lesser Depression.

I know a woman, one of my former community college students. Brilliant woman; bright, energetic, persistent, decent. She's done everything "right", played by all the rules. Worked her way through community college, cared for her parents, took on tons of student debt to get her bachelor's degree...and she's got nothing. No job, not a hint of a job, and she's running out of time, and hope.

There's a lot of others like her, and that's just not fucking right.

In a better country her problem, and the problems of the others like her, would be a firebell in the night. We'd be frantic to figure out why all these people couldn't work, weren't working. And we'd be doing something to change that.

But we're not.

At least our so-called "leaders" are not. Instead they're nattering about deficits and fretting about taxing the "job-creators"

"Job-creators". So where's Suzanne's job? Where are ALL the jobs we're so tenderly shielding your wallets from, plutocrats? Why are so many of the young people I know working at Burgerville? Why are so many of the storefronts I drive past vacant?

Are you seeing what's wrong with this picture, you puling fucktards, you entitled bastards, there in your legislative offices from Portland to Salem to Washington D.C.?

No. I don't get the sense they do.

"They returned from the ride with the lady inside"

The news of the police reduction of the various Occupy encampments has struck me harder than I thought it would.

For all that I think the Occupiers have failed, I had hoped that their presence would have done something to change the way we in this country are talking. I had hoped that it would have shown that the populists of the Left had some kind of common ground with the supposed populists - the "Tea Party" - of the Right. That between them there would be a hope of swinging the national consensus back towards the People.

From history I understand that the United States has always been a contest between Those Who Have and Those Who Want. From the Framer's ideal of the rule of the deserving through Jacksonians-versus-Jeffersonians through the Great Schism over slavery, the labor-against-robber-baron struggles of the late Victorian times, the Gilded Age that ended with the smashup of '29 and the rise of the New Deal my country has always been the battlefield of those who believe that the nation is ruled best when it rules for the humbler sort against those who believe that those who have deserve to rule over those who have-not.

And being emotionally as well as politically a sort of have-not I know which side I favor.

So as much as the Rise of Reaganism has been personally and politically painful for me I understand that it's just the latest veer of the political wind.

But lately that wind seems to bring me a wintery loss of hope.

Because it seems too much like first icy gust of the perfectly terrible storm. An economy that has been sustained for decades by bubbles has burst. Our tax and tariff policies - enacted by thirty years of politicians trained to believe that getting cheap plastic crap into the country was worth letting jobs flee the country - don't encourage domestic manufacture. The last "recoveries" have been largely without rebuilding the lost jobs. There are now too many Suzannes out there, desperate for work, burdened with debt.

And our politics has become perfectly toxic. Where once "conservatives" believed in things like low taxes and small government as philosophy they now believe in them as religion. There is no compromise in them; they want it all, and are willing to go to literally insane lengths to get it. And "liberals" who once believed in the ideals of this country as expressed in the great words of its birth certificates have lost their willingness to fight for those ideals.

We were seduced by our long post-WW2 domestic tranquility into thinking we'd outgrown the dirty deeds we did dirt cheap back in our younger days. But those ways were still there, and when the vermin we elected eleven years ago reintroduced us to them we turned out to be all to willing to accept them.

We aren't horrified by the idea of torturing our captives; we're debating it. We no longer retch at the idea of assassinating unwitting opponents in lands not our enemy; we ignore it. We don't recoil at the notion that we should be a land where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Or, at least, "we" - the bulk of us - don't do anything about it.

So it seems to me that we're sliding down into perilously bad economic times, times that have the potential to be bad for years, at the same time that our politics has become impotent to do so much as agree that those bad times are upon us, much less do anything to arrest the slide.

"And the smile on the face of the tiger".

So. Here I sit. Warm, at peace, well-fed, content. Surrounded by a houseful of peaceful sleepers (other than the little cat, who has climbed into my lap as I type this and is making it very difficult to write) in a silent, dark neighborhood that I love, in a city and a part of the world I cherish. Enmeshed by a web of friendships with good people; fine, decent, lovely people who make the world a better place merely by breathing in it. In a country richer, more powerful, grander than any that has risen glittering from the Earth since the mud-walls of Sumer and the marble columns of Rome.

And yet tonight I look out into the night and I feel the hope for my children, for my nation, for the next ten years fading away like the stars before the coming dawn.

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