Monday, August 21, 2017

Rambling.

It couldn't be quieter, perhaps anywhere on earth, than it is right now, on my floor at work.

There isn't another person, or another sound than the clack-clicking of the keyboard of my three-year-old Mac. I looked at my watch as I walked to work this morning and saw it was August 21st. We are 2/3 done with summer. We have one month left--if we make it without a nuclear conflagration with North Korea, some armed insurgency by the radical right, or the sun melting our ice-caps and flooding our cities.

My two cents we got lucky when we elected Donald Trump as our first Fascist president. We could have gotten a fascist who was smart, hard-working, calculating and efficient. Instead, we got a bumbling idiot who even the bumbling idiots who voted for him are realizing is a bumbling idiot.

You thank god for small favors.

Of course, Donald Trump won't be the last bumbling idiot with 20,000 nuclear warheads at his fingertips. There will be other, smarter and better bumbling idiots.

But what can you do? 

You can march and boycott Fox and boycott companies that support Fox and Breitbart and Sinclair. You can speak out and protest. You can even, in the stealth of night, throw stones through the plate-glass windows of the plutocrat class.

But all you can really do is what you can do in your own small way. You can teach your children. You can stay educated. You can speak your mind and vote your conscience.

I had a fantasy this morning that I got into a fist-fight with a Nazi somewhere down in Virginia. I said something fifth-grade to him, like if you're so tough, drop the weaponry and the body-armor and let's have it out mano-a-mano.

I was pretty tough when I was a kid, with the endurance of Stonehenge. But today, I think I would likely get my head kicked in. And I have a sinking feeling that my vaunted old-man-strength from five years or ten years back, has shrunk as my waistline has grown.

Nevertheless, though there's nothing anyone can really do to combat small-minded prejudice and hatred, I will continue to do all I can--even if it's only donating to the ACLU and dreaming of throwing red paint over the sign at Lincoln Center that says "David H. Koch Theatre."

We all do what we can.

Friday, August 18, 2017

5 minutes with our CNO.

AD AGED:  Good morning. You're a CNO. Could you elaborate...that's a title I've never heard of.

CNO: Of course, mine is a new role in most agencies. But an important role nonetheless.

AD AGED: Would you tell me what CNO stands for?

CNO: Yes. I am a Chief Nod Officer.

AD AGED: Interesting. And what is it that you do?

CNO: Well, that is fairly tautological. I nod. No one nods like I do.

AD AGED: Please elucidate.

CNO: Say an employee needs a raise or has a problem with a supervisor. Naturally, they're sent to me.

AD AGED: And what do you do?

CNO: I nod. 

AD AGED: And then?

CNO: And then, nothing. 

AD AGED: So, you give the illusion of caring, the hint of action, and an inkling that you're paying attention.

CNO: [Nods]


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Three things we can do.

The first thing we should all do is stop watching Fox. I don't care if it means missing the concussion-festival we call football. Or the baseball playoffs and, in the parlance of Ring Lardner's rook, the World Serious.

This is serious.

Fox, Murdoch and his affiliates in print, radio and TV, is rife with racist hate-mongers.

How far is it from lending credence to the canard that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim, to the hate-filled-events that are shaking our country, most recently in Charlottesville, Va. (Actually, most recently in Boston, where a Holocaust memorial was vandalized last night.)

Do we really want to watch a station populated by hate-spewers like Sean Hannity, who has contrived the phrase "alt-left," to create a false-equivalence between the KKK and the Nazis and god-knows who else, and those protesting them?

The second thing we can do is to encourage our clients to pull their advertising from such places.

Advertising--and I don't care about its reach and efficiency--is putting money into hate's pockets and legitimizing it.

These are not normal times, and by advertising and viewing channels steeped in racism and hate, we are endorsing hate.

The same will go for the stations of the nascent Sinclair network which will be further poisoning our airways when their manipulation of the FCC allows their brand of hate to penetrate the troposphere.

170 years ago, Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes that would support what he saw as an evil war, the Mexican-American.

We can no longer NOT pay tax--taxes are taken from us up-front, but we can max out the number of withholdings we claim--up to nine.

Yes, this is inconvenient. And will probably mean writing a big check in April. But in the meanwhile, the monies going to our Racist government will decrease.

None of these things are major. 

I wish we had stronger ways to show our contempt for this illegitimate state-supported hate, but we really don't. We can march, we can yell, we can write stupid blogs.

My two cents says the best thing we can do is withhold our eyeballs and our dollars.

They understand dollars.



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Amusing ourselves to death.

What's happening in our country now is not normal.

I mean, in two words, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump peeling the lid back on the festering hate of conspiracy-theorists, race-baiters, racists, anti-semites, and a whole host of other troglodytes.

What's happening in our country now is not normal.

But we treat it as it is.

We go about our way. The news covers its usual trivia. We conduct business as usual.

And no one speaks up.

Oh, I know there are marches.

And people post things on Facebook.

But I can't help thinking we're fighting this horror wrong. That every time we listen to some "entertainment" story on the news--instead of the truth about what is happening and why, well, an ounce of integrity drains from our system.

I applaud Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck. But where are the other CEOs?

And what are we doing besides being grumpy and despondent and shaking our heads.

Neil Postman wrote this in his great book "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions."

In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.










Monday, August 14, 2017

Leaving Saltillo, 1975.

I had ridden on so many bus rides coming into Saltillo and leaving Saltillo. It was all so blindingly familiar on the way to Corpus Christi. There was a family in the very back of the bus with the requisite crying children. There were old drunks going nowhere sleeping it off out of eye-shot from the driver. There were middle-aged women going for the day to the wide shopping boulevards of Monterrey to buy a new hat or a new dress, or if their husband had gotten a raise from working so hard at the new Chrysler factory which was pumping out 100 Town and Country minivans an hour on three eight hour shifts, night and day, they would buy both a hat and a dress.

I had taken the window seat in the second row back from the driver, the same seat I sat in on our team bus. Only Hector wasn’t one row up, or Sisto, or some of the boys singing dirty songs into bat handles like a microphone. And Karmen was far far away and getting farther with every turn of the rapidly spinning tires against the dust of the broken asphalt.

Little shacks ran by, some had scrawny chickens in the yard and broken Fords with their hoods up and their engines rusted because the men had given up making them run. Some of the houses had faded Pepsi or Coca-Cola ads painted on their sides and a cooler out front where you could buy a soda and fight a losing fight against the oppression of heat. More of the houses, which were growing fewer and fewer had large initials painted in red, white and green, political signs heralding the advances promised by the corrupt PRI or the PRN. Your only choice was whose corruption would steal from you less and leave you alone more.

I tried again to read my book, a Spanish copy of “The Bridges of San Luis Rey.” It was sweat-stained and without a front cover, but I could not read for the loss of Karmen and the idea that I was going back to my parents’ house and the all that that meant. My head against the dusty glass, the desert streaming by and the loss growing closer as I traveled further away, I fell asleep, a fitful sleep, where I woke with every potholed-jolt on a road that was closer to dirt than paved.

I came across a line from the Bridges that I underlined with a 19-cent Bic I kept with me at all times. It made me think about Karmen. It made me think about what I was leaving as I left Teresa and Hector and Karmen and Saltillo and a world where for the first time in my long-short life I had felt the warmth and glow of love. “The knowledge that she would never be loved in return acted upon her ideas as a tide acts upon cliffs.” I thought about the words for miles and wished I understood what they meant, and how they related to me and to Karmen and to me and Karmen, but I couldn’t unravel them then and I am no better at getting it now.

We rattled into the Monterrey bus station around four and 
I found the information booth with tarnished brass trimming 
standing alone in the center of the high-ceilinged lobby. 
There were pages of newspapers blowing across the floor 
and a low fog of tobacco smoke and men playing cards and 
dominos sitting on upstanding wooden fruit crates. 
Donde puedo obtener el siguiente bus para Corpus Christi?” 
“Where is the next bus to Corpus Christi?” I asked the 
cigarette behind the glass window of the information booth.
 
“Diez y ocho a cinco y media,” his Chesterfield wobbled. 
Lane 18, at 5:30.
 
I found a small formica counter in front of a Mexican beanery 
and I picked up a well-worn newspaper from an empty red 
leather stool and sat down at the counter and spread out 
the paper. The counterman came over with a glass of water 
and I ordered three eggs over and potatoes and coffee and 
bacon. I had 45 minutes before the bus, and I hadn’t eaten 
since the morning. I dug into the huevos like my tinny fork 
was a backhoe.
 
Though there were three empty stools on either side of me, 
I had sat smack in the middle of the seven stool counter, 
an old unshaven man in green workman’s pants sat down 
alongside me. Though my skin was brown from a summer 
in the sun and I wore my Seraperos cap, he read me 
immediately as an Americano.
 
He put his hands in his pants’ pockets and turned them out 
empty. “You have for a brother a dollar or two. I am hungry,” 
he mumbled.
 
Though I had only 100 dollars to get me back to New York 
(I had given Karmen the 10,000 pesos I had earned that 
summer) I gave the old man a five. I was hoping he would 
leave—I was in no mood for conversation—but he called the 
counterman over and ordered the same meal I was having, 
the only difference was he ketchupped both his eggs and 
potatoes.
 
“What here are you doing?” he began. “You are not from.”
 
“I am returning to New York, by way of Corpus Christi. 
I spent the summer down in Saltillo,” I gestured to my ballcap.
 
He gobbled at his huevos like he hadn’t seen food in a week. 
He finished his cup of well-sugared coffee in a single gulp and, 
tapping on his cup with his spoon, quickly received a refill.
 
“You are back going to Texas?” he asked, pronouncing the x 
as an h. 
 
“Through Texas, I’m going, and through a dozen other states, 
to arrive in New York where I will see my parents again, and 
go to college.”
 
He mopped up the egg yellow left on his plate with a small 
piece of fried potato. 

“You are leaving your loves in Mexico.” He finished chewing. 
“I can tell you are leaving behind loves.” I thought ahead to 
the 45-hours of bus-ride ahead of me and back to the 
Thornton Wilder I had read a couple hours earlier. 
“The knowledge that she would never be loved in 
return acted upon her ideas as a tide acts upon cliffs.” 
 
I folded in thirds the paper I had picked up and stuffed it 
in my back pocket. I left an American dollar as a tip for 
the counterman, and gave the rest of a five to my dining 
companion.
 
Though I still had 30 minutes before my bus was to leave, 
the Greyhound was in its bay, idling. I threw my bag into 
the overhead rack and took my usual seat, two back from 
the driver. I thought about the tide, acting on cliffs.