“How one walks through the world is affected by the shifting weights of beautiful things.” ~ Elaine Scarry

 

Snow Crystals by Wilson Bentley (ca 1902)

“The Eskimo has fifty-names for snow because it is important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” ~ Margaret Atwood

It was snowing earlier today—big, fat flakes. But it was also raining, so none of the snow stuck. It’s not that I’m eager for the area to be locked in again as a result of snow, but more that this snow was so beautiful. Oh well . . . Now, it’s just very windy and wet outside, and cold, of course. The forecast is calling for record accumulations in the D.C./Northern Virginia area, up to 2.5 feet. Glad I don’t need to travel to Northern Virginia for anything.

Apparently, it’s already pretty bad out there. Over 200 accidents have been reported, and flights have been cancelled. Even the Smithsonian closed early. No idea what will happen in Hampton Roads, but I’m just hoping that we don’t lose power. The forecast is calling for freezing rain, which means that the dogs will stick their heads out the back door but will not venture outside.

Not much else happening here. As I told Corey, I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sinuses. Pressure. Headache. Yuck. Advil Cold & Sinus is my friend.

“Art enables ut to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” ~ Thomas Merton

Tomorrow I need to drive Brett downtown so that he can drop off his piece for the student art show at Selden Arcade. That gives me something to look forward to as I have not seen this piece yet, and it is always nice to look at what the students have been creating.

When I worked at the museum, the annual Irene Leache student art show was hung in the community gallery each spring. I don’t know if that contest still exists. I loved looking at all of the different works in the different media. Some of the students were tremendously talented. I have always been envious of people who are natural artists. I am hopeless when it comes to drawing.

Other than those tidbits, not a lot to report. I don’t feel inspired enough to write anything of consequence. The world news is too depressing to comment on: Even though the unemployment rate dropped from 10 to 9.7 percent, 8.4 million people are jobless. Just not a club I in which I would seek membership.

Yesterday, Corey was pretty down about the whole job thing. Apparently, one of his former boat mates was giving him a hard time, telling Corey that he isn’t really looking for a job. Who says that to someone who is out of work, not by choice? I reminded Corey that once this position with Vane Brothers comes through, he’ll be working for a really good company, a company that has a good reputation in the industry, which is more than can be said for his former employer.

The waiting is hard for all of us, but I really think that it will be worth it. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself and Corey.

“The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.” ~ Laozi

A few parting thoughts:

  • I agree with Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University: Excellence in teaching should be considered in granting tenure. I’ve known people who were lousy in the classroom but great at research who had tenure. There should be a balance.
  • Why oh why is AIG going to be allowed to pay out $100 million in bonuses this year when the company still hasn’t paid back the money from the bailout?
  • President Obama should meet with the Dalai Lama. It’s a question of human rights, something for which China isn’t known.
  • At what point in my life will I stop having break outs? I don’t have bad acne, but I still get those few days during which my cheeks get zits. TMI? Just wondering.
  • So glad that Corey is not a sports addict as it means that Super Bowl Sunday will not be a hallowed day in this house. I like college football, but really have no affinity for pro football.

Told you I didn’t have much to say. Even my ponderables are mediocre at best.

Images are by Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farmer who was the first person to photograph a snow crystal in 1885. Bentley photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes during his lifetime but did not copyright any of his images.

More (with any luck better) later. Peace.

Happened upon this video of “And Winter Came” by Enya.

 

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“Hello, good evening and welcome to another edition of “Blood, Devastation, Death, War & Horror.” And later we’ll be talking to a man who DOES gardening.” ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Flying Circus

Monty Python’s Flying Circus 

 

“We interrupt this program to annoy you and make things generally irritating.” ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus 

“I should say not! Dinsdale was a perfectly normal person in every way. Except inasmuch as he was convinced that he was being watched by a giant hedgehog he referred to as Spiny Norman.” ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Well, it’s Monday afternoon. We’re still here in Lima, Ohio. Lost in Middle America, as Corey calls it.

Ministry of Silly WalksIt looks like the Trooper is going to be staying here for a bit, and we are going to take a rental car home. Beyond that, don’t ask me what’s going on.

To top things off, Brett is sick. Last night he was running a fever and was nauseous. He hasn’t been feeling well the whole trip, but I thought that maybe his timing was just off from sleeping in the car at the auto place while we were waiting for Corey’s brothers to show.

But he just doesn’t seem to be feeling any better. He was up at 4 this morning, thinking about throwing up. Not good. Brett hates to throw up.

In fact, last night both Brett and I left the birthday party a little early and came back to the house. I thought that we might watch a movie, but we were both asleep by 10 p.m.

Soldiers: My goodness me! I am in a bad temper today, two three! Damn damn, two three! I am vexed and ratty, two three! And hopping mad!
[soldiers stamp feet on ground angrily] ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus 

Spot the LooneyPersonally, I’m fidgety as hell. My back hurts, but my headache is gone, at least for now. But I just can’t seem to make myself calm. Too much to worry about. Too many things in the air.

I don’t know how we’re going to pay for this whole engine thing. My health insurance has to be paid by the 30th, or they are going to cancel me. We need to pay the water bill and the electric bill. The phone people want money.

Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. ~ Monty Python and the Holy Grail

pathosIf I knew how, I would seriously consider printing some of my own money. Just enough to pay off everyone and get them off our backs. But I’m pretty sure that the Federal government frowns upon such actions. Of course, they frown upon just about everything.

Almost everything that makes fast money is illegal: guns, drugs, prostitution, etc.,  not that I would consider any of those. But what about Wall Street or owning a bank or something like that. It’s probably too much to think that AIG could throw $5,000 our way (that’s probably what one of their executive lunches costs). 

I have thought about looking for that money tree that my mom used to always talk about when I was growing up. You know, the one that she would say she was going to go pick some money from when I would ask for things.

Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to locate this source of income. And I am dubious as to my abilities to find a leprechaun and a pot o’ gold as well.

I’m open for suggestions here . . .

King Arthur: Cut down a tree with a herring? It can’t be done. ~ Monty Python and the Holy Grail 

French knightsI know that I’ve been trying to make light of all of this, but I do have to say that I really don’t know how much more bad luck I can take. I try to keep things in perspective. No one is gravely ill, and I am thankful for that.

But apart from that, it seems that we have just about the worst luck of anyone that I know at the moment: unemployment, disability, overwhelming bills, the possible loss of the house, a truck that is barely holding together, and now, a dead Trooper.

At least we know that the trooper can be used for sleeping . . .

Ex-Leper: What I was thinking was I was going to ask him if he could make me a bit lame in one leg during the middle of the week. You know, something beggable, but not leprosy, which is a pain in the ass to be blunt and excuse my French, sir. ~ Monty Python and The Life of Brian

Seriously, though, I know that things can be worse, but do we have to actually find out how much worse? Is it necessary to know firsthand every bad thing that is out there in order to know about every bad thing that is out there? I don’t believe so.

I mean, for example, I know about sharks and volcanoes and the plague. I know about homelessness and violent crime and communicable diseases. I realize that the world is in actuality a big place in which a myriad of terrible things can happen. I know that my very small section of the world is actually protected and somewhat privileged.

meaning of life drAfter all, I come from a place that has running water (if we pay the bill), indoor plumbing and toilets, appliances on which we can cook and in which we can preserve food, walls, a roof, soft beds, warm blankets, clean clothes.

We have access to medical care, medicines and emergency care. We can watch movies on our televisions and have instant access to information on the Internet.

We have privacy when we want it. We can enjoy the company of others when we seek it. We can read what we want without the government censoring our books.

We have the freedom to say what we believe and to vote in elections without the fear of being shot for supporting the wrong candidate. We can go to grocery stores without fearing suicide bombers.  

So yes, in the grand scheme of things, my life isn’t bad, isn’t nearly bad. I have food in my stomach and clean water to drink. I have clothes and shoes to put on my body, and my family is not dying of dysentery or starvation or preventable illnesses.

Compared to other parts of the world, we do, in fact, lead privileged lives. Compared to the privileged in this country, we lead average lives. Compared to athletes who make $35 million a year, we lead mediocre lives.

Mr. Mousebender: I want to buy some cheese.
Henry Wenslydale: Oh, I thought you were complaining about the bouzouki player. ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus

I wish that I could say that putting things in perspective helps me to feel better about things. It should. I know that. My logical, sensible side knows that of course things could be worse. Of course, we should be thankful for what we have when so many have so little.

MoL wide-eyed
Monty Python's Meaning of Life

In asking if the road ahead could be a little smoother, do I bring down the wrath of the gods, the curses of the force, the lightning bolts of the heavens?

I’m still open to the whole witch doctor thing. Maybe some shamanism, as long as I don’t have to strangle a rooster or read entrails. I have to draw the line at entrail reading, besides, it seems to be a bit open to interpretation to me:

Well, this gizzard looks sort of like a peanut. . .

No it doesn’t. It looks like a cashew.

No, I really think that it looks like a peanut.

Cashew. And you haven’t even gotten to the intestines yet.

Intestines? Oh, aye. Linguini, definitely linquini. Linguini and a peanut, which means 40 days of rain and loss of money.

Angel hair pasta not linguini. And a cashew. Definitely cashew. Not rain. A drought. And you will come into money.

I think that you’re half-cocked.

Well I think that you look like a springer spaniel.

No need to get personal.

Mr. Vibrating: Oh I’m sorry, just one moment. Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?
Man: Oh, just the five minutes ~ Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Life of Brian
Monty Python's Life of Brian

And now, I will leave you with the funniest grammar lesson ever to be depicted in film (from The Life of Brian)

[Brian is writing graffiti on the palace wall. The Centurion catches him in the act
Centurion: What’s this, then? “Romanes eunt domus”? People called Romanes, they go, the house? 
Brian: It says, “Romans go home. ” 
Centurion: No it doesn’t ! What’s the latin for “Roman”? Come on, come on ! 
Brian: Er, “Romanus” ! 
Centurion: Vocative plural of “Romanus” is? 
Brian: Er, er, “Romani” !
Centurion: [Writes “Romani” over Brian’s graffiti] “Eunt”? What is “eunt”? Conjugate the verb, “to go” ! 
Brian: Er, “Ire”. Er, “eo”, “is”, “it”, “imus”, “itis”, “eunt”.
Centurion:bSo, “eunt” is…? 
Brian: Third person plural present indicative, “they go”. 
Centurion: But, “Romans, go home” is an order. So you must use…?
[He twists Brian’s ear
Brian: Aaagh ! The imperative ! 
Centurion: Which is…? 
Brian: Aaaagh ! Er, er, “i” ! 
Centurion: How many Romans? 
Brian: Aaaaagh ! Plural, plural, er, “ite” ! 
Centurion: [Writes “ite”] “Domus”? Nominative? “Go home” is motion towards, isn’t it? 
Brian: Dative !
[the Centurion holds a sword to his throat]
Brian: Aaagh ! Not the dative, not the dative ! Er, er, accusative, “Domum” ! 
Centurion: But “Domus” takes the locative, which is…? 
Brian: Er, “Domum” !
Centurion:[Writes “Domum”] Understand? Now, write it out a hundred times. 
Brian: Yes sir. Thank you, sir. Hail Caesar, sir

You Know It’s Bad Because I’m Speechless

cracks-in-the-rose-colored-glasses

Cracks in the Rose-Colored Glasses

Corey came home from the maritime school today totally downhearted. He had to withdraw from the AB class in which he was enrolled because of our SNAFU with the IRS. Then he went to the union to turn in his application, and the guy who talked to him said that he would only be qualified as a beginner.

Imagine how it would feel if you have piloted tug boats on your own, you hold a 200 ton Master’s license, and because you don’t have an AB (able-bodied seaman) qualification, someone wants to put you in with a group of people who have never worked on a boat in their lives. It’s insulting, to say the very least.

At the moment, he is sleeping. It’s 5:30 in the afternoon, and Corey only naps when he doesn’t feel well and when he is really depressed. Today, it’s both.

I feel so utterly helpless because there is nothing that I can do for him. If I had something of value to sell to get the money for his tuition, I would do it without a backward glance. But I do not possess valuable things. The most valuable things I have are my wedding and engagement rings, and I know from previous experience that I would not get very much for either one. Their value lies in the sentiment.

I despise feeling helpless. I am angry at the world. And Eamonn is coming to me telling me about all of the things that he needs as a senior: his senior dues, his prom fees, his yearbook. We still haven’t finished paying for his senior pictures. We agreed to help with his senior dues when we thought that we were going to have a little bit of tax money leftover. I know that this is one of the most exciting times in his life, yet my answer to him is the same as it’s been throughout all of last year and into this year: We’ll have to see.

He has been saving money of his own, but working one or two shifts a week at minimum wage isn’t really giving him that much to set aside. And I cannot allow him to work more because he is not good at balancing school and work, and frankly, school and getting him to graduate are much more important.

You want to know the irony of the whole situation? We went to the City of Norfolk to see if we could get assistace with our water bill. They have a program specifically tailored to help people with water bills. However, we make too much money. Too much money? By whose standards? Certainly not AIG standards. We didn’t want to apply in the first place, not because we are embarrassed, but because of that whole concept of being able to take care of yourself, your family.

dorothea-lange-great-depression2
Dorothea Lange's Famous "Migrant Mother" From The Great Depression

Hard work brings its rewards: that Puritan work ethic in which we happen to believe. You know, that if you work hard, are honest and work within the system, then things will work out for you. I’ve worked since I was 15. I have been putting my share into the coffers for a long time now. Corey has worked since he was a teenager; he served his country. Something is wrong here.

But I cannot even begin to put a finger on all of the things that are wrong with this situation. Drug dealers drive around in fancy cars, wear the best clothes, want for nothing. People involved in organized crime have their own definitions of family and being taken care of. Wall Street gives out bonuses in the 8 figures. My son just wants to go to his senior prom. What’s wrong with this picture?

I mean, I’m thankful that we aren’t at the poverty level. Truly. I have a real appreciation for all that we do have and am aware that compared to so many Americans today, we are ironically in an enviable position. But the message in this is that too many people are doing without while a select few are doing really well.

I appreciate the fact that we have food and shelter. But my health insurance premium is killing us. It really makes me want to see nationalized health care. And don’t give me the argument that nationalized health care is the country’s first step into socialism. Too many democratic societies have nationalized health care, which disproves that big fallacy. If we weren’t shelling out so much for my stupid insurance, which I cannot live without, we might be in better shape. But as it is, we have no options.

No options. That phrase is unbearable to me for so many reasons.

I sent an e-mail to the White House today. Not that I think that anything will really come of it, but it just felt good to get some things off my chest. You see, I believe that you can support an administration and still exercise your basic First Amendment Freedoms. Maybe I’m wearing rose-colored glasses when I allow myself to think that things in this country will get better; my only fear is that we will sink before things get better.

Peace.

                                                                                                      

I thought that I would share a little poetry today as it always helps me when I am depressed, angry, or anxious (and I am all three today). And since I don’t have one of my own that fits my particular mood, I am going to borrow from one of my favorite poets.

The following pantoum is by Donald Justice. A pantoum is a type of highly stylized poem, like the villanelle. In a pantoum, which is written in quatrains, the second and fourth lines of a stanza become the first and third lines of the following stanza.

Pantoum of the Great Depression

Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed. No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don’t remember all the particulars.

We managed. No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don’t remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows
Thank god no one said anything in verse.
The neighbors were our only chorus,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,
But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.

Donald Justice, October 1962

“A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma”

What to Do About the American Auto Industry

recessionjobhunters

 

Job Hunters During Great Depression

I’m of two minds . . .

Very bad news for November: highest unemployment rate, 533,000 jobs. One in ten homeowners are behind in their mortgages by at least one month. And by the way, the country is officially in a recession, has been for at least a year. Woo hoo. Glad to know that it’s official. I never would have known if someone in charge hadn’t told me. Thanks.

Corey and I were talking, and we realized that this is the first time that we have officially been in a recession. I mean, in the last one, we were both employed, so while we felt its effects peripherally, as in higher prices, we didn’t feel its effects directly, as in unemployment and higher prices and late mortgage payments. Have to tell you, I like it much better the other way. When you are just hearing about this stuff on the radio on your way to work, you can empathize. When you pay more at the pump and at the grocery store, you can bitch and moan, but you still have that paycheck, and it doesn’t really occur to you just how bad it can be on the opposite side.

Well, now we’re on the opposite side, and I have to tell you that every time I read a new article about the recession and Congress and the bailout and their plans for helping main street, I start to do a slow boil. I mean, I’m sitting here on main street, and so far, that $700 billion hasn’t found its way to my door yet. And what’s worse, they aren’t even sure where some of it went.

Excuse me? You lost track of some of the $700 billion bailout money, Mr. Paulson? How does one do that exactly? Is the money located in some ultra secret location that you forgot to close the door to, and someone just came in and took out a few billion? Did you just happen to leave a million or two on the table and go to lunch? I mean really, how do you lose track of a few hundred billion? BILLION?

And then when the Big Three auto makers come asking for some help, you treat them like proverbial ca ca, like something you stepped on and can’t quite identify and send them off with their tails between their collective legs. Granted, their method of arriving was a bit ostentatious: The private jets didn’t quite jibe with the hats in hands. However, a bailout of the Big Three seems a bit more reasonable and practical than the bailout of Wall Street. And I have to wonder about the very different way in which the two requests were treated.

In the first case, we had flashy suits asking for money with no strings attached; AIG execs took spa days after receiving a bailout; many of said execs are still going to receive their bonuses, bonuses that are far beyond anything the average UAW earns in one year, and there has been little to no oversight of that big $700 billion price tag. No one is sure yet what the money from the first bailout is going to be used for or how or when, which leaves me just a teensy bit concerned.

In the second case, when the Big Three came calling, they were treated like Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of gruel: “Please sir, may I have some more.” They were told to go away and come back with a game plan, a revised strategy on exactly how they would use the money they were requesting, how it would help to save the auto industry from going under, how they would compete with the foreign market.

Ford Dearborn Assembly Plant
Ford Skyliner Assembly Line

Why the discrepancy? After all, if the auto industry goes down, America loses the ability to manufacture on a big scale, and then there is that small consequence of three million jobs lost, that’s million. After November’s jobless numbers, can we really afford to have that many more people out of work? And while the UAW certainly isn’t blameless in this mess, neither is it completely to blame. Auto workers do not make as much as the suits on Wall Street. When they do, then you can start to complain to me about auto workers’ salaries. Sure, there are problems with unions, always have been, always will be. Does it make sense that a pallet will sit unloaded while a union worker sits nearby doing nothing because it’s not his/her job to unload it? No. Should things be better? Yes. Is this whole mess because of the UAW. Absolutely not.

Granted, there is a lot wrong with the American auto industry. Let’s put mismanagement right up there at the top. How about lack of foresight in there somewhere? Designs are not keeping pace with foreign auto makers as far as producing cars that are more fuel efficient. We are behind in electric and hybrid designs. Drive train design hasn’t kept pace, nor have basic things like what kinds of warranties American care companies offer in comparison to their foreign competitors. And then just small things, for example, compare the ergonomics of a Toyota with a Ford; there is a noticeable difference. Unfortunate but true.

President-elect Obama is taking office on the promise to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He has named this as a priority in his administration. Until the big three can begin to make cars that can live up to that promise, do we have an obligation to help them restructure or should we let them fall? This is one of those rare times in which I am actually truly torn. Part of me is sick to death of bailouts. After all, the bottom line is that the bottom line belongs to us, the taxpayers, and I don’t know about you, but my checkbook is way past being able to support any more bailing out of anyone other than myself.

On the other hand, part of me feels that if we bail out anyone, it should be the American auto industry, that they should have gotten a piece of the pie well before AIG or some of the other greedy bastards who received bailout money without any preconditions. After all, people who work in the auto industry, for the most part, are not millionaires (I’m ignoring the upper echelon who deserved the spanking that they received for flying in on private jets).

On the other hand, this is a free economy system. Those who cannot make the grade should be allowed to fall, which is why we shouldn’t have bailed out some of those banks in the first place. If Chrysler falls, and it probably will even with a bailout, then we should let it. Lee Iacocca was able to turn it around a few decades ago, but I don’t think that an Iacocca is in Chrysler’s future this time, and since it didn’t learn its lesson after the first time, it deserves to go down. As to the other two, maybe they should file for bankruptcy, restructure, start all over, renegotiate with the UAW so that American union workers are more like their foreign counterparts: the wages and benefits are essentially the same; the big difference is in how the jobs are handled. With the foreign unions, jobs aren’t pigeon-holed.

Of course, one of the things that a lot of people keep forgetting to mention is the trickle down effect of the failure of this industry: how many smaller industries will fail, and subsequently American workers will lose their jobs as a result of the Big Three going under? There is no easy answer to this one. It is a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” (Winston Churchill).

For once, I think that I am actually at a loss for words. Hmm. A liberal Democrat who doesn’t know what to say? Mark it on your calendars people because this doesn’t happen often. There will, of course, be more later. Peace.

The Great Gatsby: Past is Present

So Much More Than a High School Assignment

“What Foul Dust Floated in the Wake of His Dreams”

Without fail, everyone in high school is assigned The Great Gatsby, and almost without exception, everyone hates it, or at least, fails to appreciate it. My youngest son and I were discussing this subject months ago, and I agreed with him that this particular book is wasted on someone in high school. I mean, I realize the idealism of trying to introduce the young mind to F. Scott Fitzgerald. At one time, I, too, believed that this was a worthy exercise.

But as they say, time is a great teacher. Gatsby is not a character who can be appreciated by youth, certainly not by an egocentric youth whose only concern is the world that rotates around his axis. Now I know that there is a contingent out there who will argue vociferously that that in itself is the very reason that Gatsby should appeal to a 17-year-old boy: because Gatsby never grew up and the world seemingly revolves around him. But Gatsby never grew up only in the sense that his love for Daisy has never aged and the world that revolves around him is completely superficial. But everything else that happens in the novel is moving in real time, leaving Gatsby behind.

I was remembering that particular passage in The Great Gatsby when Nick remembers Gatsby looking across the water at the blinking green light: “I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out Daisy’s light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city” (chapter 9).

“The Colossal Vitality of His Illusion”

I don’t remember how many times I have read Gatsby, or what new things I find each time I read it. I loved great-gatsby-bwthe original movie with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford. They were perfectly cast—Farrow with her breathless voice and wide eyes, and Redford with his impossible good looks in his ice cream suits. It was a case of the book being brought to the screen perfectly, with Sam Waterson as narrator Nick Carraway.

I suppose I am reminded of Gatsby for many reasons this cold afternoon: the time in which it was set—the 20’s immediately before the Great Depression, when things were still seemingly golden, but the veneer was starting to wear off. Fitzgerald’s narrative reveals characters who are so out of touch with their surroundings that they fail to notice the suffering of others. They fail to stop for a dying woman or to care that she was run down in the road like a dog. All that matters is Daisy’s suffering, which is superficial. Only Nick notices because only Nick has a real job, works for a living, and has any sense of connection with the rest of the world. In the book, only Nick is actually invited to Gatsby’s party. Everyone else just drops in as they please, which in itself is very telling. Nick is mired in reality. He is the touchstone.

As the book closes, Daisy and Tom move on, careless of what they have left in their wake: Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson is dead because of Daisy. Gatsby is dead, killed by George Wilson, spurred on by Tom. But the Buchanan’s take their little girl and their servants and their money and move on, as if life is a mess to be taken care of by the less fortunate: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (chapter 9):

“A New World Material Without Being Real”

In high school, a sophomore or junior will probably take something like this away from the book’s plot: Gatsby made a lot of money and had great parties but still didn’t get his woman, so he must have been pretty lame. (I know, I’m being very simplistic.) But will they see the Buchanans as AIG, Shearson Lehman, and all of the other people on Wall Street? Daisy and Tom are the people who continued to collect multi-million dollar golden parachutes and head off to Cabo as thousands and thousands of people watched their retirement funds decrease in worth by 60 and 70 percent. In essence, the Buchanans are part of the $700 billion bailout package; you have to wonder what their cut will be, because undoubtedly, people like Tom and Daisy will come out on top.

Can a 16-year-old have an appreciation for George Wilson as a metaphor for Addie Polk, who, at 90 years old, shot herself in the chest rather than be evicted from her house? After all, all George Wilson wanted was a better life for himself and his wife. After George lost Myrtle, he had nothing to live for, so he killed the person who he thought was responsible for ruining his life, and then he shot himself. Addie Polk is recovering in the hospital, and her mortgage will be forgiven, but at what price the human heart?

eyes-of-t-j-eckleburgAnd then there are the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, always looming on the side of the road. He seems to be watching, but just how effective is he? He sees Myrtle’s death. He sees Daisy fleeing the scene. He sees everything that happens in the Valley of Ashes, that long stretch between the Eggs, where nothing prospers. But he does nothing. He is impotent because he is only a symbol. We know about impotent symbols. Oh, I’d say Dr. Eckleburg is about as effective as Congress and W. in their oversight of what was happening in the years leading up to this massive economic meltdown?

Which leaves Nick Carraway and Gatsby. I tend to think of the American people as Gatsby for the most part: looking for that green light, that signal that everything is essentially okay, never realizing that perhaps, the good days are in the past for now. Gatsby so wanted to believe that he could throw parties and buy new shirts and have great meals, and not have to answer to his past as Jay Gatz. But in the end, that’s who he was.

The only one standing was Nick Carraway, and he was left with the mess. Nick was always the smart one. He didn’t overindulge. He wasn’t taken in by Daisy’s cousin Jordan, even though she was beautiful and sensual. In the end, Nick was a changed man, not the innocent who entered the lives at the beginning of the story, yet he still grasps a tenuous kind of hope that things will get better:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (chapter 9)

So who does Nick represent? The American people when all of this is over? The American People who voted for Barack Obama hoping for change, for better things to come. I suppose that we’ll just have to wait and see.

“The Incarnation was Complete”

When I began this entry, I really wasn’t certain where I was going. I just knew that The Great Gatsby was on my mind, and as I continued to write, the connections to real-time events just fell into place. It’s odd how that happens sometimes: two seemingly disparate subjects meeting and connecting. Maybe it has something to do with that String Theory that I’m trying to wrap my head around, but I have to admit that physics is just beyond the edge of my relative intelligence, so we aren’t going there today.

The Great Gatsby remains one of my favorite classic reads, as do most of Fitzgerald’s works. I also find the whole Zelda Fitzgerald story incredibly intriguing, but I’ll save that for another time. But Gatsby himself is such a tragic portrait of a man, and I am only half kidding when I say that high school students cannot appreciate this story. More, it’s a matter of how much they want to put into the book in order to get something out of it. But as with many stories, the reveal does increase significantly with time.

Let me close with this wonderful passage from Chapter 6, one that I missed on the first few readings:

“He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.  No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Man, if only I had created the phrase “ghostly heart.” More later. Peace.

Counting Down: Only Eight Days to Go

Things Are Getting Crazy All Over The Place

A Breakdown of Discipline

Love the Boots & Suit, Governor
Love the Boots & Red Suit, Governor

It seems that the McCain camp is imploding. Says on aide an the campaign in general: “The lack of discipline . . . is unreal” (Politico). Unnamed sources within the camp are turning on Sarah P., saying things such as, “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said a McCain adviser. “She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.” One aide has described her as “going rogue” (cnn.com).

Whoa. The election isn’t even over yet, and already they are shooting arrows at each other. And the governor?

Seems she’s only taking advice from that maverick from “The View,” Elizabeth Hasselbeck. The two women decided to keep up the rant on the RNC’s clothes fiasco, pointing out that the governator was back to wearing her own clothes and accessories and labeling the fixation on her wardrobe “sexist,” even when Palin’s handlers had clearly sent the message that the wardrobe topic was, um, off-topic.

And, well governor, actually, no. It’s not sexist. It’s justified criticism at largesse in a time in which real Americans, as the governor likes to call them, are thinking about real issues, you know, bills, mortage payments, health care, 401k’s losing half of their value overnight? Things like that. If John McCain had spent the same amount of money, it would still be an issue, believe me. 

Neo Nazis Take a Road Trip

The very thing that so many people have been worried about has had its first on-the-books attempt. At least it was a half-baked attempt by a couple of supposed neo-nazis with the brain power of Beavis and Butthead. The ATF reports that there is no evidence at this early stage of the investigation that the two men,  Daniel Cowart, 18, and Paul Schlesselman, 20, had ever taken the plan beyond the talking stage. The two met on the Internet. Both are in custody.

Now That’s A Holiday Bonus

“NBC Nightly News” reported tonight that three of the big Wall Street firms involved in the big rescue have set aside money to pay their traders and bankers year-end bonuses . . . yes, I said bonuses. These employees, who normally earn between $80 to $600k annually, depend on these bonuses to make their really big money. The bonuses keep the best employees from jumping ship. I like bonuses. I used to get a Holiday bonus at the newspaper eons ago. It equalled one week’s pay. I thought that was a really great bonus. That being said, let me clarify what these companies are calling bonuses.

Goldman Sachs has set aside $6.8 billion, for an average of $210,000 per employee in bonuses; of course, bonuses would be higher for their bigger earners. Morgan Stanley has set aside only $6.4 billion, for an average of $138,700 per employee; they are being a bit more frugal. Merrill Lynch has set aside $6.7 billion, for an average of $110,000 per employee, which is slightly higher than last year’s bonuses, but that’s because they laid of 3,000 employees recently.

Now, the average American earns $45,000 annually. That figure also comes from the news report. I’m not sure where they got that figure, probably from the IRS. But there is something terribly wrong when the average salary doesn’t begin to come close to the average bonus being proposed on Wall Street, especially since the average American is paying for these bonuses.

Of course, these companies are saying that nothing is set in stone and that the bonuses have yet to be distributed. But these are the same ilk of people as the AIG personnel who went on a junket one week after their bailout and had personalized spa treaments.

I am reminded of the Ronald Reagan quote: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” If the government helps us out any more on Wall Street, these people are going to end 2008 feeling great, and real Americans are going to need a lifetime supply of antacids.

Getting Closer to that Senate Sixty

Alasksa Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of lying about receiving free gifts from a contractor and convicted on seven corruption charges. The longest-serving Republican Senator who is running for re-election has undoubetedly hurt his political career. But the good news is that the Democrats have probably picked up one more seat towards the sixty-seat majority needed to be filibuster proof.

The 84-year-old senator faces up to five years in prison.

Battleground States No More?

Well, it seems that Obama’s Virginia lead is really a lead. Polls (Washington Post, CNN) are anywhere from 6 to 14 points ahead. Still, I am not counting my chickens and all of that. Other key battleground states that appear to be going blue include Colorado, New Hampshire, and New Mexico.

The Senator will be in Norfolk tomorrow night. I don’t know if I’m ready for another huge crowd, but I’m going to try. Virginia is too important to become complacent. It’s supposed to be a chilly fall night under the stars. I asked for fall, didn’t I? I’ll report back tomorrow and let you know how it goes.

More later. Peace.

Notes From the Road (if I were on the road)

And what a week it was:

McCain’s Week From Hell

First McCain said that the economy was “fundamentally strong.” Then he said that he would fire the head of the SEC if he were president. Then someone gave him a civics lesson, so he decided to call for the resignation of the head of the FEC by the end of the week. He wouldn’t bail out AIG, but then he agreed with the bailout. And, drum roll please, the best Freudian slip of the campaign yet:

Sarah Palin says that that’s how it would be in a “Palin/McCain administration.”

Give the woman some props. She’s actually ready for this VEEP stuff after all. Seems she’s been studying the Cheney playbook and knows exactly how to be vice president in a Bush-like White house.

What’s The Tip on Half a Trillion Dollars?

So, at last count, the bailout of AIG and the rest, added to the national deficit could top us out at $700 billion dollars. That’s a lot of black boots in my closet. Am I being irreverent? No. I just cannot comprehend that many zeroes. But I can say that I am not at all surprised by the housing bust. Sub-prime loans to put people in McMansions that they couldn’t really afford? We’re surprised by this? Really?

When I was working for a realty company, I watched the home values skyrocket. People were begging to pay $100,000 more for a house with vinyl siding and no yard that they wouldn’t have looked twice at a year before. It was as if you couldn’t build and sell fugly houses quickly enough. No one stopped to consider what would happen three, four, five years down the road. It was almost like the 80’s had returned. Sell, baby sell.

So who do I make out my bad check to for my share of Paulson’s plan?

Where’s Waldo?

By the way, before this past week, I thought that perhaps Cheney had finally succeeded in packing up W for the duration. Anyone but me notice that the incredible shrinking president hasn’t been sighted since the opening of the Republican convention?

Obama the Comedian

Seems that Barack Obama might be feeling the pressure a little more. At least that’s what I’m attributing his recent bursts of sarcasm to and not a latent streak of McCain meanness. I can understand Obama wanting to get a few jabs in this week. I mean, how could the man resist? But I would like for him to go back to the high road. It’s what has separated him all along from the fray, and it’s what marks him as a man of conscience in my book. I’m not a starry idealist—we all know that. But this man is different; he doesn’t need to resort to the politics as usual playing field.

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor

Last night, I had an uber cool dream. I was covering the campaign trail as a reporter for the local newspaper. I was on the phone, trying to get a quote for a story that I was working on. I knew that this story was the one that was going to get me noticed, finally noticed. I don’t remember if I got the quote, but it was a great dream nevertheless.

Robert Kennedy on the Campaign Trail

I think my dream may have been an offshoot of watching the movie “Bobby” earlier in the evening. I’ve put off watching this movie for a while. The movie itself is not bad. It’s written and produced by Emilio Estevez (son of Martin Sheen, brother of Charlie Sheen, hard acts to follow, seriously under appreciated). It’s a series of characters at the Ambassador Hotel on the day and night of Bobby Kennedy’s California primary, on the night that he is assassinated. The stories themselves are really not that touching, with the exception perhaps of the illegal alien who works in the kitchen, but the movie got to me as I knew that it would. Kennedy’s speech is interwoven into the end of the movie, and his shooting is dramatized. That shooting changed so much in American history, maybe even more so than JFK’s assassination. As a result of RFK’s death, the democrat’s were derailed, and Richard Nixon won the election. We had Cambodia, Kissinger, and Watergate. Everything changed. Socially. so much changed. And so, at the end of the movie, I cried. Not for the movie.

I cried for lost dreams. Lost hopes. Lost chances. Lost choices. And ultimately, the lost generation that followed.