Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Earth Day done and dusted. All I can say is: Earth, baby, you’ve got a little PR problem. I mean, what’s with you, lately? You used to be so willing. So compliant. We had a deal: “What’s ours is ours, and what’s yours is ours.” Remember? But lately, if it’s not a Category Five Hurricane, it’s a Monster Tsunami or a slew of Super-Tornadoes. If it’s not global warming, it’s global dimming. Seems like there’s no pleasing you. And, yes, it always seems to be about you these days. Well, what about us? What about our needs, Earth? Did you ever stop to think about that?

Oh, yeah, you had us fooled for awhile. Made yourself useful. You were like, “bring it on!” But when the going got tough? Admit it, Earth, you’re passive-aggressive. You’ve been harboring secret resentments all along. Well, how were we supposed to know? You just brood on it, apparently, and then, all the sudden, boom! If you’d just let us know when something’s eating you. But noooooo, you keep it to yourself and then all the sudden there’s a 7.4 on the Richter scale and half of Turkey is toast. So, what’s with the temper tantrums? Nobody likes a party-pooper, and that’s what you’re getting to be, Earth, if you want to know the truth.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. I hate to break it to you, Earth, but your poll numbers are almost as low as the President’s. People are saying, “well, Earth used to be cool.” Some are even saying, “Earth lied us.” Pretty much everybody agrees: “Earth just isn’t keeping up her end.” It’s a credibility thing, Earth. And, you know, if your numbers keep sliding, we’ll find ourselves another planet. Don’t think we won’t. Hate to break it to you, but we happen to be looking. So kill the attitude. You’re not the only planet in the solar system. We all know there are others that are bigger, have more moons, and some even have rings. We’re talking bling you can see from about a billion miles away. So don’t think you’re All That.

You want to get back in our good graces, Earth? Got some advice for you: Cool down, and, for Pete’s sake, lighten up. Yeah, you used to be fun and exciting, Earth, but lately you’re getting to be a drag. I mean, bungee jumping was about the last cool thing anybody could do with you, and that’s naff now. What have you done for us lately? You act like you’re doing us this big favor just by being here. Put some effort into it, Earth! Give a little. We want more. We expect more. And you’re not cutting it. Here you come along with some pretty little spring flowers, maybe a nice sunset, and expect everybody to ooh and ah. Well, got news for ya: been there, done that. Big yawn. What else ya got? Seriously, make yourself useful. Otherwise, to borrow from the Donald: you're fired.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

When the Vice President was booed as he threw out the first pitch Tuesday at the Washington Nationals’ home opener, it was a clear repudiation as real and significant as what greeted the President at the Coretta Scott King Funeral back in February. Neither was a staged political protest, which is what makes them especially significant. These kinds of spontaneous expressions of popular sentiment are rare in our time, and as ever, represent the greatest danger to the designs of any who would be king. There is no forum more fundamentally American than a baseball stadium, and whereas politics should transcend sport, sports also transcends politics. When a national leader of Mr. Cheney’s stature is booed loudly by a clear majority of fans of the Nationals and the Mets, it’s an ill wind for sure.

Cheney and Bush, the Dr. Evil and Mini-Me of American politics can’t pretend to be regular guys anymore. But it’s no wonder they’ve spent most of the past five and a half years in hiding, Mr. Bush in the brush at Crawford, and Mr. Cheney, in his super-secret bat cave in an “undisclosed location” somewhere deep in the bowels of the capital. I’m sure it’s been this administration’s big conundrum: If you’re out among the people they’ll nail you as phonies in no time, but if you hide out too long, they’ll figure out sooner or later that you’re hiding from them. And conventional wisdom has it that people don’t hide out unless they’ve got something to hide. Nowadays whenever Lenny and Squiggy do pop up it seems like that old carnival game “whack-a-mole.” They’ve been getting nailed by that mallet a lot lately.

There were no exit polls at RFK stadium last Tuesday to determine what all that booing was about, but I suspect it wasn’t any one thing—the war or taxes or healthcare—but the same kind of gut reaction we have to people like that former special ed teacher, Heather Faria, who collected over $60,000 pretending to have stomach cancer. Or Sarah Everson, the woman who somehow feigned having sextuplets, whose husband, Kris, says they did it "out of financial reasons." Or Clayton Daniels, the Texas graverobber who faked his own death for life insurance money using a corpse purloined from a local potter’s field. If any of these people had thrown the first pitch of the season, I imagine they’d have gotten booed, too.

OK, so lying is an acknowledged part of politics, a necessary means to a more noble end, some say. But what happens when there’s no end in sight? Well, people start booing at you, is what. And if you stick around they’ll start throwing things, too. Epithets and curses first, then rotten fruit, and before too long, punches. Because what people hate more than a liar is a liar who thinks he can get away with lying to them again and again and again. If I were Mr. Cheney, I wouldn't stick around for the seventh inning stretch.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A number of hot-button isms mix and mingle in the current immigration debate. Anything but simple, it’s an issue custom-built for cognitive dissonance. On the right, it’s free marketers versus cultural conservatives . On the left, civil rights and ethnic advocacy groups versus environmentalists and job protectionists. And everyone wants cheap goods and services, no matter what. It’s no wonder Congress couldn’t manage to do anything with it in an election year.

Ism-wise: first off, you’ve got your terrorism, of course. Groups like the wonderfully crotchety WeNeedAFence.com have proposed a “fence” along the Southern border, “based on the highly effective Israeli fences in the West Bank and Gaza... consisting of six parallel physical barriers…40 yards wide at minimum.” Puts the “Great Fence of China”—a pathetic 18 feet wide—to shame, doesn’t it? Whatever happened to the word “wall” by the way? I mean, this isn’t exactly white picket we’re talking about. But the really interesting thing here, on many levels, is the heavily implied comparison of Mexicanos to Palestinian terrorists. Is it hyperbole or flat-out hysteria?

Then you’ve got a little “compassionate classism,” sprinkled with some old-school , 19th Century patrician-style “benevolent racism” in that catchy slogan “they do the jobs Americans won’t.” This clever line briefly unseated “it’s the media’s fault for only reporting the bad news” as the GOP meme of the week. The infallible Mr. Bush proclaimed it in speeches as if it were obvious and indisputable. But the truth is, the assumption that illegals “do the jobs Americans won’t” is obnoxiously imperious, not to mention that it rationalizes employment practices that are unethical at best, and at worst out-and-out immoral.

This is, again, not about workers, legal or illegal, or their humane treatment. It's about a class of people in America who don't want to pay living wages for labor, and another class that has no choice but to suck it up. Illegals “live in the shadows” cast by American businesses and consumers who benefit from the cheap labor only illegals can provide. And the argument against a legal living wage is compelling, particularly for a nation addicted to retail therapy. It takes the form of an insidious threat, and goes something like this: if we pay more for labor, you’ll pay more for goods. Furthermore, if the cost of goods goes up on account of the cost of labor, the living wage will have to increase, too. A raging cycle of exploding costs. Retail terrorism. Let’s build a fence.

For variety, there’s also the comically absurd notion that the grossly incompetent Homeland Security Mafia could round up ten million illegals and send them home, should they decide to do so. Congress was right to throw up its arms, and scurry off to spring break. And our ADD President has moved on as well. With his numbers in the toilet and congressional elections looming, how can he hope to fix immigration? Mr. Bush has finally acknowledged it’s time for regime change… in Iran.

Monday, April 03, 2006

“April is the cruellest month,” says poet T. S. Eliot. But if the weather so far is any indication, April’s taking her Prozac like a good little month this year. It may be unfair to have blamed April for her wild mood swings in the first place. It could be her relationship with unregenerate March, undeniably a bad influence. If they could be separated April might turn out to be a model month. At any rate, it seems—though it’s probably too early to tell—that April has decided to behave this time around. Promises, promises. I know, we’ve heard it all before. Why do we believe her? Will we never learn? Maybe old Thomas Stearns was right about April after all.

But wasn’t the weekend glorious? OK, so climate change may be the cure for April’s antics, and the cure may be a far cry worse than the disease, but even if global warming is the reason for our newly unseasonable seasons, who could possibly turn down a weekend like the one we just had? Eliot says April is cruel for “mixing memory and desire,” but sometimes, when the weather’s just right, this bedeviling mix can be intoxicating. Sure, there’s something comforting about a New England winter, even if it can be cantankerous at times. But it gets to be like spending Spring Break with your grandparents after awhile, doesn’t it? It tends to drag on a bit.

So, of course, when April came skipping up the walk whistling a tune, pigtails bobbing, and rang the bell, I ran to greet her. Like old friends, we agreed to forgive and forget the past, and start fresh. And what a start! I spent the weekend in the garden, and April was right there with me. I have to say, there are few things that give me as much pure, giddy pleasure as gardening. I came to it during my dad’s illness, when I took over his garden for him. He died in April, so I have my own mixed memories and desires associated with this month, but the joy that the garden brought the both of us in his last days has stuck with me.

What is it about a garden? It’s those very simple but profound reminders about the cycles of life all around you. We know these things already, of course, but we need reminding. I think what a garden gives is a picture of a well-lived life in miniature. There’s the wonder of new life, the excitement of nursing it along to maturity, the satisfaction of its coming to fruition (literally), the pride and pleasure of sharing it with others, and the sweet melancholy of its passing. And there is April at the start of it all. Cruel? Sometimes, perhaps. But let’s not judge too harshly. For all April’s faults, as author Sarah Chauncey Woolsey put it: “Every tear is answered by a blossom,/Every sigh with songs and laughter blent,/April-blooms upon the breezes toss them./April knows her own, and is content.”