Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Poor man's justice, rich man's justice

If indeed it is true as the New York Post and the Daily Beast report today that associates of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, recently of Riker's Island the the IMF, are trying to buy off the family of his victim, that is both gross and illegal. True or not (and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it were true), the whole incident made me think about Americans' relationship to money and power.

And here's more gross for you: A smattering of cynical commentators on the web advise the victim of this crime to "Take the money...(because) justice is thin soup." This comment, read in The Daily Beast, is not unique. I'd bet that no one who has actually been raped would ever make such an ignorant comment, but I think it's also a symptom not only of how little abuse against women is seen as a real crime and how deluded Americans can be in regard to the value of money.

It is a critical error to suggest that the victim, a Guinean-American chamber maid from a poor family, should accept a payout to drop the charges and it is an error to imply that justice is an individual matter. Society has a mighty stake in the process of meting out punishment for crimes. The prosecution of criminal acts is not a matter of how much one person can get out of it, either in retribution or payout: Rather it is the fundamental process of maintaining a social order that reflects the commonly held values of fairness, compassion and equal protection under the law that are promised to us by our constitution. It is incumbent upon every citizen to understand that a crime against one of us - including immigrant African chambermaids - is a crime against all of us.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a bully and, now, an (alleged) criminal bully. Personally, I am glad he had his perp walk, despite French objections to that American tradition. I am glad he tried out the room service at Riker's Island and, unlike Jack Lang the former French Minister of Culture and Education who simply couldn't understand why Strauss-Kahn had been denied bail because "no one had died" (!), I think he should still be in jail. I consider it a class issue that Strauss-Kahn (like Schwarzenegger and Clinton et. al.) went after the hired help, and for me it is proof of the continuing war against women, especially poor women. I think there should be more perp walks of rich criminals. My only disappointment was that Strauss-Kahn was not wearing an orange jumpsuit! Quelle horreur that would have been, no?

Americans have been hypnotized to act contrary to their own good. I notice how Americans generally complain more vocally and angrily more about crimes committed by poor immigrants than about those committed by the rich ones who breathe the air of hushed executive suites. Americans assume (falsely) that there is some sort of basic difference between them and the folks coming from Guinea to work as chambermaids, while they are more apt to feel a connection with the powerful and wealthy. The categorization of poor brown people as the "real" criminals or the undesirable element (as in Arizona), and our group failure to punish wealthy criminals as they deserve is symptomatic of the American obsession with material wealth and our fantasy of personal power.

The big fat foible of the so-called American middle class is that it has so far failed to realize that by the economic standards of the 1960s, it no longer exists. The American middle class has had the very earth cut out from underneath it, along with its unions and its educational system, while it was distracted by a daily diet of American Idol, Real Housewives and McDonald's. The average American lives with an illusory sense of his own access to wealth and power, perhaps because of the availability of impossibly cheap goods, including a hyper-abundance of granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, but he hasn't figured out yet that he has quietly slipped down into the lower middle class in the last 40 years thanks to -- you've got it! -- the crimes of the very rich. The very rich that they idolize. The irony is nausea-inducing.

As it is, Strauss-Kahn can buy his way out of Riker's which makes him different from the rest of us less wealthy people. If the Guinean chambermaid had stolen something from his room, you can bet she'd still be in jail without bail! It's unfortunate for Strauss-Kahn that he will be fairly unpopular here because he's French, and if there's one thing Americans instinctively dislike (for the wrong reasons), it's French people. Oh, and Jewish people, too. But that's OK, I suppose, because the French dislike us just as much and anti-American sentiment is already brewing (among French men) because of our rough treatment of their guy.

As for the advice from some irresponsible parties to the chambermaid to "take the money and run", I hear the voice of The Big Me in all this. I repeat: Justice is not an individual matter, no matter what the cynics write in commentaries in the Daily Beast. Average New Yorkers (perhaps all cosmopolitan populations) believe everything to be an individual matter, purchasable and available for resale. Maybe living in cubes, wedged in between 7 million other people does that to you. The Ego of the urban dweller is trained to be selfish by the pure inconvenience of city life. In my experience, the average city person sees everything in terms of how it affects Self: Self's personal space, Self's job and Self's commute to work. The reality is the exact opposite, of course. And the prosecution of real justice is not and never should be about Self, but rather about Society vigorously protecting itself from those who do it harm.

Me? I'm breaking up with New York and the illusion that of being a few degrees of separation from money and power is an actual goal or value. No, I'm moving to a humbler place where the public transportation is green and free, where small farmers still have a chance and where, I hope, no one ever suggests that justice is for sale.

Friday, May 20, 2011

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

FF and I have decided to greet The End of Days in a lovely cool, green and blue penthouse hotel suite overlooking the sparkling Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach. This morning, sunshine poured through the glass curtains in the living room, and we rose early. We intend to sit in the nice deck chairs on the balcony tomorrow and wait for raptured souls to pop up out of the ocean like champagne corks.

In the parking garage across from the hotel, we saw a silver PT Cruiser with neat signs in the back window indicating Saturday, May 21 as the date of the Rapture and a web address to which one could refer for more information. We also noticed they had fishing poles on the roof rack. Apparently, if you fear you might not be raptured, fishing poles are good to have so that you can feed yourself and your family until October when the whole Earth will be destroyed.

Personally, if the whole Earth is going to be destroyed, I think it's a bit late for me to take up fishing.

But a lot of people apparently want to survive for those last five months: In bunkers deep in the Arizona desert, or here in Virginia fishing on the beach casting a line with one hand, while fighting off the less prepared with the other. There will surely be those who didn't go to the web site who will want to eat your food after all the supermarkets are looted. Well, I am in awe of the Survivalist spirit of stubborn resistance to the fiery chimera they have conjured up themselves!

Armageddon can be fun!

The eagerness for an imagined end to all things, expressed so publicly and at such great expense not only of money but eventually of credibility and reputation, is something we should all take a good look at. No one can say these folks aren't sincere: Some have sold their homes and quit their jobs though, as FF remarked, being raptured seems like the best excuse ever for taking a sick day.

Why the enthusiasm for imagining us all wiped out, and why such great investment in money and effort in surviving in the aftermath?

When little children are tired of a game, their instinct is to knock all the blocks down, boom! Or sweep all the piece off the game-board, whoosh! Could it be that many Americans are just tired of the game they are playing and have decided that mass destruction by an unseen Deity would be the best way to finish it all off and start a newer, better game?

In a land where Free Will and Liberty are supposedly the bedrock of our body politic and our much-heralded "way of life", it seems clear to me that many people don't want to be free at all. For the best take on this, check out Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom, which is in my opinion the most careful analysis ever of the lemming aspect of human nature. People want to follow, and are terribly disturbed by the thought that "winning the game" (that is, fixing society's ills, improving our human condition, achieving personal fulfillment) will require the kind of work and dedication that they simply haven't got the heart or attention span for. Much better to just start over! Better to just wipe the board clean! Harold Camping, the main "prophet" of this dark scenario, is pretty old now: Perhaps this current End of Times hysteria is simply the extremely powerful projection of Mr. Camping's own ennui and end of life depression?

In my last post about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, I wrote about the Death Pill that Americans seem so eager to take, and I will continue to ponder and write about the morbidity that permeates our culture. Because I wish it were not so. I wish America were happier. Because happy people don't imagine destructive, horrifying scenarios, and don't cheer when people are shot in the head, or get hot and bothered about a number of ugly scenarios that are common content in our popular culture. And yet Death is one of the favorite hobbies of Americans, both in life and on-screen, closely followed by pain, violence, misery and aggression. Why are Americans so unhappy? And how can we get happier?

I promise to think about this, but not today. Today it is sunny, and the glittering ocean calls us away from our seventh floor balcony and bids us to play in the sun! FF and I might go to Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle House for breakfast and then lie by the pool for a little while. We will go to the soft, sandy beach, I will make a sand castle by the sea and, when I am bored with that, I will watch the waves wash my castle all away into the big, wide ocean. And then we'll have a nice nap.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

This week's fun, in print and online

Urban Exile thanks our local Tiny Town county paper for publishing (in lightly edited form) Exile's post-before-last concerning the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. (See page 19 of the electronic edition here.) Exile sent it in, having developed a rather keen taste for seeing her words printed on actual paper, and received this nice little note back from the publisher: "The Herald says nothing about Osama bin Laden but what could we say? What you sent may be what we can say."

I find the question "what could we say?" an interesting and thought-provoking one. Does Tiny Town's local Stag County print outlet somehow feel that this momentous world event doesn't affect us here, that it somehow isn't pertinent to the lives of country squires? Did she think that there was really nothing really to say? Or did she simply not have a personal opinion on the topic? Do we really feel so isolated from the world here in Tiny Town, so very safe from terrorism and the rest of the world's sturm und drang that our response to such events is a genteel silence? I am wondering how many hamlets in the USA are like this, living with a sense of detachment from major world events, because if that's so, the Internet has really failed to do its job.
Somehow there always needs to be a nice dollop of global in your local.

And speaking of the Internet: Exile's very talented and handsome but also fairly obscure mate FF has started to post some of his writing and photography online. (The snow photo above is his.) For fans of poetry, great photography and deep thinking, I warmly recommend The Randall Project. He is looking for your comments, and you might welcome a view from Tiny Town completely different from my own.

In other online news, Exile is rather thrilled to have joined the online community HASTAC. Let's see what kind of cool conversations will ensue! Even cooler, my first comment to a really well written blog by Duke's DeVarney Professor of English and HASTAC co-founder, Cathy Davidson, actually provoked a lengthy and thoughtful response from her. Davidson's article "Has Life Become a Reality Show? And Is That a Bad Thing?" makes some incisive points about online living that are very much worth a ponder. In her response to my post in which I complained about the manipulative effects of algorithms on online relationships, she points to the possibility of deliberate, Dadaist online behavior as a possible route, finding new ways to confound the machine and mix things up a bit. David writes and thinks with the kind of amazing fluidity to which Exile aspires.

That is all, my dears. Exile must be off to prepare student work for the week and face down her Quick Books which has never yet turned out right on the penny.

Remember, walk carefully.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Best Spanish Teacher in Trenton

Apparently I am. The top-rated Spanish teacher in the Trenton area. The truth, of course, is that I never teach anywhere but Tiny Town anymore and while you could consider Tiny Town part of the Trenton area, let's face it: The bus just don't come here anymore.

It's nice to be appreciated, though.

Monday, May 2, 2011

No Time to Celebrate

On this gray day when all the media is awash with news of the assassination of 9/11 architect Osama bin Laden by US Navy Seal Team 6, I am solemn.

I was a New Yorker on Chambers Street the day the Towers crumbled to the ground, but I do not join in these celebrations. I broke up with New York City in part because of an ever-increasing sense of unease at the security risk of living in a densely populated urban area, but I do not join in these celebrations.

I find unseemly and disturbing the jubilation in the streets, the flag waving and the vulgar language on the front pages of certain New York newspapers. I wince as the families of the victims of 9/11 are trotted out (again) on the major networks to admit morosely that justice has been done but to also reassure all of us that their wounds will never, ever heal. I am also wondering, as does Chauncey Devega of the intelligent blog We Are Respectable Negroes how right wing strategists are going to find a way to deny credit to President Obama for this momentous event.

Joy over the death of anyone is a bitter joy indeed. The solemn face of our President as he reported the death of Bin Laden last night might have been a guide for us as a nation, if we respected our elected leaders enough to model ourselves after them. As long as we maintain our passion for revenge, our delight in the suffering and death of people of whom we disapprove, our determination to hang on to our personal wounds as if they were badges of honor, and as long as we continue to rapture in violence and death, we invite Death and War into our homes and hearts.

Inevitably, the Fear Machine is already cranking up in the wake of this "victory". Already the commentators are warning us that alert levels will be higher, and that once again we should fear what comes next. The cycle of Death and Fear, uninterrupted by wiser thoughts and higher consciousness, is never ending. The human ego, which wants everything for Self and has never learned to share, continues to eat the Death Pill despite our professions of Christian charity and belief in eternal life. We remain prideful of our supposed liberty and free will as Americans while still living as unconscious prisoners inside this maximum security facility of Fear and Separateness that we have built for ourselves with our grim celebration of Death and our belief in the rightness and inevitability of Violence Ever After.

It is not just history itself but how we react to it that counts. Are we only able to mourn for our own? Must we celebrate the demise of our enemies? Can you imagine an America filled with generous people, candles lit, praying for the souls of the dead in this battle and remembering with love those lost in the attacks of 9/11? Can you imagine a silence falling over New York City, a thoughtful silence, in all American cities and towns far and wide as we collectively prayed for Peace and the end to assassinations and war? Can you imagine an American public and media awake to their own fundamental role in and individual responsibility for the creation of a world free of hate?

I can hear you scoffing. Don't scoff. That is what the Dark One wishes you to do so that he can keep you incarcerated in the prison you currently inhabit. Do I believe in a Devil, you ask? No, not "just so". But I know that if you want peace, you have to Be Peace, Breathe Peace, Live Peace in every act, every day, and I am certain that the frenzied chest-pounding over the death of Bin Laden is not that.

Is the death of Osama bin Laden a victory? Certainly it is an important victory for the US Armed Forces and the President: A mass murderer has been run to ground. But for global humanity it is a complete failure that we continue to settle our differences this way.