A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Where Are The Springs of Yesteryear?

One of the peculiar things about my mental health condition and, maybe, about the medications which treat it, is the totally flat affect I now feel towards weather. In my imagination and memory I can still see and feel my heart lift on brilliant sunny days in October, where the sky was an impossible blue and the leaves were red and gold; or equally on windy and rainy days in April, with each of the flowering trees perfuming the air 20 feet in all directions; and finally on a true, holiday morning, midwinter snow, where the heavy low clouds and the deepening snowfall muffle the noises of the almost no cars growling in low gear over the, as yet, unplowed streets.

It was as quiet as my little vest pocket metropolitan area ever gets. And I clearly remember loving it with all my heart.

None of these things actually move me now. The day before yesterday I noticed--through the scramble of my brains from my boring, secretive, moderately lucrative temporary work--that the tidy, anonymous, office building in which my employers hide has that same heavy perfume of pink and white flowering crabapples on all sides of you, as a true bonus, as you head toward the security door that only the proper badge will open.

It should lift and clear my heart of the vapors of corporate self-importance and of morally diminutive people fretting over the corporate nonsense which allows them to run up their credit cards and live the same as yesterday through refinancing their house. It used to, but it doesn't.

These days I am liberated from such crabbed, constipated, and cellphone driven fretting by having looked over the edge, into an abyss and, very delicately, stepped a measured three feet back from it, where you can face it without vertigo if not without fear. And the medications even dull the fear.

It is as if the greyest, leaden, soggy, and bone seeping cold has somehow bled into all other weathers, making them as pale and wan as a water color painting deliberately and maliciously swiped with a damp sponge. Everything now is literally paler to my eye, the brightest colors slightly grayed and the milder colors dimmed to, though not past, the point of complete desaturation. Sounds have no real crispness, textures fade to the fingertips, and it feels as if my sense of touch has somehow dissipated into my arms and shoulders, with only a limited amount of it ever reaching my brain.

By dint of sheer will on most days, I have forced myself to overcome the inner brain fog that is the intellect's equivalent to this sensory deprivation. Other than the occasional lapses of transposed letters, disappearing words, or distracability with multiple tasks, I have kept my mind and eyes pretty well honed, even yet, for detailed observation and analysis.

But such skills have much more restricted time limits now [about 4 hours at one sitting] though the extended output of prose on this blog, which mildly surprises even me, is testimony to my success at keeping my mind from rusting in the heavy saturation of my sensory stagnation. The most startling thing to me about my own essays is the sustained length that most of them run to. I don't think they contain much slack or waste. "I made it. It must be wonderful." aside, it seems to me that their length is usually appropriated to the full and fair development of the topic. And, since I seem to have regular readers, someone else must agree.

It's a good thing I think this, or the muffled ache in my fingers after so much typing would keep me away from here at all.

Be that as it may, my sensory and emotional deprivation is a sad thing, like a nausea of and surfeit with, a tasty dish once relished. And, in fact, the sense modalities that seems the least affected by this deprivation are taste and smell. Thank heavens. Good eating is too pleasurable to abandon.

I sometimes entertain the absurd notion that the change is in the world and not in myself. It is a way of renewing the age-old philosophical question of whether, and to what degree, is there an objective world at all.

Whether it is really there or not, it is certainly less to me than it once was. I suppose, in some sense, that this is Nature's way of preparing me to give it all up and leave it all behind.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Nagging Minutes of the Earliest Hour

This is a late night cry in the wilderness. A brain too old, too stressed, and too weary is fighting back with insomnia. The brutality, banality, and hypocracy of the world has triumphed for the moment over hope. For the moment only [I think!] and due to having to sustain total concentration, when I no longer have mental margin, for 8 solid hours, I have lost reason to care about my fellow human beings.

There is a paralysis against evil that is overcoming us all. We are not threatened with death or prison if we protest, if we villify, if we vent our outrage over evil. We don't need to be threatened. We are already imprisoned and this is death-in-life. What we say about the malefactors is irrelevant, so we are now all "good Germans", averting our eyes from the poison gas showers and the cremation ovens by default and not by fear ridden choice.

What seizes me in moments like this is a slice of desire for gotterdamerung. I am tormented with the irrational and horrible craving for the new spike in gas prices to crack the U. S. economy like an eggshell. I rejoice in the gathering battle for humanity which we will soon be waging against Nature, as Nature proceeds to thin our numbers in the most brutal ways imaginable to get some space to rebuild the rest of life on this planet. And the colors I wear at the tailgate party and during the office over-the-weekend game pool are not the colors of Homo Sapiens.

Homo Sapiens needs to learn better. The U.S. public, particularly the one-third of it who cheer this evil on when they have time from talking on their cell phones and driving their SUV's with the oval "W" sticker on them, needs to learn better. And learn the hard way.

These are brain vapors needing release. The bedrock of my vows are unaltered as these vapors clear. But I still have my good and powerful friends, whose pictures I have placed here on occasion, and me and my friends have a particular vow to obliterate the obstacles to true compassion and loving kindness by any means necessary.

By any means necessary.

Though such a thought is sobering, in that thought I take comfort in having such friends.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Checking In Of A Thursday Morning

I have been under the gun. My very secret, hush-hush, job has started up again--the one with a certain company who recently made a very big boo-boo, kept some of their business so secret that they didn't even know about it, and made a very embarrassing splash in the national news. It takes all my evenings, twenty hours worth of work piled on top of the seventeen I have been averaging at my first job, and my bipolar limits [about 24 hours work per week] have been stretched. I even had a full manic episode one day at job one, and didn't get fully back on an even keel until the first hour of job two, which requires my total, and soothing, concentration for four full hours.

I kept the episode under control, concealed enough from my co-workers and the clients to be functional, but I had to, in good conscience, inform my boss. I am in what is known as "sheltered" or "accommodated" work during the day [I am picking up needed extra income at night, while I fight the long fight for Social Security Disability, or I wouldn't push so hard] and, since they cut my mental health needs much slack, I have to keep them current on my actual condition.

That combined with the episode detailed in the post below, where the better posters of the conservative blogosphere finally ceased to be "my good friends" and have become "my adversaries" [but not, I assure you "my enemies"] have kept me too far away from the keyboard here. I have another long piece 3/4 finished, in longhand, but it may take me until the weekend to get it up.

In the meantime, the news once again has been an utter bore. Iran has pushed one step closer to going nuclear, exploiting still further the boneheaded maneuver of George W. Bush in invading Iraq. We are operating from weakness, and like the weak and cowardly everywhere, we are threatening the big things we can do with the strength we have left.

We are, at least indirectly, threatening to use our own nuclear weapons unilaterally. It makes no matter that the Hersh article has been denied by the highest authorities. No one in Iran will believe the denial for the moment, even if it is true. So the threat is out there, and possibly even deliberately so, since the Bush Administration has now kited out the flat out lie that the Iranians can build a bomb in sixteen days! [God Almighty! What will they not assert shamelessly in contradiction to facts, intelligent and informed opinion, and simple common sense?]

Our actual and current military options against Iran are really unenviable. For unless we mount a sustained campaign of conventional airstrikes, spreading far beyond the actual Iranian nuclear facilities themselves to degrade much more of the Iranian infrastructure, and further exhausting our vaunted military resources, we have no assurance that we can do more than delay Iranian nuclear ambitions, and this at the cost of setting the entire popular sentiment of the Muslim world aflame against us.

So, as a result of this, and my own little tussle below, I have finally and fully reached a state of simply tossing my cookies when I contemplate the inane Cult of Personality that my adversaries have built around a President whose smarmy mendacity, defective intellect, and sheer arrogance of attitude renders totally unfit for the highest office of what is still the most powerful country in the world.

It cannot be repeated too often. The current mess simply didn't have to happen. It was manufactured solely by the inept way in which the President has handled Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East, for the past three years.

If they still interest you, you can still access the better Cultmeisters from by blogroll to the left. But they have ceased to interest me. However much I still retain quite a lot of personal liking for most of them, what they are spreading is simply and irredeemably poisonous for this country.

Luckily, more and more of the country is finally waking up to this fact. I am hoping for a Democratic avalanche. But I am confident, at least, of significant Democratic gains, even in the face of the probable, and most transparent, political ploy [already suggested by British journalists who are well-informed, and well-connected to Tony Blair and Downing Street] of attacking Iran immediately before the November elections. I strongly suspect that the shameless louts in the Republican portion of the government have gone to this well once too often, and such a ploy could actually completely backfire in November.

The avalanche is possible. It is within reach. All it would really take is for the national leaders in our party, particularly those in Congress who have more of the press' ear when they speak unilaterally, would more courageously confront the Bush Administration over it's ineptness, its falsehoods, and its genuinely malicious domestic intent.

What my small voice can do to convince them will be added to the virtual chorus, when time, health, and circumstances permit.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

I Appear To Have Created An Immense Uproar...

...over on the blog All Things Beautiful. To the point where the hostess over there, Alexandra Von Maltzen, decided to waste an incredible amount of her own bandwidth quoting from these humble pages and excoriating them. What a pity. I have obviously worn out my welcome, so I won't bother to reply over there. You can go and read it all if you have the time.

If you do, you can tell her for me that I wish her well on the rest of her journey.

The popular success of her blog matters a great deal to her, for she has not reached the point where age and illness teach you that the face of success and the face of failure are the same face, and that, of the two, failure benefits you more. So give her as much traffic as you can, and when time all the awards come round again, vote her up as high as possible.

I am blogger who writes purely for a hobby, to ease the cares of a mind and heart that endlessly watches, watches, watches, and used to be able to roam for hours looking at every detail of land or house or sky, but now must, for mental health's sake, confine his attentions to the simplest, plainest, and blandest things. In the reflections of my thinking and the dismay for what my country has become, I have stepped in the public space of the virtual world to confront the politics which has transformed America into something much less than it was in my youth.

I can do little now to take back what is left of America and try to put it in order. But what I can do is write and what I have done is write rather bluntly, in direct confrontation with those who, for what they honestly think are the best of reasons, have been in the forefront of that politics which has made the America of my youth evaporate, and turned it into the dismay of thinking people in the rest of the world.

As people go, my adversaries are generally good people and not evil people, and, while I have been forthright, I have an obligation to acknowledge all the good that I can in them, and wish them the best, personally, that they can find in this life and the rest of their lives.

So I can say unequivocally that you should read All Things Beautiful for all the good that is in it.

The burden of writing bluntly is that it occasionally gets you into a brawl, from which you can leave with a black eye, if no worse. And I have just emerged from one, which ended at best indecisively, and at worst to my discredit. I'll leave you to judge which, if you care to spend the time on it.

But no one can brawl 24/7, and certainly not I--for I am too old, too tired, and too ill for it. So I must rest for a space and wait for what may be the last chance, in November of this year, for a final and decisive fight to save the last fragments of what is left of the country I once knew.

And if I, and my fellow travellers, lose that fight, I can only wish our adversaries, such as Alexandra, the pleasure of their victory and its fruits. But I do not think such things will last long for them after they achieve it.

I have dropped the burden of clinging to many things, and perhaps someday I can even drop the burden of clinging to what I cared for in the past. For those things have mostly vanished for me without my fully losing the yearning for them: reading, making photographs, writing as a scholar, listening to fine music, working with wood. From gripeing habit it still pains me to think of the pleasure I took in them, though all such pleasure has vanished.

That pain is a teacher, and one of the best teachers I have. It has taught me far more than those pleasures ever did.

The lesson is simple: meetings lead to partings, possession leads to loss, birth leads to death.

Some day, in this life or another, I will be able to act on that lesson without distraction, and, most importantly, without self-distraction, and I will lose that final and painful craving and yearing. In this life, at least, I have learned that it is possible to do this.

Some day, in this life or another, the people whom I have brawled with may get the chance to do this too. I hope they take it, if they do.

And, until then, I hope that life hands them pleasure without depriving them of accomplishing any goal they wish to achieve.

Even if it is merely to be known as one of the best bloggers in the world.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Faces Of Worry And Pain

As an inveterate watcher, I observe very few truly happy people over the age of twenty-five. Hot blood, hormones, and a new day practically force some happiness on you in your youngest adulthood. The new days are still so truly new. But nearly every other face I see is distorted with some fantasy of worry, annoyance, or discomfort--never here, never now, never actually prepared to enjoy a new day, the soft and spicy scent of flowering crabapple blooms, a pleasant lunch, or a good joke.

I make a lot of jokes, for I am happy. I have worries, discomforts, and annoyances, but I know that, ultimately, they do not matter. Ultimately all that matters is the new day. I know this because I have endured financial ruin and penury, as well as deteriorated mental health, and have lived to tell the tale.

I also know this because I have been taught to remind myself daily of my approaching death, and because I have received Buddhist teaching both on how to deal with death and how to make use of life. You can read a little bit about it here.

A mind like mine which is always "on", always watching, always fingering the English language like a favored ring, sees much absurdity both in language and in life--and the jokes I make with friends of co-workers come from this.

A joke is a piece of the present moment. You cannot "get" a joke without being here now and shaking yourself for an instant out of fantasy about the past or anticipation of the future. Getting the joke short circuits both of these.

As a jokester, as a motley fool, and as a mentally ill man [which the King's fools of yore frequently were] I know that the glimpse of the present, the now, is not always welcome or appreciated. Many are afraid of the present. It cannot be manipulated like fantasies of the past or the future. There are no self-chosen roles in the present--hero, victim, bystander. There is no autobiography in the present, only biography. Things happen, you react.

A joke happens and you react. Who reacts? Who are you, alone and nameless, here and now, after deserting your worries, and bereft of a self-chosen role? Where are you other than here? How are you other than involuntarily more alert? What are you, really?

These are the questions we are afraid of when we are suddenly tricked into the present. And our fear of them is the true reason we are not happy, and our faces are so full of pain. Hot blood, and the craving for fun that comes with it, fun in bed, fun in a club, fun in anywhere and everywhere, masks the questions for the young, who frequently venture into the present without fear and are generally, if unthinkingly, happy.

When I greet the young, morning shift, fun bunnies--Diana, Amanda, Jake, and Chet--of Starbuck's--where the fun and happiness are packaged in modular components, reassembled from carefully developed plans for each specific location, and polished up to a well-oiled machine of profit--I get a glimpse of my own now tempered hot blood, fast-flowing hormones, and new days.

Amanda is so continuously full of giggles, smiles, and chirping chatter, that once, when I saw her at a bus stop, with her face fully in repose, I literally did not know who she was, and when I found out, I was stunned to see that she was classically beautiful, with the beauty of dark brunette hair, chiseled profile, and delicately shaped lips surrounded by creamy skin and a faint soft down of body hair. If you are old enough, think of the young Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, and you will have it nailed.

Diana is in the process of deliberately transforming herself, through diet and exercise, from the plump little small-town girl of high-school into the shapely and sophisticated hair-stylist [her "real" job] that she always envied and admired. It's both fun and challenging, and she still is unsatisfied by the shape of her booty. I understand what she's getting at, but am rather taken with it just as it is.

Jake and Ted are working through the tall, lean goofiness of early male youth. Jake is a little further along. He's handsomer, and already has the patina of confidence that comes to a man who knows that a lot of women are attracted to him. Ted still has to contend with glasses, a little bit of late acne, and a more hazy sense of his fully adult style. But both are surrounded by the atmosphere of half-unconscious sexual tension and possibility that working in the close quarters behind the cash register and the espresso bar imposes on all of them.

At those distances the pheneromes are constantly tickling the nose as the four of them rotate through filling the pastry cabinet to manning the register to swishing the steam through the foaming milk and banging the dead coffee out of the pressure locked cup with the hefty black handle.

But since I watch, and watch carefully; since I listen, and listen closely; I know that happiness in Starbuck's is compelled to meet actual corporate standards: how quickly you are greeted, whether your name is remembered and mentioned, when the baristas know it, and whether you have been wished a "nice day" as you leave.

Heidi, the manager of the Starbuck's I frequent, is very much the corporate maven, even at 22, and is always explaining this to job applicants and new employees at one of the tables while I sit in the overstuffed armchair listening to the hip music on Starbuck's own satellite radio channel.

They think of everything.

All this is, perhaps, why you see so very few Starbuck's baristas over the age of twenty-five--there is too much to worry about with the demand to be happy for the sake of the corporation, and worry itself eventually takes the bloom off the cheeriest greeting.

Think about it. How would your day go if you constantly had to ask yourself if you were happy enough?

Heidi herself is what the French call gamine, a little flittering sparrow with a cap of close cut dark hair, a delicate-boned face with a narrow chin, and a head that cocks slightly to one side or the other as she wishes you the nice day. She is friendly, in the classic Starbuck's way, but there is already hanging over her heart the veil of corporate worry.

I very much hope that she moves into middle management quickly. To the eyes of hyperacusis that I own, the strain of store management is already beginning to steal tiny fragments of her happy youth, week in and week out. She has the management skills to climb the ladder. Her Starbuck's is one of the best run that I have ever encountered and is a showpiece of the Starbuck's ethos. But the demand for constant and unwavering happiness at the register or the espresso bar is a harsh taskmaster.

It is sad to think that all these fine young folks are highly likely to become what I see everyday in the lobby of the building where I work or the sidewalks of the street where I catch my bus. To turn into a bleach-blond fortyish woman with a red slash of lipstick on a habitually downturned mouth, totally unaware that the blood red lips make it perfectly clear to the whole world that she is fundamentally unsatisfied with her life and her job. To transform into the balding man with the hunched shoulders in a badly fitting suit too cheap to be enjoyable, wondering if the latest proposal will drop like a lead balloon, just like the last one.

In people such as these I see the heros, villains, and bystanders of ten minutes ago, ten hours ago, ten days ago, ten years ago. I don't really see anything else except a body slowly stiffening into a permanently unhappy old age. And I certainly don't see the least hint of what they were at the age of my favorite baristas.

Essentially, we are what we worry about. But if we learn that our worries are futile, we can finally stay long enough in the present to truly become ourselves. I have taken a vow to cultivate endless compassion and loving kindness toward anyone I encounter. Hence I use my fertile mind, and the still mercurial moods of a medicated bi-polar, to make people laugh.

I know that behind the laughter is great fear, and that constantly terrifying people with themselves may not appear all that compassionate. It really is. And to refrain from it merely because convention says not to frighten people, even with laughter, is what my teachers very literally call "idiot compassion".

In my life, no "idiot compassion" need apply. Since my young friends behind the espresso bar, can see that I am with them in the present when I walk in the door, ready to savor the real happiness, for all it being carefully planned and corporate, since it is truly their youthful happiness, I look and behave toward them like few my age.

I look and behave like Joe Claus, just as I do here, with a deadpan face and a twinkle in the eye since I smell the pheneromes, too.

Add to that my bushy grey beard, my leather wrapped cane with the three blue beads dangling from it, an occasional daffy hat, and my Buddhist prayer beads that are commonly wrapped around my left wrist--ready for me to sit quietly somewhere else in the building and do some Buddhist practice--and I am, for the kids, a "character" who undoubtedly is laughed at, gossiped about, and cherished for eccentricity, when he is not present, and the trade at the cash register slows down.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

And The Evening's Smorgasboard

In my state there is a wonderful, waistline bulging, restaurant chain called Der Dutchman. The theme, and the cooking is Amish, of which we have a considerable number in Ohio. So park your buggy, tuck your knapkin in your shirt like a bib, and sit down to Chicken and Egg Noodles, Ham with sweetened apples, slow simmered green beans, fluffy mashed potatoes, and pecan pie:

[On Conservative Tribalism]

Define yourself as the tribe of “us”, and, of logical necessity, everybody else must be THEM. There is no need for “me” to regard everybody else as anything but everybody else, in all their bewildering diversity and variety.

The problem with “us” is that there is no reasonable way to argue that you, Anchoress, me, Gerard Vanderleun, and John Kerry are part of the same “us”.

“Us” has some very distinct limits and they are hardly congruent with the entire American population of responsible citizenry. Of course, I do notice that “us” is inclined to argue that they, in fact, do constitute an overwhelming majority of the American population, or the adult and responsible population, or the loyal and patriotic population.

And this despite all evidence from popular vote totals in Presidential elections, repeated polls by responsible polling organizations, and so forth.

THEM, of course, make their numbers appear to be so many by controlling all but a handful of the dozens of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and electronic media outlets. These amplifiers are very efficient at making the 500,000 or so of THEM look like millions more.

Speaking personally, I have belonged to no man’s tribe since the day I was born. Three-quarters of my mind and heart was locked away even from my family, who now have left for good, and all my various sets of friends have dissolved away like last January’s snow.

I will leave the world as I entered it–naked and alone. And, I might add, with no regrets about that fact.

For everybody else, in all their diversity and complexity, is a far greater gift from life than membership in any communal meeting of minds and views. And constant warfare on the boundaries of the tribal territory is a bore.

[On The Immigration Fracas]

There is absolutely nothing that is “un-American” about permitting massive immigration into this country. There is also nothing that is “un-American” about shutting such immigration down.

In the first three decades of the last century we did both.

What is actually going on is the gradual return of both the same conditions for the poor as were present on the Lower East Side of New York between 1900-1930 and the same conditions for the rich that were present on the Upper East Side during the same decades.

What is required for this is a massive surplus labor pool making the labor market solely a buyer’s market and allowing wages to be hammered down to the lowest level possible, even if it is truly impossible to live solely on those wages alone.

Whether this is done through “illegal immigration” or “guest workers” is really of no importance.

The only important question to be asked is cui bono?

Guess who.

I would add to this that the fracas is the largely result of incredibly deep hostility toward the Mexican immigrant population by the stalwarts of the Evangelical Republican Base, who generally represent the nativist strain in America dating back to the Alien and Sedition acts [sound familiar, fellow Patriots?].

The smooth puppet manipulators of the Noise Machine would be salivating over this as a "wedge issue" if it didn't cut across the interests of the corporate financial backers, and if the hostility were more widespread. Hence Bush and his Guest Workers. If I read the sentiments among ordinary people correctly, the immigrants themselves, legal or illegal, have a fair amount of sympathy personally, however worried most people are about them for other reasons.

So I'm glad to finally see the wedge stuffed vertically in the location where it really belongs.

[On an utterly unbelievable (!) two posts by the Anchoress about Global Warming, Bill Clinton, and Lucifer the Son of the Morning]

The Anchoress: And note, the press never refers to him as “former” President Clinton. Never. Illusions upons illusions. Misdirection upon misdirection. It’s how they work, these days. The Clintonian method.

Watch him closely - he is all over the place, in a new country, a new town, everyday - flown everywhere on private jets - he is the Prince of the Air, looking down upon the earth, surveying it all and laying claim, now India, now New Zealand, now Indonesia, now London, now Greenland. Moves are being made. A game is afoot.

Joe Claus: Oh, for crying out loud! I’m a literary bloke myself and I know what “Prince Of The Air” means. Do you seriously think that about Bill Clinton? Or that Tony Blair has no mind of his own and is under Clinton’s magic and evil control?

By the way, I’m completely bewildered by your “this deal” link. I couldn’t find anything about Clinton owning a newspaper anywhere in it. Did I miss something? Or is that just some more Clinton misdirection? Apparently the "revolution" is world-wide, also, and his evil power extends over dozens of sovereign nations.

Ah, me!

Hey, you live on Long Island. Will it take the water lapping up on your front porch to convince you?

Of course, an obvious liberal rag, under control of the DLC and the Clintonistas like Scientific American, is probably not the best of evidence, nor is the professional journal Science, since the people who publish in it work in those hotbeds of revolution, the Universities.

Be that as it may, I know what it took to convince me. I have watched first and last frost dates in my town for forty years. My parents had extensive spring gardens, always under threat of frost, and grew fall chrysanthemums for show, also a major frost risk.

I have seen the expansion of the growing season here by 3-5 weeks on the average, I have seen the change in bird migration times and patterns, and I have watched the increase in the number of midwinter thaws from one, at best, to now, commonly, three. But, then, I’m just an unsophisticated and rustic sort of fellow, and not the best judge of matters like this.

I’ll repeat my question without the witty trimmings: What would it take to convince you? This is worth thinking about. There are so many things we take on trust from science because we cannot check them ourselves. I mean what I say about applying my own observation to the problem.

The impeachment of science, any science, for what are clear political points of view has profound implications for how we are going to run this country and whether we run it off of a cliff.

I once heard Bill O’Reilly cut a guest off because what he was presenting was “liberal facts”. Are their really liberal facts and conservative facts? Is there really a liberal science to be contrasted with a conservative one?

One of the real errors we make is to think of ourselves as beyond nature. We aren’t. We are just as much part of nature’s process as anything else. So, yes, this global climate change is “natural”.

But, "natural" or not, in certain governmental quarters the change itself, simply doesn’t exist, Greenland's ice isn't actually melting, and we do not have to do anything to respond to it. So I presume that from the government’s point of view there really is “liberal science” to which it need not pay attention.

[On America, Poverty, and Economics]

The Anchoress: Five million jobs in 30 months, and it’s still a “Rodney Dangerfield Economy” that can’t get no respect. No one wants to be its friend. Half the country denies it exists, even as they drive their shiny new cars to the restaurant to drink $8.00 cocktails after drinking the $4.00 coffees all day at work. After buying the latest CD, after seeing the latest play, after picking out their spring wardrobe, after planning this year’s vacation(s).

According to the left, we’re in the worst economy ever, much worse than the Carter economy, with double digit inflation and unemployment. We’re all out of work, we’re shoeless and homeless, we’re on bread lines. We’re selling apples on the streetcorner…and yet somehow, all of these poor people have computers and iPods and blackberries with which to complain about it, kvetch and organize “protests.”

Joe Claus: Let me be blunt. This is a bunch of horsefeathers if you are talking about anywhere outside of the New York, Boston, or Washington metro areas.

Out here in the hinterlands we have quite accurate, fast, and reliable feedback about how are local economies are doing, much of it from our local newspapers. We have it because a plant closing or a steep rise in mortgage forclosures [both very prominent features of the Ohio economy at the moment–many of them from exactly the same re-financing boom which you are celebrating] has a real and profound effect on metro areas of 1-2 million people while it’s equivalent simply vanishes without a trace in the massive economies, largely propped up by stock speculation, of the BosWash corridor.

And every drop of “good news” in the broader economic picture is featured on the Business pages for anyone who cares to read. Most do. We read our local newspapers thoroughly and religiously.

What of the hinterlands, then? The economy is anemic at best, dreadful at worst. Why? Because our measures are the following: real take-home pay; gasoline prices and their corresponding effects on goods prices–particularly food; rents and house prices; consumer debt levels; and health insurance costs. We are also extremely tuned in to the flat out disappearance of things like long term pension funds and the gradual squeezing away of all work-related benefits.

They are sensible measures, which directly impact the majority of ordinary people out here, who are already employed and remained so throughout the early 2000’s. Unemployment figures mean little or nothing to them. And they are measures which have placed ordinary people outside of BosWash under steadily increasing economic stress since the year 2000–particularly gasoline prices, rents, and health insurance.

Virtually every one of these quite sensible measures have shown absolutely no responsiveness to the “boom” which you are describing. Wages have stayed flat, gasoline costs and rents have steadily climbed as more and more of us have been priced out of the housing market and automobile commuter times and distances have gradually increased, pensions have been regularly imploding as part of the “greater productivity” of the American workforce [it used to be called “sweating”], and consumer debt levels have ballooned as most of us rely more and more on credit [both plastic and home equity loans] to maintain a non-contracting lifestyle under these circumstances.

And, by the way, a contracting lifestyle in the hinterlands generally means a significant decrease in your employability as well as your standard of living. So advice to “be more frugal and borrow less” is not greeted with much enthusiasm. The New York Times, or the Democratic Party have nothing new to tell us about our own situation. Neither does the Bush Adminstration. But you can bet that in November 2006 we will have a considerable amount to tell them. The “right track”--”wrong track” questions measure quite well-informed opinion outside of the circle of local readership of the major papers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington.

And it was largely not the people in that fine BosWash corridor who put Bill Clinton in office, either.

The Anchoress: The fact is, I grew up outside of the BosWash corridor and have friends of every stripe - in every sort of profession or “job” - all over the country. Not all of them are educated. Very few in fact are “professional” people. And they all think the economy is doing pretty well. Their lives are good. They’ve got slices of the American dream and don’t think everything is crap. And yes, some of them are even Democrats. Moderate dems…but still dems!

Joe Claus: Of course it is perfectly possible to be satisfied about the situation here in Columbus, if your paycheck is stable, you have enough discretionary income to handle rising fuel costs, your job is secure and still covers part of your health insurance, and you are not near forclosure!

It was perfectly possible to be equally satisfied with it at the worst point of the economic cycle in 2001-2002, since the bad things about it didn’t personally touch you.

Many people who are not “rich” have these even in the worst of times. The key to the matter is “discretionary income”. You do not have to be rich to have this, but below a certain income level you simply do not have it. The inelastic demands for food, shelter, energy, transportation, and health care rob you of it.

You may indulge in a cup of fancy coffee now and then, but you certainly don’t buy Blackberrys.

If you are virtual at all, you are running Windows 98 on a computer you scored for a song at University surplus and a keyboard and monitor you scored the following Tuesday at the same place.

Trust me. I know this from personal experience.

I said this a little down the roll, but I’ll repeat it. We are becoming two Americas–one with discretionary income and insulated from economic downturns, and the other without discretionary income bounced from truly flush times sustained by working so much overtime that you hardly do anything else [even sleep] to truly bad times in the unemployment line, flipping burgers, or working at Wal-Mart, and in all three cases on Food Stamps, Home Heating Assistance, and [if you’re lucky] Medicaid.

That is the real American underbelly and not “selling apples on the street”.

And the real outrage and tragedy is that, by and large, the wall between these two Americas has steadily gotten higher and thicker. It is still possible to climb over it. But it is becoming slightly less possible to do it with every passing year. And even “slightly less” accumulates into something significant given enough time.

Don't forget to put some of that good, Amish, clotted cream in your coffee!

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