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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The No-Bullshit Guys in Politics

I talked with my brother on Skype the other day and he asked what was going on politically/economically in France right now. I gave him a run-down - not much detail because I don't pay as much attention to French politics as American. But we shared a chuckle at the Sarkozy/Obama open mic gaffe where they trashed Netanyahu and my brother said, "I always liked Netanyahu. He's a no-bullshit guy."

Well, I had to disagree, since I'm hating on all the pro war-with-Iran, pro Likud, pro settlements, anti-Palestinian crap that the GOP dishes out (and up until recently, what Dennis Ross and the great American-Israel lobby AIPAC has been advising Obama) and the fact that the crazy religious right in America think that they have to be "Israel's friend" so they can be guaranteed a seat when Jesus makes his second coming and hands Israel back to the Christians. Grrrrrrr. And all the bullshit about "poor Israel... such a tiny country, surrounded by a giant Arab world that wants to completely destroy them... They need our help and weapons and lots of foreign aid!" makes my head explode. Israel is probably sitting on enough nuclear warheads, murderous white phosphorous (that we sold them) and other weapons to completely destroy the Middle East. They also require ALL Israeli adult citizens (men and women) to serve in the military, so they have a ready-made army.

Poor Israel, my ass. (Enter anti-Semitic accusations, stage, er, right)

But what got me thinking was my brother's comment, "no-bullshit guy." This is an American trope, an image of a straight talkin' guy who's direct, succinct, tells it like it is, says what he means and means what he says, doesn't waste your time or his on frivolous conversation, speaks no platitudes, never sugar coats anything, doesn't see gray - just black and white, etc. This kind of guy is revered, he's refreshing. I get it. My brother owns a metals fabrication and construction company. I grew up in the construction industry. It's full of no-bullshit guys. Shit either fits or it doesn't. Buildings either stand or they don't.

Then I thought of Dick Cheney, the ultimate no-bullshit guy. It was his no-bullshit delivery of his neoconservative stance that made me curious about him. I wanted to know why he thought his world view was the only world view. He said it with such force, he must be right. Right?

I thought of another neoconservative, John Bolton. He was openly hating on the UN while he was the US's UN appointee. These guys don't hide themselves. You can go to the PNAC website (Project for A New American Century) and read all about why they wanted to take down Saddam Hussein way back when Clinton was president and why they believe that America must control the Middle East to secure our gas/oil resources. And in line with those beliefs, they all want war with Iran now. Because, of course, Iraq was such a great success.

I like no-bullshit guys too. But no-bullshit guys can be mistaken. Just because somebody can speak clearly and state their position intelligently and with extreme conviction doesn't mean they're right. A good example is my friend Sandee, a former Republican politician, who has always had the knack for making statements with such conviction that you have a tendency to believe her. But one time, after having some cocktails, we walked out to our cars and I noticed that she had mistakenly picked up my car keys off the bar table so I picked up hers and didn't say anything. We arrived at our cars, jabbering away as always, and she started to try to open her car door using my keys. I interrupted her and said, "Sandee, those are my car keys." "No they're not." she said, as she continued to talk and fail at opening her door. "Yes, they are." "No they're not." "Yes they are." "Oh, they aren't my keys. Oh. Ha!"

The many times that she categorically denied the fact that she was trying to use my keys to open her car door made me want to believe her, even though I was standing there holding her keys.

Neocons are no-bullshit guys. They firmly believed that we had to attack Iraq and they still believe that Iraq was a success. They firmly believe we have to attack Iran too. They're eloquent. They have high-level degrees from prestigious universities. They speak with conviction. It's not propaganda to sway the ignorant masses. They don't give a shit about the ignorant masses. They have an agenda and they are going to implement it. Period.

But they're fucking wrong. Don't be misled. They are holding your keys, remember that.

P.S. - The ideal no-bullshit woman doesn't exist. Because women, and their positions, are supposed to be less-than. They are supposed to start every sentence with a qualifier, "I don't know everything there is to know about this, but...". If women are direct and succinct, they're ball busters. Oh, and they're probably gay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's Who and What You Know That Makes a Difference

Yes, my friends, I'm still alive. I haven't written in a while. So sorry. But I'm back from a summer spent in the states and am again enjoying Paris and loving my students.

What do I think about politics these days? More philosophical than disgruntled. I went from angry to disgusted to apathetic. I couldn't write a damn thing. It was all too ugly and so predictable. Corporations run America. I already knew that. They've now run it into the ground. I predicted that. Too many old white men are in politics and have zero connection to their constituents until they need campaign money and votes. After that, fuck you. Politics is about power - the getting of it and the holding of it. And business is about greed. The United States managed to fuck the entire world with useless wars, unapologetic torture and rendition and financial gambling run amok. Dazzled by the sparkly, shiny U. S. of A., other old white men in different countries followed our jack boots into financial and moral crises that would have shocked fiddling Romans, pre-burn. And religion. Ho, religion. Fanatical Christianists want religion (and only THEIR religion) to trump the state and although they consider abortion to be child murder, the moment a child is born it's on its own. As a matter of fact, if that newborn baby doesn't have a job, healthcare or food, too fucking bad. They also have no concerns with killing Iraqis, Muslims or anybody else they decide they should hate. No wonder my previous post was about escaping to an island.

But, what the hell. I'm still here. Might as well make the best of it.

So, the best thing I could do was to look at our current global mess from the standpoint of a Buddhist sage. (I know there's one inside me. I know there is!) Like what the ancient Japanese monk at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Tempe Arizona said when he first heard the news of 9/11: "Through conflict, we get to know one another." Well, now Americans know all about Muslims, or so they think.

I went back to Arizona for the summer because my mother had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, metastasized to her bones. She's 87. My dad is 89 and has probably had most kinds of cancer and is tottering around with a walker, festering lesions of skin cancer dribbling blood, and very, very grumpy about how the dishwasher needs to be loaded. My parents and I always had a difficult relationship and hadn't spoken in two years. When my brother asked if I could come and help him care for them this summer, I wrote a mile-long diatribe about how I couldn't put myself in such a toxic environment and then the next morning, while he was still sleeping, I sent another email saying, "Never mind!"

Here's the deal. I have this mouthy angry leftyness and my parents (and all of my brothers and sisters) are various shades of Republican. There was never any intelligent discourse between us - a mirror of the ridiculous, reactionary, sensationalized, ignorant talk-show punditocracy that America has become. How could I survive four months in such a cesspit? I mean, here are the books on my parents' coffee table:

And with Faux News on 24/7, it's enough to make a lefty like me jump off the nearest mountain.

But, I lived to tell the tale. And I affirmed a few things too. My brother must have told my parents to STFU about politics and religion while I was there. So my mom was super cool and my dad eventually got there, after I figured out a way to get him to take dementia drugs so that he wouldn't yell at me anymore about how I put the milk in the refrigerator (or call Obama "that nigger in the White House").

The thing that really was affirmed for me during this stay was my belief, developed early on while slaving in Corporate America, that customers are won, and kept, one relationship at a time. And in the same way, the world will evolve and get better, one relationship at a time. It's really who and what you know that colors your outlook.

For instance, my mother knows several people of the gay persuasion - her hairdressers, friends of my sister, an artist friend of mine. And because she knows them, she can't relate to the Republican Christianist obsession with banning gay marriage and adoption. "Leave those poor people alone! Let them live their lives the way they want to!" Amen, mom.

I daintily tiptoed into a discussion about my fear of the Christianist right's hijacking of the Republican party and their agenda for making America an exclusively Christian nation. I showed her the whacko people behind Rick Perry's campaign and Prayer Day (Including Robert Jeffress who says the Catholic Church is a pagan satan cult), and to my surprise, my mother said, "I'm Catholic. And we don't proselytize. I don't give a damn if you worship your left toenail, as long as you don't tell me what I should believe in or how I should practice religion. Religion has no place in campaigns or in government." Now this is the woman who hated John F. Kennedy but she also hated how his Catholicism became an issue during his campaign.

My mom told me that if it wasn't for the fact that she thought it was important to vote in the primaries, she'd register as an independent. That's how sick of the Republican party she is. She looks at the current lineup of presidential hopefuls with disgust. It's just as much a circus for her as it is for me. She won't watch "those damn debates" and instead listens to commentary the next day. On Faux News, of course, but oh well.

She also agreed with me that Bush Jr. "spent like a drunken sailor" and that we just need to "bring our troops home from those stupid wars." Ahem.

So, all is not lost. My parents still think that the left hates capitalism and that all they want to do is rob from the rich in order to pay those lazy slackers, the poor. My parents suffer from a strange psychological dissonance that most of the right suffers from - the belief that the rich are cool and some day, they (all the blue collar workers and middle class Americans) will some day be rich too, if they just bootstrap their way up to the mythological "American Dream." And when they are rich, they don't want to be burdened by all those damn regulations that ensure the quality and safety of our food, air and water, nor do they want to pay those terrible taxes that somehow more than 250 of the biggest, most profitable corporations in America don't pay at all.

But even with that, there's still hope. They have a granddaughter who's a teacher who recently said to my sister (her mom), "Sorry mom, if you are a teacher in America, you can't be a Republican." If my parents meet other real-life people, good, honest working Americans who have lost their homes or jobs due to no fault of their own, their opinions may not completely change, but they will be nuanced. Reality won't be so black and white anymore.

I realized through this experience that it's unrealistic for me to think I can carry the burden of the maligned, murdered, tortured and abused people of this earth. I will go crazy (and almost did) looking at the way the world is operating and think that I somehow must change it all. I can only make a difference one person, one discussion, one charitable act at a time. I can have reasonable discourse about issues. I can influence my MBA students to be ethical in their work, to seek careers they are passionate about and that caring about others is not a weakness, but a strength. I can influence the evolution of the world, one friend, one student, one stranger, one parent, at a time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Search of an Island

When my ex boyfriend and I first came to France, we stayed in a friend's apartment who was out of town on tour with his band. We dragged all our suitcases up five floors of stairs and I unwittingly carried a suitcase with kitty litter in it, not knowing that the suitcase was open. There was a trail of kitty litter following me and my boyfriend, exhausted from our long flight, cleaned it up as best as he could before we went to bed.

The next morning, on our way out to grocery shop, we ran into the building busybody and self-appointed concierge. He was furious and yelling at us. My French was pretty limited at the time, but I figured out that he was angry about the kitty litter because it has salt in it and can ruin the wood floors and that he had gotten it on his shoes and tracked it into his apartment. He said he spent the morning mopping the stairs and cleaning his apartment. All I could do was say how sorry I was and listen to his diatribe. He finally calmed down and asked where we were from and I told him the United States. His face changed. Suddenly he was all friendly-like. Thank God. We were able to escape him that morning and from time to time would run into him. He was always friendly, but also strange.

One day, when it was very cold outside, I noticed that all the windows in the stairwell were wide open, on every floor. So, I closed them on my way down the stairs. Of course, he caught me doing it. "No no no!" He cried, as he went back and reopened them all. I tried to remain smiling so as to escape him quickly, but he needed to explain to me why we must keep all the windows open. "It's because those foreigners have moved in," he said with a sneer, "and we have to get rid of their smell." He was talking about a North African family who lived across from him on the third floor. George Bush was still president at that time, so I imagine that Mr. busybody thought that because I was American, I must hate those dark people as much as he did.

It was also the time of the French presidential elections. France has an interesting system where a multitude of candidates can run for president and there is a first election where the two front runners are determined by popular vote. Then a second election takes place a couple of weeks later to decide between those two. The third runner-up holds quite a bit of power, as he decides which of the two will get his party's vote. Sarkozy and socialist Ségolène Royal were the two front runners. Third place was occupied by Jean-Marie Le Pen, an extreme-right conservative and nationalist. Of course, when you hear nationalist, you can just assume that he's anti-immigrant. And of course, you know he threw his votes towards Sarkozy, as a socialist in the presidential seat was unthinkable to Le Pen. Sarkozy, probably driven by his own beliefs and also pandering to the extreme right to maintain their vote, proceeded to cancel social programs intended to calm the troubles in Paris immigrant neighborhoods through partnership and education, and decided to use threats and force to "manage the problems." He promoted police thuggery versus police and public cooperation. Using the fear of the outsider, this time Muslims, to stir up support from the extreme-right's base, he's now instituted a burqa ban. This should please the nationalists.

At the front door of my friend's apartment building a few years ago, after my lesson on the need for open windows and the evils of the darker side of humanity, Mr. Building Busybody started rambling on and on about the elections. It was a natural segue from his hatred of the outsiders (oh and by the way, he was Czechoslovakian or something) to his love for Le Pen. What a big surprise.

Today, as the Republican party in my own country throw candidates like pasta against the wall to see which one will stick, I fear for the 2012 election outcome. With this morning's news about the Wisconsin Republicans jamming through their union busting bill and NPR's chief stepping down because of another "sting" by that snide little bastard O'Keefe, my stomach is turning. But these stomach problems aren't new for me. They started with my disappointment with Obama and the Democrats squandering their 2-year majority and now the cramping sets in as I watch with horror as the religious right and corporate kings take over America and mean-spirited buffoons like Limbaugh, Palin and Beck dominate the media and lead the nation's discourse.

I thought I escaped this horror story by moving to France. But I was sorely mistaken. No matter how much the stereotype of France as a socialist country is accepted by the ignorant and misinformed, the extreme right is on the rise in this country and according to public opinion polls, Le Pen's daughter, Marine, could beat Sarkozy in the upcoming election. Just like Democrats in the US, the socialist party here in France can't get their collective (pun intended) shit together, so I don't see any hope of a candidate of value coming from them. No matter who the candidates are, I've discovered recently, as my French improves and as I am helping an American friend of mine build her legal defense to fight both the kidnapping of her child by its French father and a fraudulent criminal case filed against her by the same person, that the outsider, and not only of the North African variety, is disliked here. This hatred lies in the hearts of the French people and is easily stoked by candidates to win votes.

I met a young girl in her twenties the other day. She's obviously brilliant, speaks several languages - English, French and Chinese - is passionate about soldiers and the making of war and is an avowed neoconservative. We argued about war. I said, "But what about the millions of people displaced and the hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead from the Iraq war?" And she replied that people die all the time from many things, so what's the big deal? She also said that there are far too few of her type of people around. I replied, "No, there are far too many of you." I also met a young girl of the same age who told me that she had lived for a year on an island, just below Thailand, that is dedicated to people living a life of "voluntary simplicity." I hadn't heard that term before. She explained that it's like a societal version of Burning Man. It's an alternative to Capitalism and these people are dedicated to a life that's founded on collaboration rather than competition.

I think I may need to find that island.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Death Panels and End-of-Life Planning

I was living in California when my grandmother, Elsie McIntyre Mitchell, was hospitalized for the last time. My family called me and said that she wouldn't last very long, so I took a week off from work and flew to Arizona to sit next to Elsie in her hospital bed. It was hard to look at her, puffed up from years of Prednizone, osteoporosis making her bones crumble each time she moved. She had been a looker, with shapely legs ending in sling-back toe-less heels, dancing with a harmonica in her mouth as she played Irish ditties. I can still see her eyes get wide and then crinkle into a smile as she watched me watch her bend the notes. I think she was buried in her favorite dress. It was white with little green 4-leaf clovers all over it. She believed in the luck o' the Irish (even though she was British/Scottish) and used to send us out into the fields of her Canadian farmhouse to find 4-leaf clovers and report back with any leprechaun sightings.

After Elsie died, when we went through her books, we found hundreds of dried 4-leaf clovers pressed between the pages.

One day in the hospital, she turned to me and said, "I can't wait to see who you marry." I always used to think that what she said was prophetic, that I would find someone to marry who she would have loved. So far, I haven't been that lucky. Perhaps, while looking for some 4-leaf clovers, I will meet somebody out in a field.

The other thing that she said to me in the hospital, over and over again, was that she wanted to go home. She knew she was dieing and she was miserable in that hospital. She wanted to die in familiar surroundings, in the bed she'd shared with her husband for an amazing number of years. With the smells of every apple pie she'd ever made, still lingering in her kitchen. I felt helpless when she told me this. I wanted to grant her this last wish. But neither me nor my family really knew if it was even possible. Based on what I know now, I would have made it happen.

If Elsie's doctor had taken the time to sit down with her a few months earlier and bring up the difficult subject of how she wanted her doctor and her family to handle the end of her life, she could have made her wishes clear to all of us and perhaps could have spent a few more moments of happiness before she passed on.

It's THIS type of End-of-Life Planning that was a part of the recent health reform bill and it's THIS that became one of the biggest and cruelest Republican lies. Betsy McCaughey, the champion of anti-death panelators, tried to push her bullshit on the Daily Show, of all places, pandering to the audience with flirty little glances and never answering Jon Stewart's questions. She was just adorable. And a big fat liar. She, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the rest of Fux No-News entertainers called the funding of end-of-life planning "death panels" a million times so that the Republican base became thoroughly convinced that my grandmother, instead of receiving vital information that would have eased her mind through her final days, would have been taken off of the monitors, taken off of the drugs, kicked out of the hospital and denied care "because she was too old to spend money on."

For a while, I've wondered why this had to be in the bill at all. Didn't doctors just do this counseling anyway? Elsie's doctor didn't. He was a good doctor too. But we rarely saw him. Maybe he just didn't have time, like most doctors these days who, because of insurance companies, have to shove as many 15-minute patient appointments as possible into one day, in order to make any money. But it's the government that Republicans said they didn't want in between them and their doctor. I guess they prefer those nice insurance companies.

Then today I watched Atul Gawande, a cancer doctor, interviewed on The Rachel Maddow Show and then again on The Colbert Report (I'm kind of uncomfortable with the fact that he's on a book tour but is called in as an opinionator on Maddow and the guy interviewing him pushed his book too. Should that bother me? I dunno.) and I finally understood why this had to be part of a bill.

By legislating that doctors need to be paid for the time they take to help people plan for their end-of-life care, insurance companies would be required to cover expenses for the doctor's time. This would work as an incentive for doctors to a) get educated on end-of-life planning and b) offer this service to their patients. Patients wouldn't be forced to do anything. The doctor would just advise them that there were a few things about dieing that they might want to know, some things they could do that could ease the pain for themselves and their loved ones.

My grandmother suffered in that cold hospital room for a few weeks longer. She was well cared for. But at night, all of us got to go home and she was left all alone. This is a terrible thing, I think. If she had been in her own bed, in her own home, she could have been comforted by our presence and the scent of her familiar life around her. Instead, she finally lapsed into unconsciousness and my mother had to make the decision to turn off the life support and essentially, end her mother's life. My mother has never forgotten this.

End-of-life planning could have helped my grandmother and could have prepared my mother for what she had to do. There are many grandparents who are still alive today, who would benefit from this type of counsel. It's unforgivable that Republicans have purposely lied about and blocked this section of health care reform. Unforgivable. Look at my grandmother's face. Wouldn't you have wanted to help her go home too?

Rest in peace, Elsie Mitchell. I miss you, but I hold the many beautiful things you taught me, close to my heart. There are still as many "damn fools" in the world now as there were when you were here. I don't think any of them know how rare and magical 4-leaf clovers are and there's not a leprechaun in the bunch. But I promise, if anyone ever asks me to marry them, I will make sure they are not just worthy of me, but also worthy of you.