January 22, 2008

nonplussed means something else

1/22/08

We're sitting atop a mountain here at Mammoth, waiting out a pretty good snowstorm for a day of skiing tomorrow, as we take a very rare two days away from Lucy. I know many parents feel the inexorable need to get away from the baby/toddler vibe every few months, and I totally get it, but Tessa and I have never had that jones. It's an interesting thing when we actually do it - we slip comfortably back into our 2-person fightin' unit almost immediately upon leaving, but there is also the concomitant longing for the sweet li'l Punkinpants.

Normally, I don't write anything when we take these trips (or get my family members to do it, as Michelle did wonderfully yesterday) but the news is so bad in almost every corner of this country, that I wanted to make a little sounding board to see if any of you were feeling despondent, you know, in the general sense.

If the stock market loses 500 points in a day, it's a crash - but if it loses 1,580 points in three weeks, what do you call it? The housing market is a disaster for anyone not living in LA, NYC or the moon. Iraq is still a bloodbath - nothing can possibly improve while that cruel monkey is in the White House, and the two hopes for the future - Obama and Clinton - won't stop arguing about irrelevant horseshit.

I understand the irony of saying these things, all the poetry and hypocrisy, while on top of a resort mountain. And I confess I used to have a schadenfreude about bad news in America, as it made me feel better having been right about George M.F. Bush. As each successive horror of his Presidency was unleashed on those who voted for him, I would say, like Lady Montague, "give them the gout! give them the stone!" Those days have long passed. It is all too close to the jugular now, and besides, we want to raise kids in whatever resurrection we can muster.

I remember the summer of 1986, the bright beaches, crazy colors and exceptional pop music. I recall the fall of 1992, when it looked like Bill Clinton would be elected, and how those of us in college felt so hopeful. I sure as hell remember the spring of 1996 and the summer of 1999, and how the internet was going to change everything, how technology would surely save us, and how the tide of money lapped into the living rooms of even our least-organized compatriots.

Now we live in darker days, cocooning, anaerobic, unconnected. Sure, on a day-to-day basis, there is always room for joy and occasional ecstasy, but I think we all know how this era will be remembered. The mathematicians say that tomorrow, January 24 is always the most depressing day of the year. Dare I ask if the country gets better starting Friday?

Posted by Ian Williams at January 22, 2008 11:15 PM
Comments
Posted by: LFMD at January 23, 2008 5:04 AM

Honestly, I am too self-absorbed these days to be despondent about the country in general. It's like the Serenity Prayer, you know? What I can and can't control and grant me the wisdom to know the difference. I will try to save my $$$, vote when the time comes, recycle, etc.

That said, I cried this morning when I heard about Heath Ledger. So sorry for his family and little girl. Did you ever run into him in your Park Slope neighborhood?

Posted by: cullen at January 23, 2008 5:38 AM

Ian, just got back from Summit Co., CO. and the skiing was great there albeit frigidly cold. Hope ya'll's is great and not all arses and elbows; will Lucy be lighting up the wee ski school with her lil' rays of sunshine? Space not speed dude and look out for those wicked boarders with the sloppy slope etiquette.

Posted by: jason savage at January 23, 2008 5:49 AM

I live in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and frequented the same coffee shop as Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, who lived about three blocks away. He seemed utterly low-key (as does she) and very respectful of the quiet vibe of the neighborhood. He even nicely held the door for me once as I tried to balance a latte and two shopping bags while exiting. That shouldn't be worth noting, but it does seem that our expectations for celebrities are awfully low, and he went against type (as a neighbor, at least).

Posted by: DFB's&T's at January 23, 2008 6:33 AM

Ian -- You know I love ya', but sometimes it is hard to take you seriously. I am sure you, like all of us, have your share of problems and gripes, but is your life really so glum?

Compared to your life in 1986:
1. multiple nice homes
2. travel around the country and world regularly
3. super-duper daughter
4. fabulous wife
5. better than decent income/resources
6. world-class vacation while poverty-struck colleagues are on strike
7. By-products of the evil pharmacy empire help you with your various physical and emotional afflications.
8. Favorite basketball team is doing quite well.
9. Democrats control Congress although they have done nil and their polling numbers are smaller than GWB
10. Stock market, over the past few years, is on a clear upward swing (there are always good days and bad days, but you must look at trends unless you are a silly day-trader).

I am not going to dog your intentions because, frankly, I recognize that I also have many of those 10 items: I am making more money than I deserve, have a better wife and 2 sons than I deserve, etc. But, on behalf of many of the folks that don't share in your delightful Top Ten, shut the hell up!

Love,

Dean

Posted by: Sean M at January 23, 2008 7:20 AM

Friday's my birthday -- so yes, the January 24th doldrums will be turned away. I'll insist upon nothing less. :-)

Posted by: Piglet at January 23, 2008 7:38 AM


Nope. Not Friday.

January 21, 2009. That's when the country starts getting better. We can suck it up until then.

Posted by: kevin from NC at January 23, 2008 7:41 AM

I am most concerned about what our president is doing while everyone is focused on who will be the next president. No one is following the president right now... I wonder what master stokes he is making toward his final legacy. He has 350+ days to get it all done and those days will be shrouded in a distracted populace. It is very scary.

We have been through economic periods like this before and we will again. The economy is cyclical and always will be. That being said, it does seem that the economy for the most part has been poor save the equity markets since he took office. Notice how when the equity markets start to erode that the government finally gets interested in doing something?

Posted by: Claudia at January 23, 2008 7:59 AM

My external-state-of-affairs thoughts tend to focus more on dire situations in countries other than the U.S., but I can sympathize with feeling generally despondent and crappy. I had been feeling that way myself for the past several months, for no really good reason. Then, one morning, the opportunity to help a perfect stranger in my own city with the most difficult challenge of her life fell right into my lap. I almost said no--it's far easier to sit there and ruminate, even feeling despondent, than to get involved in the life of someone who cries out loud for very real reasons. But there is no better reality check on earth. And the opportunity to offer tangible comfort to one distressed individual is extremely meaningful to me. I highly recommend channeling generalized bad feelings into practical help on a personal level; you will feel much better about life and humanity.

Posted by: craighill at January 23, 2008 8:26 AM

"As each successive horror of his Presidency was unleashed on those who voted for him..."

don't you mean unleashed on those who DIDN'T vote for him? wouldn't it be hard to argue that republicans think W is more "horrible" than the democrats?

for what it's worth, just about everyone i know has had a pretty damn good 7 years, republicans and democrats alike.

i mean, come on - you're on a chairlift 30 minutes away from an irish coffee. are things really so bad?

Posted by: Rebecca at January 23, 2008 9:00 AM

Jesus Christ. Some people just don't get it. It makes me want to weep.

Posted by: Rebecca at January 23, 2008 9:02 AM

P.S. Just to be clear, I'm talking about the comments, not Ian's post. Clearly I'm feeling despondent!!

Posted by: Ian at January 23, 2008 10:09 AM

*sigh*

Every time I write about how hard things are for so many people in this country, the conservative commenters tell me my opinions are worthless because things are going well for me personally. Honestly, I just don't understand you guys - just because your mindset (and politics) limits your ability to feel empathy, why do I have to follow suit?

By the same logic, white people should never fight for civil rights, men should never care about the rights of women, and straight people should ignore the way gays are treated in America - after all, it's going great for us, the white, straight men!

The well-to-do, the enfranchised and the lucky are EXACTLY the people who need to be doing something. They're the only people with the ability to make change, and if anything, their motivations should be respected, because these changes almost always necessarily cost them some amount of power.

sheesh

Posted by: connor beach at January 23, 2008 10:37 AM

Well, please, Ian, you can't really believe that conservatives lack empathy. We empathize completely with the folks struggling to keep their small businesses alive while having to pay the gov't a backbreaking amount of their income. We empathize for the entry level workers who will lose their jobs (at both large and small companies) as the economy slows due to the ever-growing federal government. We empathize with everyone trying to improve their lot by working hard, whether at the top or bottom of the pay scale.

The market is in a correction. Such is life.

Posted by: craighill at January 23, 2008 10:40 AM

damn. sorry to make people cry and sigh. i just believe things are better in this country than most people do.

re. your comment about white, straight men...do we not have a black man and a woman as the two front runners for the presidency? seems to me that should be mentioned alongside the lack of civil and women's rights progress comment.

my post clearly had the opposite of it's intended effect. was supposed to be a glass half full kind of thing. (of irish coffee...)

Posted by: caveman at January 23, 2008 10:59 AM

I kindly request that you refuse to ever shut the hell up.

I also kindly request that we beat the ever-loved, mother$#@%%%^& shiite out of Dook. Now I must return to my cave and my continuous loop of Cherub Rock-I've Got the Feeling-Highway to Hell-Daniel- from now until Feb 6th.

Posted by: Jody at January 23, 2008 11:20 AM

Plan, and live for the best-
Prepare for the worst.

Help when you can, but there are not many people who are willing to accept rational help.

Craighill: I'm not sure if you work with the 'working class', but I have shared the same opinion as Ian (Ian and I are distanced politically, for the most part). I have very blue collar people working for me who voted for Bush because they love Jesus, no joke, they told me often. Some of them now find themselves divorced, with children, junkie ex-spouses, expensive or no insurance for their kids, family members dead in Iraq, house trailers loaned up on 'equity' and driving large trucks for no good reason - they're not farmers or contractors.

They have very stressful lives, there is usually no gray area. I certainly do not experience schadenfreude while thinking about them, but I have noticed that diminishing services have had a serious impact on their lives. Their ignorance has been used against them. Their belief in God and Country have a very abstract impact as they walk out the door into their life every day. They don't really understand Iraq beyond 9/11 but there are subtle impacts on their life-

An example: "the materials for my deck are too expensive because we're sending all of our good shit to rebuild Iraq for a bunch of sand niggers".

Sounds cliche, I hear things like this weekly.

My reply: "Bush, how ya' like him now?" They don't. I think they got exactly what they voted for, the philosophies started off as a great partnership and Bush lied about most of his end of the deal and thorougly succeeded in keeping good on other parts.

BTW: my crews and I work for the government, there's not a lot I can do for them except be flexible in their scheduling.

Posted by: KTS at January 23, 2008 11:40 AM

To answer your question, No. Things are going to get a lot worse before they bottom out.

Posted by: xuxE at January 23, 2008 11:46 AM

"small government" is a euphamism for "corporation-run government". that is the problem with the right wing view of economics.

there is a strong case being made right now that global financial market meltdown is ensuing, because of the excesses of wall street and unregulated financial services gone wild with greed.

the only way you can solve economic problems of a huge scale, and reign in corporations, is through federal government intervention. the government is there to actually manage the business of the country, and they have royally screwed it up for the masses. they funded a war we couldn't afford for no good reason. they provide one-time income tax rebates designed to incentivize consumers to spend. they turn a blind eye to predatory lending and credit card loan sharking which incites consumers to borrow money they can't afford to pay back at interest rates of up to 30%. and they are completely silent about the supposed "rating agencies" who have a huge conflict of interest with the issuers of the subprime debt tranches they *miraculously* rated as AAA when in fact it was crap.

middle class tax breaks don't fix these problems -big government does.

the whole small vs. big government thing is a soundbyte designed to get a knee-jerk reaction out of free market advocates. but what we are experiencing now is a direct result of free market mayhem gone unchecked by the government.

so here we are with this bleak future, where budget cuts will kill the shred of money still available for public education, our primary infrastructure assets are being sold to private companies, our national banks are being purchased by foreign investors, and our national debt owed to the rest of the world is starting to make us look like a bretton woods borrower.

even if you don't look at it in terms of compassion, but in terms of capitalism, the government needs to be big to manage human capital as well as financial capital. because jaded veterans without health benefits, an increased homeless count, bankrupt former homeowners, credit slaves, increased corruption and crime due to poor quality education and recession look to me like a recipe for a burgeoning favela population totally ripe for the rise of fascism.

Posted by: Heather at January 23, 2008 12:03 PM

So Ian, I am going to have to disagree here, outside from Heath Ledger dying, things in the world seem great. Britney made her court date. Oh, it is sad that Fred Thompson dropped out of the race. What a great leader! You know, maybe if I take enough Lithium the monkey will turn in to a prince. Dont be such a Negative Nelly! Hugs, Heather.

Posted by: Andy at January 23, 2008 12:48 PM

I will feel a lot better if the Heels can get back on track tonight against Miami, but I have this odd feeling it's not going to happen.

As for the political crap, my fear is that Huckabee falls into the Republican nomination somehow and goes up against either Hilary or Obama. I just don't trust a large percentage of Americans to step into the voting booth and NOT say "I ain't votin' for no woman/n-word." That would just about put me over the edge.

Posted by: Rebecca at January 23, 2008 1:05 PM

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said
"Don't look for the guys who created the problems to fix them"
Politicians are not going to bite the hands that feed them, so the corporations will continue to do as they please unchecked for the most part.

Posted by: Onceaheel at January 23, 2008 2:03 PM

Today's comments jive with a number of thoughts running through my head as I enjoy the current season of "The Wire". I'll leave it to David Simon to explain its underlying theme for those that don't watch...

“Every single moment on this planet from here on out, human beings are worth less, not more: less!... We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital...to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we...can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual...I have great doubts...We (America) haven’t figured out the answers to these questions… The institutions in which they serve...are indifferent...to their existence.”

“I didn’t start [out] as a cynic... but at every given moment, where this country has had a choice...its governments...institutions...corporations, its social framework...to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered Capitalism. Capitalism has become ‘our God...’ You are not looking at a Marxist up here...But you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that Capitalism [can work] absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy...[Capitalism] has to be attended to. And that [this attending] has to be a ‘conscious’ calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed...” If it doesn’t succeed, Simon predicted, “You are eventually going to have the gated communities and the people inside saying: ‘Isn’t it a shame you can’t drive downtown anymore.’ That is where we are headed...[towards] separate Americas...Everywhere we have created an ‘Alternate America’ of ‘haves and have-nots...’At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.”

“I believe in capitalism as the only viable motivating force to create wealth. But I believe that there have to be certain social frameworks that allow for a distribution of a share of that wealth throughout the classes… That is not to say that I think they should get an equal share. Or “to each according to his needs.” The impulse towards Marxism is not there. But I do believe that raw, unencumbered capitalism, absent any social framework, absent any sense of community, without regard to the weakest and most vulnerable classes in society – it’s a recipe for needless pain, needless human waste, needless tragedy, and ultimately a coarsening of our society.”

Whether you subscribe to these conceits or not, I find no shortage of relevancy in many of the arguments presented here. Like Dean and Ian and I suspect most of the frequent readers of this blog, my life is pretty good and quite frankly most everyone I know, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, male or female is generally speaking doing pretty well too, probably better than they were 7-10 years ago, certainly by many of the measuring sticks Dean listed. But then again, I'd wager that none of us are from that "Alternate America".

Eventually though we are going to have to ask ourselves: Is it enough that I, be it by birth/fortune/industry, made out okay? or am I charged, be it by conscience/religion, to serve my neighbor in need? Who is my neighbor? Does he/she even live in my neighborhood? Beyond that, can we rely on any institution, be they political/corporate/religious, to effect meaningful change beyond the edification of the institution? or rather than solely tilting at windmills, can we best combat our personal despondency through taking individual responsibility to help someone though we cannot help everyone?

At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to deify Simon, I'll again steal his words as I think they're worth considering here:

"Writing to affirm what people are saying about my faith in individuals to rebel against rigged systems and exert for dignity, while at the same time doubtful that the institutions of a capital-obsessed oligarchy will reform themselves short of outright economic depression... or systemic moral failure that actually threatens middle-class lives... The Wire is dissent; it argues that our systems are no longer viable for the greater good of the most, that America is no longer operating as a utilitarian and democratic experiment. If you are not comfortable with that notion, you won't agree with some of the tonalities of the show. I would argue that people comfortable with the economic and political trends in the United States right now -- and thinking that the nation and its institutions are equipped to respond meaningfully to the problems depicted with some care and accuracy on The Wire -- well, perhaps they're playing with the tuning knobs when the back of the appliance is in flames... Camus rightly argues that to commit to a just cause against overwhelming odds is absurd. He further argues that not to commit is equally absurd. Only one choice, however, offers the slightest chance for dignity. And dignity matters."

*quotes can be found at:

http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/01/david_simon_and_the_audacity_o.php

http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/40742#TheWireHBO

http://undercoverblackman.blogspot.com/2007/01/q-david-simon-pt-1.html#TheWireHBO

Posted by: Annie at January 23, 2008 3:32 PM

I confess to being mightily curious about Claudia's unexpected samaritanship--Claudia, would you be willing to share that story? If not, totally understood and respected. Thank you for sharing your insight today.

Posted by: Santiago at January 23, 2008 3:36 PM

Up your meds, man! Why must you always focus on the dark cloud around your (sizable) silver lining.

I miss the guy who once wrote a weekly DTH column. I'm out. I shan't read the blog again, unless it's for a post that the wife finds particularly amusing--and apolitical.

Posted by: Rebecca at January 23, 2008 3:46 PM

Raise your hand if you're going to miss Santiago.

Anyone??

Posted by: Janet at January 23, 2008 3:53 PM

(M+B+P)-(ND+JPO)=WD

(M)Me (B)Birthday on the 23rd January (P)Party
(ND)Next day (JPO)Janets' party over (WD)World
depression.

Or you could see it like this,

where(DLTSGTY)=don't let the shit get to you

Posted by: Ian at January 23, 2008 4:16 PM

Santiago - Let me be the first to apologize for not being 19 anymore. Should someone send you a notification email in case I start being constantly hilarious again?

Posted by: xuxE at January 23, 2008 4:29 PM

funny, i was wondering what happened to santiago after project runway. those Tim Gunn impersonations were the bomb. "Andre? Andre!!"

fashion designers are so tempermental, just ignore the comment, he must be in a *mood*.

Posted by: tregen at January 23, 2008 5:02 PM

*sigh*

Posted by: xuxE at January 23, 2008 5:38 PM

but anyway, i absolutely agree with the David Simon thesis.

and i think it's morbidly fascinating to compare the so-called "developed" vs. "developing" countries in terms of their response to economic disparity and social unrest in the context of the rise of capitalism. there is such inherent racism and classism in terms of our country's self-view vs. the way we view the rest of the world as some kind of *other* world, far removed from our own supposed beacon of integrity.

there is a sense of entitlement here in the US and a sense that the problems facing "developing" countries can never happen here.

but i think that rampant government corruption, abject poverty and starvation, hyperinflation, and civil unrest are absolutely close to home right here where we all live, it's brewing right on the other side of our gated communities, but we are reluctant to self-examine our own segregationist behavior and clean up our own lives.

i think the liberal white academia is much to blame from being well intentioned but with their heads up their asses, focusing on politically correct speech and such, and other types of talk that supposedly show respect toward others but are really a lot of talk with very little action.

i am particularly jaded having moved from san francisco to oakland, where the polarization based on wealth and race is extreme while at the same time the talk of progressive liberal politics and unity is virtually unmatched compared to the rest of the country. an extreme hypocrisy lives right in the middle of the most hyped up politically progressive constituencies in the country. the population and disparity of wealth exists all over the US, but this is just where it hits home for me personally.

here's one example in my community that absolutely burns me up - the wealthy feudal overlords of piedmont:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piedmont,_California

we explicitly allow exploitation of the economic base and infrastructure and public services of our own communities, for the direct benefit of the rich. this is just one small example.

the affluent in our country have been taught that all that's required is to tithe some token donation toward human suffering, in other parts of the world, or the local soup kitchen, etc., all wrapped up as a charitable donation on your annual tax filing. but we are unwilling to align our largest economic and social contributions, i.e., homes purchases, our jobs, our consumption, our support for public schools and libraries, etc., with our supposed liberal progressive ethics. we don't live in such a way as to embody our ethics in our own lives, it's as though it's all been reduced to just spin.

i just really believe that the biggest baromter of where our ethics fall as a country is in our gradual re-segregation of our communities and a behaviour that shows no accountability to our physical neighbors except perhaps when we are bound together by some housing association contract or common desire for property value retention.

but as the economy fails, we will probably see the income gap widen even further, the get-rich-quick-tax-free black market economy will expand, causing crime to increase and tensions to build, our infrastructure will crumble further, exacerbating the economic struggle, and all the affluent people will be looking through their gate at an angry mob who is hella pissed.

Posted by: LFMD at January 23, 2008 6:02 PM

Yikes!

Ian, enjoy your ski trip. Thanks for blogging during your day off and for striking the match on today's conversations. . . .but get out there and ski with your wife!

Posted by: ken at January 24, 2008 12:07 AM

We're approaching that time of night when you usually put up a new post so I don't know how if you'll see this Ian, or if anyone else will for that matter. I think the point a few people were making can be summed up by the first sentence in your post.

When you begin a post from atop a snowy peak in California, it undercuts whatever gravity may follow. I don't think anyone doubts your empathy or your dedication to the causes you support. However, beginning a post about the sad state of our union from a chalet at 10,000 feet is a tad much. If you had said you were dashing off a quick post from a nice little getaway with your wife, it would have had more resonance. That's all. Am I wrong?

Posted by: Steph Mineart at January 24, 2008 9:31 AM

"do we not have a black man and a woman as the two front runners for the presidency? seems to me that should be mentioned alongside the lack of civil and women's rights progress comment."

The fact that we haven't had a black man or a woman as president decades ago (when women have been leaders around the world) proves the point of the lack of progress in civil and women's rights. That it's taken this long is a sad testament to the state of America.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad, Ian, about being able to see beyond your own immediate world; that's a gift, especially for a writer.

Posted by: Claudia at January 24, 2008 9:37 AM

It's Santino, people, Santino! And he has his own blog.

Annie, thanks for your interest. I can't say much about it for confidentiality reasons, but, suffice to say, it's a pro bono adoption.

Posted by: craighill at January 25, 2008 6:39 AM

hey steph you should schedule your next vacation to somewhere in the middle east to see how backwards we americans are, and how advanced the rest of the world is.

can't you people appreciate progress for what it is, instead of whining about how long it took to get here? jesus.

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