Any Means Necessary

As one of his first acts as governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie cut the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project. This was before he closed the state-run beaches so that he and his family to have one for themselves without Independence Day crowds bothering him. Liberty means something new these days, I guess. The ARC tunnel project was meant to ease some of the burden on those hapless zombies known as commuters. As a member of this undead class myself, I often think of the relief that never was as we sit, unmoving, just meters away from the Lincoln Tunnel, looking nervously at our watches wondering just how late we’ll be to work this time. Our elected “representative” leaders have no idea about the life of the average person. Having lived sequestered away among the rich and axle-greasers for so long they have forgotten that real wheels need to roll. Their bottom line is at risk.

Trump, apparently aware that torture and public transit go together, has nominated Steven Bradbury, the Bush-era policy architect, as his general counsel of the Department of Transportation. Known for his “torture memos” Bradbury has none of the charm of the sometimes macabre other Bradbury who had the courtesy of keeping his frights restricted to fiction. The most disturbing part of all of this is just how little our elected officials care about the people who keep this country going. Populism, still poorly understood, is what happens when people get fed up with business as usual. Easily duped, the average citizen can’t tell an “entertainer” from a genuine leader. The era of “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV” has grown up and become truth. Doogie Howser where are you when we need you? It might be helpful to have Rex Morgan on hand after a session in the torture chamber.

Government has become a joke. Comic strip presidents gather the assorted nuts and dolts required build up a representative democracy, it seems. I used to tell my wife, back in January when things were bleaker than Poe’s December, that we could expect no less than outrage after outrage from a man whose sole motivation is to get people to look at him. We all knew jerks motivated by that in high school. The difference is that now they’re easily voted into office. Selfish men who will close down public parks so they can take the whole thing for themselves. They have no idea what governing is because they can’t understand that other people have wants and needs as well. Other people are for torturing when you’re bored. Sounds like a visit to October Country may be in order yet.

Final Frontiers

img_0610

Is there such a thing as an existential illness? Answer that if you want to, but it’s rhetorical. I’ve been voting since 1980 and I’ve taken my fair share of bruises in the process, but this time my soul feels as if God has hung his “gone fishin’” sign on the pearly gates for good. I am ill. Maybe it was the ebullience that came from having eight years of progress where, although things weren’t perfect, they were sort of holding steady. I’ve always considered myself a populist. I don’t know how a billionaire can convince millions of people he’s one. To be populist you’ve got to be one of hoi polloi. Growing up poor, I took my licks then and I’m still taking them now. No, this wound goes deeper than the bone. Deeper than the viscera. It’s an existential illness.

All things considered, I don’t write too much about politics on this blog. All my adult years I’ve been an unapologetic Democrat. I confess to having grown up Republican. But I believe in the fair treatment of others. I know not everyone will or can be happy. I also know that it’s wrong to denigrate anyone because of their gender, race, orientation, or physical ability. Seems to me that our country was sort of the final frontier where you could go if you believed this kind of thing. Where can you go from the final frontier? There are no other land masses to discover. Maybe if I put on enough layers, Antarctica might not be so bad. Beyond that, where can one go to be a liberal in a world that desperately need some heart? Where money isn’t the measure of all things. Where Mom is right just as often, if not more than, Dad.

It’s a strange thing, this existential illness. Politicians are already cooing their pleasantries, as if nothing more than a slight upset occurred. It seems to me that whenever there’s an upset the popular vote disagrees with the electoral college. It also seems to me there should be a place where the wealthy aren’t considered better by virtue of their material status. I have this existential illness, but I can still dream. Is there a way forward from here? Sometimes I think I can see that horizon where all people are treated fairly and equally, and sometimes the sun seems to be rising over that horizon. Today I feel motion-sick from being jolted backwards. I’ve been disappointed before, but I don’t remember it hurting this badly. If anyone knows a good existential doctor, please pass along her name.

Nightmares

I spend a lot of time thinking about monsters. Could there be any more statement of the obvious? The deeper issue, however, is why. Why am I, among countless others, drawn to the monster? This may not be politically correct—I apologize in advance—but that which is unusual naturally draws our gaze. Humans, along with other conscious creatures, are curious. (There’s another trait that reductionism hasn’t adequately explained; we’d be far more secure sticking with what we already know works.) The out-of-the-ordinary will keep our attention although we’re told not to stare. The monster is defined as something that isn’t “normal.” We’re captivated. We stare. Indeed, we can’t look away.

477px-Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)

The media play into this with their coverage of Trump. I realize I risk participating in that rude behavior by even addressing the topic, but as I hear intelligent people everywhere asking why Trump has captured the imagination I have to ask, have you seen the headlines? Newspapers that don’t endorse him run huge headlines when his name is in the news. It’s horrible, but I can’t look away. Historians scratch hoary heads and wonder how Hitler came to power. Populism combined with an undereducated population in a democracy may be an equation that political analysts should try to solve before it’s too late. Meanwhile, my thoughts turn to monsters. Ugly, large, and threatening, they rampage through my dreams and now my waking reality. I watched in horror as the electorate lined up behind Reagan. Bush, I told myself, was an aberration. Until the second time. Then I realized it was the summer of Frankenstein indeed.

From my youngest days I recall the antipathy that my classmates showed toward school. I didn’t mind school that much, or at least the learning part. Gym I could’ve done without. I never did get the socializing thing down. Feeling a bit like Frankenstein’s monster myself, I realized I was a pariah (that was a vocabulary word). When did monsters shift to being worthy of emulation? The monsters of my childhood were to be feared, and curious creatures will always keep an eye on that which causes fear and trembling. The media say we don’t want Trump but they give him all the air time he could wish and more. In headlines in massive, almost misshapen letters. They’ve expended their superlatives on what they tell us we shouldn’t see. They have, perhaps unwittingly, played into the very hand bitten by that which it feeds. I can’t help it. I’m staring.

Dystopian Paradise

Dystopias resonate with me. As I ponder why, two factors seem to rise to the surface: dystopias are inevitably populist in orientation, and I was raised religious. Each of these factors requires some explanation, but so does the choice of addressing dystopian topics on a cheerful September day. In an article by Debbie Siegelbaum in the BBC News Magazine, Project Hieroglyph is featured. Project Hieroglyph, which involves some people I know, is an attempt to write a more optimistic future back into science fiction. To understand my reservations, I have to confess to having grown up as a nerdy science fiction reader. The stories from the 1950s and ’60s to which I had access (growing up poor, and buying books at Goodwill and second-hand shops) tended to be optimistic—people colonizing other planets, creating great labor-saving inventions, traveling time itself. In the meanwhile I slept in torn sheets in a ratty room and had to work to buy my own school clothes, inevitably cheap. For a few years our house didn’t even have a bathtub or shower. It wasn’t an easy existence, and I found solace in religion and science fiction, both of which promised a better future.

Today, forward-looking literature tends to be pretty bleak. With reason. Optimistic futures are the luxury of the elite. The average working person labors under a constant threat of unemployment and no jobs to replace the one you have. Hey, some of the people I see begging in Midtown are not dressed in the rags of the classic ne’er-do-well. Their signs asking for help are articulate and neatly written. The elite may look to a brighter future, but from street-level things appear a bit more challenging. There’s no question that politicians long ago lost touch with the commoner. They have no idea what life is like for most of us. Same is true of most university folk (cited in the article); unless they’ve been cast out, I suspect, they can conjure a pretty rosy future. With tenure.

That’s the populist angle. Now for the religious. The basic idea of Project Hieroglyph is as old as Buddhism, or perhaps even older than that. Salvation. Religions promulgate the idea that people require salvation. Otherwise it’s pretty difficult to get people up on a Sunday morning and convince them to drop their money in the plate. Look, however, at what has been happening to mainstream churches. So technocrats and other elites think technology, rather than the gods, will save us. Those devices of optimistic 1950’s and ’60’s sci fi have turned on us, and we have become slaves to our own technology. Gee, it’s awfully gloomy in here! Perhaps we need a brighter vision of the future where technology makes things better. It sounds like a return to the stories I read as a child. Still, I can’t help noticing all the closed churches I see, and how much the penmanship of the indigent has improved with the passing of time. If only I could decipher hieroglyphs my future might look shinier too.

Is this paradise or what?

Is this paradise or what?