15 October 2011

Call Me a Communist, But...

So another weekend skiffles along full-pat, a stomach full of shepherd's pie and a mug of wimpy tea to salve a crampy cold I've succumbed to.  Uncharacteristically of me, for the first time in perhaps a week I've finally looked at the online news stories - Times Square and various city spaces around the world have been occupied by protesters decrying wealth disparity and a perceived lack of representation in government direction, Steve Jobs has suddenly passed on, Sonic Youth fronts Moore and Gordon separate (marriage now, band soon?), and the Treasury has delayed its final ruling on the fairness of China's currency valuation.

And then in lighter news, there's an interview with presidential-candidacy-hopeful Herman Cain on the NPR.  When asked by interviewer Scott Simon about the economic ramifications of Cain's proposed 9-9-9 tax scheme - in this case, instancing the proposed nine-percent sales tax on the price of bread paid by both prince and pauper - the Godfather's Pizza magnate responded:
On a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, Bill Gates and every rich person is going to pay the same tax as someone who's on the lower end of the spectrum. But Scott, I'm not going to play the class warfare card. You have to compare the taxes they pay today. If you pick a certain income level — and I'll pick one and walk you through it, OK?  (Simon: "Sure.")  I'm going to use $50,000 a year, since that's approximately what the median income is for a family in this country. [For a] family of four, $50,000 a year. Under the current system, based upon standard deductions and standard exemptions, they're going to pay $10,200 in taxes. Under the 9-9-9 plan, the middle 9, they're going to pay $4,500. That leaves $5,700 to apply to that milk and bread in terms of the taxes. You have to go through the numbers of each individual situation.
Golf clap, Mr. Cain.  As suggested, going through the numbers every rich person will pay the same tax, in dollar amounts rather than proportionally.  The $5,700 that average family may save still has to go towards the mundane (and now more expensive) task of paying for the groceries, the wares, the thingamajigs.  That average American family spends nearly all its cash on (you guessed it) these expenditures, with little by way of money to save.  An overall raising of the levy on purchased goods will really do little by way of a tax break for the Jones', and in many cases will end up being a tax hike.

Believe it or not, but beyond the investment of assets and grandiose luxury purchases, the very wealthy consume roughly the same by way of living necessities as their less-than-wealthy peers.  Check out this informative graph.  The top fifth of American earners spend roughly $65K a year of their average $145K income, proportionally less than the middle fifth's $35K/$45K or the bottom fifth's deficitous $18K/<$10K.  There's only so much money a family can really spend on consumer goods before the rest of that money simply piles up to multiple zeros on a banking ledger.  Rather than further improving the affluent's quality of life any, beyond a certain point the money apparently makes no difference.

Not that I'm a commie!  But I'm simply saying that a consumptive-based tax plan is a bad shake for the majority of Americans.  9-9-9 - basically a flat tax scheme - is just another thinly veiled proposal to make the wealthy wealthier at the spending class' heavy expense.  You (dearest reader) and I are essentially indentured servants in this life, scraping together the dough (by serving the proverbial Man) to buy the essentials, enjoy/discard/replace the baubles, and live in the apartments of (or pay the mortgages to, if You are a home-owner) said loosely-defined and still very metaphorical Man.  Mind you, that's just one way to look at it.  Negative lens, mayhap.

But that's largely what the Occupy Your-City-Here movements are so miffed about, for those who've until now not 'got it'.

12 October 2011

The Tao of Ba-gel

Halloa, my fingle-dingle friends! Another weekday morning in the Land of Dan, swilling a lukish kinda cuppa and prepping for a bit of work this aff.  Another day, another dollar. Yet somehow I feel vaguely energized and upbeat, settled stomach and the lot.

The cause isn't a hard recollect: morning bagels make my day. Normally not wont to eat breakfast, for the past few months I've begun getting back into the habit. Grits and eggs, single-servings of fruity Greek yoghurt, the odd bit of fruit, and most recently the insert-Spam-here breakfast sandwich. English muffs at first, topped with fresh tomato, cheese, egg, and Vegemite. But I've stumbled onto the hard stuff now, the things good bagels are made from.

Salmon cream cheese spread, fresh red onion, soon to be capers and sweet red peppers and a varietal blend of other things. The best part of this comestible gospel I'm spouting is that anyone can do it, if'n they have ten minutes. One minute of prep, four to cook, and a civil five to enjoy. And most anything'll work; to wit, I topped my egg salmon bagel with five thin slices of fresh fried sweet potato! Sweet potato! Magical stuff that'll leave one feeling warm and good-humoured and not at all peckish til the after-work pub crawl.

Give it a go sometime.

09 October 2011

"The Roughest Farewell" pt. IV


            I awake from my nap after what seems like weeks, the sun by now just passed the sky's highest point and beginning its way toward the western horizon.  I sit up and stretch the stiffness from my shoulders and lower back, a hearty yawn on my lips- stifled, when I see the distant clouds of dust kicked up on the southern road.  Four horsemen, maybe five approaching our Skokie Pines.  Five horsemen.  Trouble.
            I leap to my feet, a chill in the pit of me as I begin to leg it back to town.  Five horsemen, doubtless after Ned.  Would they be state marshals?  Pinkertons?  Federals?  Unrelated?  How much did they know; could they know what horrors transpired the night before?  A chill in the pit of me, as cold and horrible and lifeless as they come.  What could I say?  What should I say to the townsfolk?
            On the rocky path back, sprinting and bounding over odd stones and dusty ruts as the little township draws sluggishly nearer.  I can’t run fast enough, it feels.  Legs of iron, knocking hardened heels on stagnant earth.  Kicking up a dust trail of my own.  I’m finally running past the First Church – mounds of flesh in the yard behind – past the tailor, the smithy, to the office.  Dead empty and lifeless, the lot of them.  Heat of the day, it comes as no surprise.  Were it not for the icy pit in my stomach I might succumb to the stroke.
            I burst through the heavy wooden door, surprising Angus and little Cousin Clara playing the tarot on the great wooden desk.  “Ye gods!  Men approaching town- fetch Horus,” I tell to her, surprisingly out of breath now that I’ve reached my purpose.  I falter on towards the gun cab as the two remain standing on, watching me with ignorant fishes’ eyes.  “Now, dammit!” I wheeze as I pull out a brace of Winchesters.  I hurl one blindly at Angus and grab up a box of cartridges.  Gods, but my hands quiver.  I drop them, one-two, as I make to load up.
            “Man Jesus, Sheriff!  What’s got you all huff n’ puff?” Angus gawps with the rifle hanging in his arms.
            “Men!” I cry breathlessly.  “Five men approaching town on horseback.  Moving fast.”
            “God Zeus,” he whispers, at last understanding.  He scrambles for the cabinet, changing out the rifle for the double-barrel ten gauge and a box of shells.  I’m still struggling to load, still dropping cartridges on the floor 6-7-8.  Hands everywhere as I stumble towards the door.  At last I’ve got the thing locked and ready and I’m stepping back out onto the porch as Horace walks briskly up with Clara close behind.
            “I hear there’s trouble approaching, Cousin Spur?  To do with the outsider?”  Despite the raised eyebrows and the gapen mouth of concern, Horace seems excited; positively excited.  I nod and he raises clenched fists towards heaven.  “If the government wants trouble, then they shall have it!” he exclaims.  “I’ll alert the folk.  We shall meet them prepared.”  Horace rushes off shouting, “Invaders!  Marauders!  Arm yon selves!”  Skipping, dammit.  Skipping down the street and shouting.
            “Mind you do nothing drastic, Our Horace!” I cry after.  “Let me talk to them!  Mayhap it’s nothing!”  But there’s a sickly foreboding about the words as I say them.  “Mayhap it’s nothing.”  I stand there with my rifle in the shade of the porch, Angus poking out his head through the doorway.  We both stand, taut and unnerved for one minute, three minutes, on to ten.  Finally with a hissing sigh I relax my whitened grip on the wooden stock.  I tell to Angus, “Just sit back tight in there.  If’n there’s trouble to say, come out blasting.”
            He nods and largely closes the heavy door, and I take a seat in the creaky rocker with the Winchester in my lap.  There is movement in the buildings across the street; I can hear the creaking of the floorboards grind away to stillness, an awful sort of stillness that precedes a thunderbolt before it tears the sky apart.  And then…  hoofpats from the east.  Clolloping calmy round the last upward bend into town.  I set my rifle to one side against the office wall and make to light my pipe.  I can’t for the quavering hands, so I simply hold it in my lap and wait.
            The five horsemen ride up the main drag, two to the front with the others hanging behind.  The laggers seem awful nervy, the fat man up front right on edge.  But the slender fella with the drooping moustaches rides with a buoyant calm – though he also seems eye the place with a keen regard.  It is him I fear, my instinct tells me.  I raise a hand to them in halloa.
            “Greetings, y’all,” I chirrup in a slightly crackling voice.  I make to stand on warbled legs, pressing an arm nonchalantly against the roof beam for support as I lean to one side, pipe still in the other hand.
            “Greetings, Sheriff,” the thin man replies in a robust, haughty sort of voice that sends shivers down my spindly spine.  His is a look of triumph, the cat that caught the canary.  “I suppose you would be the one to know what became of a friend of ours, what passed through here yesterday morning?  He was about on business, specifically to see your office.”
            I clear my throat, an idea sprung to mind.  “Yessir, a Mr. Norris it was.  Collecting renders for Caesar.  He came and went by noontime, once he’d seen to his business…”  I’m starting to feel a little more confident, the blood returning to my hands and feet and hopefully face.  But the gangly horseman nods on in that knowing way as he pouches and rolls himself out a cigarette.  It’s unnerving, him sitting there atop his Appaloosa nodding on in silence with that smirk.  Pressing out the lumps and rolling that cigarette between his thumbs and fores.  He places the thing on his lip and produces a match, shooting me a sharp glance as he lights it.
            “Afraid that isn’t possible, friend.”  He inhales deeply and tosses aside the matchstick.  A cloud of smoke explains, “Afraid he was to meet up with us outside of town once he was finished up hereabouts.  Straight up, if you understand me.  We waited til nightfall and a bit through the morning, on the off chance he was enjoying your town’s hospitality.”  He pauses there, taking out his cigarette with two fingers and admiring it at arm’s length a bit.  “We waited.  He didn’t show up.  Now we’re here to figure why, precisely.  So?  Where is Ned?”
            The blood again flees my appendages, my knees feeling like lead weights.  The man is clever, alleys covered and all.  But what is he?  Contract?  Badge?  “I told you what happened,” I tell him, trying to rouse some semblance of authority to my voice.  “Now who are you to question me?  I’m a sheriff, after all.  I’m the law round here.”  I tap my pentangle with a thumb for emphasis, yet can’t rid myself of the nervousness.  I’m playing a losing hand, too far gone to fold with not enough guile to bluff it out.
            “Me?”  He laughs, a husky smirky sort.  “I’m the Lord on High, in these parts.  I’m Marshal Conniff Starks.  And I’m afraid I've heard a few things about ol’ Skokie.  S’why we decided to escort Mr. Norris along.  S’why we’re here now.  S’why I’m asking you what it is you’re doing with that Winchester perched up against the door frame, and why you’re shitting bricks at a simple question.”  His dark-eyed gaze is slicing right through me now, cutting me to the very quick.  He spits out his cigarette and puts a hand on the revolver handle jutting from its holster.  His men are already guns-in-hands, ready to follow suit should the necessity arise.  Never have I been so close to death, I’m feeling through every last strand of myself as I stand there on the open lopsided porch outside the office.  As the man says, shitting bricks.
Starks sucks the spittle off the side of his great moustache.  “So I’ll ask once more-” he begins, cut short by an explosive report from above Weebleman’s.  The five of them are cut short as the first report is followed by a dozen others, horses trying vainly to wheel around as they and their riders drop to earth left and right.  The door swings wide as I scurry over for my rifle, catching me hard atop the head and dropping me flat; Angus comes out a-screaming and empties both barrels.  Catching Starks square in the chest, I believe.  As I roll over on the porch I can see him sprawled out lifeless and bloodying up the dusty earth, his mates all strewn about him.  One of his boys had the horse shot from under him but has managed to sprint off behind our Sheriff’s Office.
“Get the outsider!!” Horace shouts wildly as he comes charging out with a bayonet-tipped Springfield, followed by a dozen screaming fellows brandishing pistols, cleavers, and axes.  A few fall upon the fallen marshals, laying in to chopping and kicking.  The rest run off in pursuit, and after an exchange of shots and a bloodcurdling cry of anguish return with the decapitated head of the last.  I can’t climb onto my feet, legs unwilling to support me – legs made of lard, you might say.  I sit on the porch, shocked at this gratuity opened up upon the road of my town.  Carnage.  Bloody, horrible carnage.
And more yet to come, I realize with added horror.  Starks wouldn’t have been fool enough to come without a plan of contingency.  We could well have the Army sent down upon us!  Carnage tenfold, if that were the case.  Angus strides up, shotgun tipped across his shoulder in a cocky disposition.  “That’ll show’m.  Goddamned federals.”
I shake my head as Horace stands amid the corpses, admiring the scene.  “The day is ours!  The bloody business is finished, and there shall be much feasting the night!”  There’s a general whoop as men, women, and children step out onto the road with their weaponry, exulting with each other in the afternoon’s ambush.  “Prepare the fires!  And prepare a pit to inter the desecrated fallen.”
I still shake my head.  Fearing the worst to come, I suppose.  And perhaps also lamenting our collective action, the rashness of our nearest past.  Uninvolved in the melee, I can see now with outsider’s eyes the town for what it is.  We are outsiders, soon to be given a rough farewell of our own once the world-that-be figures what’s become of its representatives.  “We’ve lost,” I mutter, throwing head into hands.
“But none of’m escaped,” Angus corrects me, perplexed.
“None of them had to.  Now all we can do is wait for the rest.”

*          *          *      christ! see what transpires next, soon    *          *          *
or check out the previous installments:  I  II  III

08 October 2011


            Erik needs work.  Needs work like a body needs air and food, like the human spirit requires open space and an undue sense of importance.  He realizes it one afternoon as he sits down with his first cup of coffee, waiting for his computer to boot.  Deju vu, as though he has done all this once before.  Nausea, as he realizes not once but many times with nigh-on religious repetition.  Awake piss percolate coffee computer email porn porn porn email coffee jobsearch porn and a Hot Pocket.  Every day, burp on cue.  The same old song and mirthless shuffle, the ever present curtain of despair, the weighty metaphor wrapped in a flimsy simile. 
Erik needs work, like the protesters downtown all have for a week.  Longer than that, but for a week now they’ve made a note to air those grievances, blocking traffic and picketing the various offices and establishments of the Man that be.  Tie-wearing champagne-tossing golf-playing gracious-tipping fuckwads, 401k stock options and the golden parachute – In Case of Emergency Break Glass.  The 1% at the top of the totem heap, pressing down the cornerstone 99.  Cornerstone folk like himself, Erik thinks angrily as he leaps into action.  Rummaging through a clothes-heaped closet looking for a flattened box, big black marker and a bit of duct tape on a cricket bat.  It reads-
Erik Needs Work
BS in Accounting, 3.7 GPA
Some Experience, Dependable
Give Erik a Chance!
            A chance.  Entry-level boot licking, extra hours on the weekends.  I’m-not-desperate-but-I’ll-do-anything aim to please can-do spirit.  The sort the market thrives on, the reason the system’s now broken down; not enough chances being taken.  All the fat cats and their connected underlings simmering in a big incestuous pile of corruption and complacency.  Letting the country go to the dogs, letting the dogs get gobbled up by the Chinese.  Metaphors, dammit.  Apt generalizations catching a broader swath of the forest, a broad-thinking Erik thinks to himself as he leaves the apartment with the weighty sign propped up on his shoulder.  Slung like a rifle, ready to fire off a few rounds at the Man.
            He gravitates downtown into the belly of the unblinking city, playground of the elites and self-important and their cringing toadies.  He can hear cars honking and as he follows the sound he can start to hear the roar of his fellows.  The 99%, stopping up a traffic circle as if it were a cork in a bottle.  Diverting bourgeoisie traffic and the slave-ship bus lines, waving signs and drawing honks of support and ire from the detouring cars.  Two cops stand uncomfortably on the corner opposite, watching the swell and talking amongst themselves.
            Erik gravitates across the way toward the human barricade, an unnatural conglomerate of recession.  High school punks and bums and college dropouts, soccer moms and truck drivers; black white and every-color credo under the sun intermingling amicably.  All shouting and chanting and singing in one big harmonious din.  Aging hippies passing the mantle to youthful hipsters who’ll post a picture then scrap it first chance on the Ebay, when it’s lost its luster.  Joe the Plumber rapping with the local Stitch n’ Bitch as tribal tatted ama-bras dick about with a yo-yo.  It's a jam band atmosphere, complete with the frazzle haired groupie woman dancing unconsciously with wild hands.
Dueling speakers blare against each other, both over the top of the ideologues with the megaphones and clipboards and agendas.  They’re trying desperately to organize, to get this thing in order before the police show up with the fire hose and wash it all down the gutter.  Directing the directionless, stand here, more signs there and the occasional nothing inflammatory.  Trying to separate the chaff and chavs from the posterboard 99%, to make a marketable representation of the unpleased whole for the vis-ed student orbiting about with his camera.  Erik gets tussled along towards the front of the north-facing line, hold your sign high like.  Set shoulder to shoulder between a tobacco-chewing Vancouverite and a middle-ager come straight off from Denver Street.
It’s an exhilarating thing, standing there in the face of traffic after spending a lifetime scurrying across roads.  Three lanes of vehicles being dumped off at them, having to jerk off to the right down another one-way sidestreet.  Delayed from the precious, indifferent business of the day.  Erik can see their faces through the windshields:  irritable and awestruck, smiling and fearful and confused.  Some downright upset as they roll down a window and shout something unintelligible as they drive off.  “I oughtta run you bastards down!” one screams.  Others wave and honk supportive blips of their horns as they continue on toward their jobs, affable scabs. 
More police are arriving, hats wrapped in plastic to ward off the gentle mist that collects on their yellow raincoats.  Massing on the corners while a few direct the traffic, a pair approach the crowd and begin arguing with one of the bullhorn-carriers.  But the Body stands resilient, each member a part of a larger defiant clog in the commercial chain.  Everybody doing their bit.  Erik feels an integral part of the group, feels he can really puff out his chest that he is the 99%.  And then he hears his name.
“You there!  Erik!”  A well-groomed head calls from the back of a limo car stopped on the street.  Erik wonders if he’s being addressed.  “Yes, you!  Erik, with the sign!  Do you really have an accounting degree?”  He nods dumbly, remembering what it was he’d written on his picket.  “We’re looking for somebody in our accounting department, entry-level.  Hop on in!”  The door opens up as the well-groomed man scoots over to one side of the seat.
“Man, fuck that Wall Street shitbag,” Vancouverite shouts into Erik’s ear.  Denver puts a hand on his shoulder, reminding him about solidarity.  There are honks coming from behind the limo and the driver looks like he might move along.  Meanwhile sirens are perking up from  the southern side of the protester's circle.  To stay or to go, Erik feels torn.
“You need a job or not?” Well-groomed calls from the car irritably.
Erik needs work.  Needs work like a customer needs satisfaction, like a sports utility vehicle needs a wider place to park.  He breaks free of Denver’s grasp and ignores Vancouverite’s reproaches as he jogs up to the limousine.  Setting down his picket on the damp tarmac he makes to get in.  “No, bring that along,” Well-groomed instructs him.  “You’re going to need a resume.”  Erik and picket slide into the car as the door shuts behind them, driver pressing on the gas and taking them uptown as the police start unpacking their great orange nets from the backs of their vans.

05 October 2011

Misplacing My Ire?

So the other (week, was it?) I furrowed a single brow at news that a CIA drone had successfully found and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the charismatic talking head of al-Qaeda.  Not because of who he was or what he stood for, but because of his American citizenship.  I'd been similarly nonplussed back in May when another drone strike targeting al-Awlaki instead killed a couple of others (reputedly al-Qaeda operatives themselves).  I'm not the only one ruffled by this incident:  the ACLU and CCR have launched lawsuits against the United States government, and a slew of literary ire has been pulled from the quivers of bloggers and op/edders.

Citizenship bears with it certain obligations, but it also yields certain unalienable rights- although then I have to second-guess myself when I remember the rationale of Rousseau's Social Contract, that those bonds can be broken.  But then bearing in mind al-Awlaki's location (questionably neutral but neutral Yemen), the lack of due process, the mode of execution-  I don't know!  My opinions are all in a bally muddle in this somewhat singular set of circumstances.  Because the man was undeniably inflammatory and rather possibly linked to the operational doings of al-Qaeda.  But is that worthy of targeting him for assassination?  Is it assassination, in this instance?  Again, a muddle.  Is this a precedent for wantonly targeting American citizens for courtless death, or is al-Awlaki's citizenship merely a side-note in a larger campaign?

In any case, I posed the question on the Facebook (while generally an open invitation for vitriol and disappointment, I have faith enough in the friends I keep that the conversations will be insightful and interesting) for a bit of discussion, citing the instances of Kaczynski and McVeigh as examples of home-spun terrorists caught and tried.  Perhaps a more apt comparison might have been David Karesh, but I received some good responses from a variety of sources, including a professor from my old college days.  Most notable among these was the lengthy and I'd say well thought out series of arguments posed by my friend Nate:
It's a tough call. Kaczynski and McVeigh were caught alone in the U.S., not hiding in a foreign country with a lot of protection. If it is true he was waging war against the U.S., he becomes a combatant. This doesn't forgo his citizenship, but open war against the U.S. does put you a bit beyond normal due process. And as compared to Osama, Al-Awlaki moved around a lot more, preventing a planned raid of the same scope. Unfortunately in the current global threat scenario some information simply won't be fit for public consumption. There is certainly a line in which government can and cannot infringe on a person's rights. It is my opinion that those rights may be infringed upon when that person makes war upon the people that government represents. To try and make a point of paramilitary ignores the forest for the trees. Surely lives are being diddled with on both sides, in the end it mostly washes out. I would agree as a concept a bombing should be avoided when civilians are at risk, but there are things to consider beyond that one angle. There are equally many scenarios in which more civilian lives are lost in other ways of dealing with Al-Awlaki. Take for instance the infamous Blackhawk Down, in which a raid meant to reduce civilian casualties ended up creating tenfold. In a perfect situation Al-Awlaki would have been arrested and brought to trial with full due process. It is not a perfect situation, and I believe the situation warranted the loss of that privilege. I will say that I would have supported the same tactic used were McVeigh hiding in Generic Lawless Christian nation attempting further attacks against the U.S. Or Generic Liberal terrorist in Lawless Socialist state. Unfortunately, many of the people who agreed with the death of Al-Awlaki would have disagreed were he White/Christian. There is definitely an anti-Muslim undercurrent in the public support of the War on Terror.
While I can't argue with many of his points- well, precisely because I cannot fully argue with many of his points without that vague sense of doubt, I wonder if this may be a waste of time on my part.  Another panic worth abandoning, like so many others cast aside in this decade-old War on Terror being waged.  Besides, there may well be more important things afoot, like the Occupy (Your City Here) movement sweeping the nation or the impending reelection of Vladimir Putin.  Or ending the death penalty.  Yet as I move on I cannot help but wonder in what ways this undermines the value of citizenship, or if (like patriotic buzzspeak 'liberty' and 'freedom' and 'democracy') it really hasn't any intrinsic value at all.

What strange and odious things does this abandoned panic portend?