Friday, December 30, 2011

Is the Spirit of "Occupy" Dead?

Is the Spirit of “Occupy” Dead?

For months we have all been inundated with news stories about the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Since its inception, it has branched out all around the world and taken on names such as Occupy Austin, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Berlin, Sydney, Melbourne, Limerick… and so on. Lately may of the protesters have moved out of their thrown-together camps, likely having succumbed to boredom, or the cold, or most likely, a sense of futility. 

There are still some hangers-on, though, as evidenced by this article from Ireland. The title is what made me want to read it (as well as a personal connection with the author). “Ireland’s Spirit Is Just Dead.” No doubt those words echo the feelings of many who have succumbed to boredom or futility. In the five or six months since this Occupy business started, not much has changed, has it? Not achieving any of their requests after six months might make one feel that the spirit of their people is "just dead."

Why hasn't the world changed? A friend, an Occupy sympathizer, showed me what might pass for a manifesto of the Occupiers. Their objectives are so broad and system-shaking that when faced with the practical aspect of the revolution they require, the mind boggles at the breadth of it. Did they really expect that the world would be converted to a renewable fuel infrastructure in a few months? Or that the economic system would outlaw credit reporting agencies overnight? Or that the world’s countries would suddenly simply ignore their own borders (especially countries like China, Syria, North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan)? In the current scheme of things, such a revolution would take decades to orchestrate, even if the entire world were on board with the whole thing.

Many feel a love-hate sympathy for the Occupiers. As the Irish article points out, there’s about a fifty-fifty sympathy for and against the Occupiers. Even I applaud their lofty ideas, but have grown so sick of hearing about Occupy This and Occupy That that I’ve intentionally avoided reading or watching anything to do with the movement. Perhaps you have too. The clearest reason for the negativity is the way the protesters have been going about it. How exactly will sitting around a makeshift camp lamenting the lack of jobs create jobs? How will whining about the “economic inequality” of the world make everyone’s incomes more equal? Quite simply, it won’t.

So how should the Occupiers go about with their earth-shattering changes? Rest assured, sitting around what is basically a hobo camp won’t do it. After much thoughtful irritation, it dawns on me that perhaps the most annoying aspect of the movement is that the Occupy people keep complaining about the way things are, but don’t seem to be doing anything about it. I mean really doing something. If your house is a mess, even if you didn’t mess it up, complaining about the mess won’t clean it up. Only you picking up trash, scrubbing the floors and counters and cleaning the laundry and dishes will clean it. A pain in the ass? Of course it is! But that’s life. Likewise, complaining about the mess others have created in the world won’t clean it up. Those that created the mess - the bankers, the government, the corporations, the oil companies - don’t have to clean it up. It works fine for them just the way it is. Occupiers can make noble-sounding, high-minded quotes all they want, but it won’t help. No, like the one who had to clean up his house that was a mess, the Occupiers need to make the world the way they think it should be - by doing it themselves. 

Get a job as a teller at that bank you hate. Move up the chain until you’re in a position to make the change you think needs to be made.

Run for office. Maintain your ideals (because really, when was the last time a public official was "in it" for the benefit of the public, rather than for themselves?). Make the changes you think need to made there. Run for a higher office. Repeat. 

Go get a degree as an engineer. Invent a way to make renewable fuels the standard. Become CEO of the oil company and refocus their business on what you think it should be. 

Keep in touch with your Occupy friends and continue to coordinate your plans until the world is better. The infrastructure is there to do so. Occupy has used Twitter, texting, email, cell phones and so on to coordinate their protests. Make certain that none of you become corrupted with wealth and power (ah! That's the tricky part, isn't it?) Sure, all that will take decades to accomplish. But it would take decades anyway, as we mentioned. Does all that sound like a pain in the ass? Well, it is! But, as we said, that’s life. 

You see, the thing that sticks in people’s craw about Occupy isn’t so much the way things are or the way things should be, it’s that the Occupy people want someone else to fix the problems they want fixed instead of doing it themselves. Is the spirit of Ireland dead? Or the spirit of America or Australia or Japan or England or whatever? No! Clearly it isn’t, since vociferous people like the Occupiers are trying to make themselves heard. But will they take the example of our forefathers, who established this country and our freedoms by doing what they thought was right themselves? America and its freedom, its ingenuity, its spirit and its people come from a group of people who saw that the status quo was wrong, as do the cultures of many other countries, like Ireland. Instead of complaining to the media and the internet, they themselves created a new way of life for the country. It wasn’t easy, and yes, it took decades and yes, it was a pain in the ass. But it was done and gives the world a shining example of how to make the world a better place.

Is the spirit of Ireland dead? Is America’s spirit dead? Or anywhere the Occupy movement has taken root? If those Occupiers, themselves, do nothing to right the wrongs they perceive and wait for someone else to clean up the mess, then yes, that spirit is dead. And no camp or protest or movement will resurrect it. 

Don’t complain about anything you’re not willing to do something about yourself. No matter how much of a pain in the ass it is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bow Down Before Me Or I Will Sit On You

Dear World:
You are fat. You are also thin. I’m somewhere in between, not a monstrous blob of couch potato, but neither svelte, lithe, lean or skinny. I walk the tightrope between the two. And I’m not sure where to go next. You keep confusing me, World.

We constantly hear about the perils of obesity. It leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, muumuus and lederhosen. The First Lady leads a task force to combat childhood obesity. I can’t watch TV or internet videos without seeing ads for cosmetic surgery to get rid of fat. I know many people who have had lap bands, gastric bypasses, roux-en-y and other operations to make them lose weight. In popular culture, “weight loss” has become synonymous with “healthy,” even though medically the two are really only in-laws by relationship. In some cities I’ve visited, when strangers become acquainted one of the first questions asked in the conversation is “Which gym do you work out at?” Whole lifestyles have evolved around weight-loss diets. In fact, most weight-loss programs promote themselves as a “lifestyle change.” People are even made to feel bad if they comment admiringly on a fat little baby’s chubby cheeks. We need to be thinner, obesity is the enemy.

With that being said, no, pounded into my head at every turn, it confuses me when I see articles like this one. Two fat women were prevented from boarding a flight. That goes with our current cultural psyche, right? They’re not thin and can’t fit between the 17-inch armrests, so they should be made to purchase an extra seat, right? I KNOW you’ve had this conversation before, especially those of you who have had a particularly rotund seatmate on a long flight. That’s all very straightforward and correct with the country’s view of obesity. But then an airline supervisor countermanded an entire nation’s efforts and opinions on obesity and let them fly. More than that, a Southwest Airlines executive groveled before the fat ladies and apologized and offered free travel vouchers so they could crowd up another plane. The ladies had an "embarrassing" 45 minute debate at the airport regarding their size. The details of the focus of the embarrassment weren't clear, because I doubt their weight was a big secret before the debate. One of the fat ladies says in the article that “The sensitivity level needs to change.”

I’m so confused! We rail against fat and obesity and inactivity, but then we bend over backward to accommodate the obese? Ambulances are constructed specifically to fit obese folks. Sofa-sized wheelchairs, “big boy” hospital beds, bariatric toilets are all constructed for the people who everyone else says shouldn’t be. I even found the “long reach comfort wipe” for folks whose arms can’t reach all the way to their butt.

So which is it, World? Is obesity to be accommodated or combatted? Are we supposed to encourage “health” and “weight loss” by forbidding the obese to travel by conventional means and pointing them in the direction of the nearest cosmetic surgery clinic or weight loss program? Or should we be cowering before their ponderous bulk by diverting energy and resources to make everything bigger for them because our “sensitivity” needs to change? Either way, I’m game. But pick a camp and stand in it, World.

I’m so confused.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Good Riddance

So, Osama Bin Laden is dead. About time. Watching the videos of the celebrations outside the White House and in New York was reminiscent of images from V-J Day. The news gave America a sense of accomplishment, a feeling which I dare say has been sorely lacking in recent decades. The last thing closest to it was maybe the landing of the Spirit rover on Mars. Before that, the first space shuttle flight, the release of the hostages in Iran in 1980, the first moon landing and JFK’s presidency. It seems that such a moment comes once a decade. So I’m happy for my country. 

There are those who naysay the victory celebrations, such as this simpleton: Yes, yes I know it’s better to take the moral high ground and contemplate Bin Laden’s death in solemnity and mature reflection, but you know what? Fuck that. The United States has spent the greater part of recent years apologizing for whatever and taking the moral high ground on various issues, swayed by pundits and “celebrities” with their inane ideas against the death penalty or eating meat or wearing fur or against seeking retribution against the attacks of 9/11. To those that seek a quiet meditation session on Bin Laden’s death, fine, do whatever you want. But for those of us that felt the horror and indescribable sadness of 9/11/2001, as we watched our families, firefighters, police and friends perish in that catastrophe which Bin Laden masterminded, not to mention the many murders by him and his henchmen in this and many other countries, and viewed the footage of Al Qaeda sympathizers rubbing salt in our wounds by celebrating the 9/11 attacks, don’t chastise us for appreciating the blood of a man who had no motives for killing thousands other than the desire to see their deaths. In addition, Osama Bin Laden and his cronies wanted to kill you too, dear naysayer. So we will have our blood moment, like it or not. 

Now, one thing which puzzles me is the breathtaking haste with which Bin Laden was buried at sea. It took nearly ten years from the events of 9/11 and the serious start of the epic manhunt for him until Twitter, Facebook and news channels exploded with the news about Bin Laden’s death. I first got word of it around 9:45pm on May 1st. Yet it only took four hours to get the news he was buried at sea already; I heard that news at around 2am on May 2nd. Does anything about that seem fishy? (Pardon the pun.)

Though the circumstances are completely different, a comparison between the death of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein can barely be helped. We all saw videos of his execution, the confirmation of his death and the verification that the man found in the “spiderhole” and the man at the gallows was indeed Saddam Hussein. There was no doubt. But with Bin Laden, there was no visual confirmation, no videos of his body, no pictures of doctors analyzing his DNA, no coverage of the burial at sea. We’re just expected to take someone’s word that he was killed and buried. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt he is dead and buried. That some Muslim clerics are pissed off about the method of his burial confirms that he is, in fact, dead. And I don’t mind that there aren’t any actual, legitimate photos of him dead and buried. After all, people had to be content with simple reports and text newspapers about world events before the advent of photography. But photography has been around for a good while now, and our world is steeped in visual coverage of everything from huge, earth-shaking events to ridiculous video blogs on YouTube of sorority girls’ latest shopping trips. But not of Osama Bin Laden? This, along with the unbelievable speed with which his burial was carried out makes me say "WTF?" Something is rotten in Denmark. Actually, in Pakistan.

At any rate, congratulations to the soldiers who got him, and congrats to America and the world. Keep it going.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Thwarted: Government Plot to Assign Money and Representation to Its Citizens!

According to this article, New Orleans’ census is down by ELEVEN PERCENT from what it should be. As the story says, our current population is now the same as what it was forty years ago, in 1970! Now, as anyone who actually lives in New Orleans can tell you, the population of the Greater New Orleans Area is really at least as high as it was pre-Katrina. Traffic around town is a worse nightmare than it’s ever been, with even more idiotic drivers encountered than before August 29, 2005. True, there are still plenty of abandoned properties, but in terms of the number of people one actually sees around town, the population seems pretty much where it was pre-K, if not more. And no, I haven’t conducted my own scientific research to determine this. I’m only stating what anyone else around this city can also tell you.

The topic of scientific research brings me to my point. As many heard last year, there was great uproar about government “intrusion” into our personal lives. Many protested in the only way they knew how. No, not by shouting and demonstrating and defying tanks, like in Egypt or Tianamen Square. They defied the government by refusing to do paperwork. Yes, many of us recall the outrage that was fueled by the most insidious, dark and evil intrusion into our lives the world has ever seen: the U.S. Census.

Thanks to those citizens who stuck to the moral high ground and refused to kowtow to probing by the government’s shadowy agents and black helicopters, our city will now lose untold millions of dollars that could have been used for street repair, education, food assistance, city planning, emergency services, public spaces, medical clinics and neighborhood development. Thank you so much, ever-vigilant fellow citizens, for enabling our already third-world community to sink even farther into the nether regions of a backwater economy.

Many at the time of the 2010 Census cried “Intrusion!” and “Invasion of privacy!” and “Communism!” when those red and white forms arrived in their mailboxes (“Red! Just like the Commies!”). Those forthright and sensible citizens refused to fill the forms out and when the sweet little old ladies and soft-spoken gentlemen came by to gather the missing information, those same citizens saw to it that their requests for information went unanswered. Some old lady and gentleman census-takers may have been literally thrown out on their ear at the intrusion. The defiant householders then sat at their dinner tables, self-satisfied at their own actions, all taken in the name of Freedom.

Thanks to you, Louisiana is one of the states that will lose representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and its share of federal revenues because of its “decreased” population. How do “they” know what our population is? BY THE CENSUS! How do “they” know how much money should be allocated to our state and city? BY THE CENSUS!

For those that claim the 2010 census was an invasion of your privacy, let it be known that the census has been taken every ten years for two hundred and twenty years since 1790. It is nothing new! Didn’t you learn about this in high school? I clearly remember learning about the census in civics class in eleventh grade. Does it invade your privacy? I spoke to my census-taker, a kindly, white-haired gentleman about 65 years of age, who wanted to know if I lived at this address and if anyone else lived here. He didn’t ask for my phone number or my social security number or how many credit cards I had or what my favorite sexual position was or the color of the bullets in my guns. He didn’t even ask my name. Nor did he even accept a glass of iced tea I offered. He just wanted to know how many people there were.

How is this an invasion of privacy? For what possible use could there be for this information besides what the census is specifically designed to do, namely, determine the population? For those of you that would ascribe ulterior motives to the U.S. Census, such as finding out secret information that could be used against you, allow me to relate a story. After Hurricane Katrina, I applied for FEMA assistance. In the online application, it gave you a “quiz” to determine that I was indeed who I said I was. It was a multiple-choice quiz with five questions. “Which of the following was your previous…?” The government, specifically FEMA, knew exactly what my phone number was when I was a child, 40 years ago! They knew who my former roommate was from 25 years before. They knew my address from ten years earlier! They knew what kind of car I had driven in 1988. NONE of that information came from any census form!

If you’re worried about “government intrusion,” believe me, it’s too late to worry about that. Every detail of your life is stored away in some database somewhere already. Filling out the census is not going to make the life intrusion any deeper. Of all the dark and insidious ways the government can surreptitiously gather information on your persaonal life, the census is NOT one of them. Judging by the information acquired by the census form, not only is it the most innocuous form of official fact-finding, it is impossible to imagine that the information could ever be used for any purpose other than the stated intent - to gauge the number of people.

So to all you folks who refused to participate in the 2010 Census, thanks for your diligence in keeping our city and state in the third-world backwoods where you clearly feel it belongs. Just don’t complain when the pothole in front of your house doesn’t get fixed. Or when your kid doesn’t learn about the importance of the census because there weren’t enough teachers.

Just in case you didn’t get it by now, if you didn’t participate in the census, you’re a fucking idiot.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet, Nor Would He Want To

Oh America, you slay me!

Today’s episode of ranklement comes from the news that Alan Gribben of Auburn University wants to edit (read: “censor”) Mark Twain’s classic novel “Huckleberry Finn” to remove the word “nigger” and replace it with “slave” or some such nonsense. 

This doesn’t bug me. Re-writing literature is nothing new. As far back as the days of Jesus Christ, Hebrew scribes censored the Bible (or Torah, technically) so that God’s name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”  wouldn’t appear out of superstition that it was too sacred to utter. More recently, people have downplayed the events of the Holocaust. How many businesses edit their accounting books for personal gain? Basically, people wanting to re-write history or literature is not surprising. I’m only surprised that it’s taken this long for the apologists to get around to Huck Finn.

My real point is this: the Internet is flaming with people up in arms about this new edition of the book. Thousands, if not millions, are outraged that they want to take the word “nigger” out of classic literature. What kills me is that these same people that are on their soapbox about censorship refuse to use the word “nigger” themselves, even though they’re only quoting Twain, not trying to use it as a slur.

Here are a couple of screen caps from Twitter showing what I mean:

Replacing the word “nigger” with “N word” does nothing to lessen the word’s impact. Instead, such folks are hiding behind a veil of hypocrisy. 

Are you censoring yourself and your own right of free speech while lambasting those who would censor? This is the very definition of hypocrisy. Further, you are only giving strength to the cause you are protesting. 

Where does it end? Will we censor every “offensive” word, picture, film and pamphlet, hiding behind the guise of not wanting to “offend?” Do you want to live in that monotone beige world? I don’t. America, quit being a bunch of pathetic crybabies and act the way those that fought for your right to say what needs to be said wanted you to. Mark Twain did.

PS- Here's a YouTube link where the comedian describes this quite succinctly (and hilariously): Credit to @dubtea on the Twitters.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mind In the Gutter

So a recent incident in town has me rankled. Yesterday, eight youths perished in a fire. The news describes them as “homeless.” Upon deeper research, it becomes apparent that the dead were part of a subculture commonly referred to in New Orleans as “gutter punks.” It is tragic that eight young folks died, and all the more so because their deaths could have been avoided.

“Yes!” I hear you cheer. “It’s a shame that the city isn’t doing more to help these poor, homeless young people!” I can picture you lamenting over your breakfast latte and muffin top. “Those poor people were the victims of an uncaring city!”

No, they weren’t.

Having had many, many interactions with members of the gutter punk subculture, allow me to reveal the real reason of why eight tragic deaths were completely avoidable. Those scruffy, unwashed “homeless” waifs (and their dogs) you step over on the sidewalks of the French Quarter are as far removed from the “homeless” you find at the Ozanam Inn or the New Orleans Mission as those same homeless are from the Southern Yacht Club. They are not down on their luck, impoverished or abused. In twenty years of EMS, I’ve picked up a LOT of gutter punks in my ambulance. The process of running an emergency call and the conversation carried on in the back of the truck affords numerous opportunities to get a pretty clear picture of any particular cross-section of the population. Here are my findings.

Extraordinarily few are local kids. In twenty years of collecting punks from the gutter, I have yet to meet one who was born and raised in New Orleans. Their points of origin are wide and varied, but heavily weighted towards the Northeast. Upon examining their reasons for choosing New Orleans as their preferred destination, apparently it is because New Orleans is well known for the gutter punk “scene” (interesting cycle, eh?). These kids aren’t leaving behind a life of abuse and squalor only to find themselves saddled with a different flavor of abuse and squalor here. No, gutter punks, by and large, come from very affluent, privileged families. And from the information I’ve gleaned, I don’t mean families that are hiding a terrible secret, like incest or beatings or a dead hooker buried in the yard. They come from families where the parents are often still happily married or at least financially successful. On numerous occasions I’ve asked my gutter punk patient “What’s your parents’ phone number?” as part of my report, and the answer was “The phone number to which house? Our house in Manhattan or our summer place in Martha's Vineyard/The Hamptons/Palm Beach?” Upon searching for identification for a patient, I’ve come across countless “platinum,” "diamond” and “black” credit cards (you know, the cards that have no credit limit in sight) with mummy or daddy’s name on them.

So why the “homelessness?” Apparently it’s a big adventure coupled with a rebellious outlook, typical of the teens-to-twenties psyche. Whereas many of us would be happy to fulfill this worldview with a backpacking trip around Europe or Asia, these folks find its fulfillment in living amongst the casual friends, abandoned hovels and handouts that are apparently so abundant in the Big Easy. And apparently there are certain social etiquettes that are required in this culture. The obvious ones are the dirty clothes, unwashed bodies and prevalence of tattoos and piercings. I asked a personal friend, something of a reformed gutter punk, why they eschewed soap and water. Apparently the act of bathing is somehow equated with “the establishment,” which is roundly rejected among the gutter punks. The equivalency of personal hygiene with the mainstream socio-political-cultural image of the general population escapes me, but I’m not one to judge another’s idea of disestablishmentarianism. I merely report. But expand this mentality to fulfilling rent, or doing laundry or (gasp) the evil of paying taxes and perhaps you get an idea of the thinking within those dreadlocked skulls. Surely, though, a comparison could be made to these young folks and the hippies’ communes of the sixties, or even the hobo camps of the Great Depression, which eventually was romanticized in song and screen. “The establishment” seems to be an anchoring phrase between the generations. With such a long history of rebellion against “the establishment,” is it any wonder that today’s young folks choose to conform to traditional non-conformist ways?

Therefore it is pointless to complain that The City That Care Forgot forgot to care. These young folks that chose to brave their way by living on its streets is not a situation for which City Hall can establish an office to “help.” Build all the shelters you want; gutter punks will not come. Offer all the assistance centers you want; the gutter punks’ parents are probably your investors. Those youths want to continue to live out their big adventure, with all its inherent risks and dangers. And I’m not railing against the gutter punks, either; I certainly understand the appeal of going against the system (though I do enjoy a decent shower). But while it is a shame that eight young people died in a fire, please don’t blame it on my city.