Saturday, August 30, 2003

Inside Outside

I spent last week sitting in a jury box.  After being called every four years like clockwork , this was the first time I was actually selected to sit in judgment on a fellow citizen, a weighty experience in a criminal case.  It was a particularly hot week in New York coming at the end of a summer of wacky weather around the globe.  Taking the subway down each day and walking the half dozen blocks across to the Moynihan Federal Court Building was a bit like hiking through the environs of my kitchen oven.  That was outside.  Inside Judge Stein's courtroom it was so cold that one could only survive in a winter sweater – he likes it that way, keeps everyone awake.  Without making light of the trial experience, what I couldn't get out of my head throughout was the sharp contrast between the cold inside and the heat outside on the street.  Being so accustomed to the synthetic climate control in which we regularly function, we don't think about that much.  In fact, how we privileged few experience life bespeaks a consistent unreality, an apt metaphor for our times and most especially for our country.

Sitting in that cold room, we were totally out of touch with the reality of the streets below which, given being in the act of passing judgment on what happened out there, is kind of bizarre.  Don't get me wrong, I think we jurors got a pretty good picture of what went on and we reached a fair and reasonable verdict.  That's the particular, but in a more global context, we tend to see the outside from an inside perspective and to act accordingly.  It's like a movie set in a foreign land where the locals all speak English on screen, their natural language having been subverted in the name of art.  Well we function in much the same way looking out into the world feeling that the American way, our way, is the natural order of things and everyone should be partaking of it's values – a kind of born-again nirvana.  I am not saying others don't do the same in reverse, but if so, they are equally delusional.

The funny thing about this insight is that one might have thought it would have occured the week earlier when the lights went out while I was sitting at my computer.  Here was a dose of reality, not to mention the absence of air conditioning.  But that's the point, during the great Blackout of '03, inside and outside merged.  There was no disconnect.  Sure we were up to the task (in my case less than twelve hours of deprivation), but we quickly retreated into "normalcy."  The conservation measures we collectively took to reduce strain on the system by restraining ourselves from unnecessary consumption once the lights returned lasted but a fleeting moment.  A little bit of energy sticker shock, but back to our collective SUVs (which most of us "drive" in one way or another).

No, if you look at what's going on these days --  the depressing international situation and the continuing economic slump – much of it stems from planning in "air conditioned" rooms where assumptions are made about the heated world outside.  There is a disconnect, and to some degree we all engage in it.  Indeed our idea of deprivation is so ridiculously tepid compared with what most people experience, that it's a true conceit to claim understanding or worse to impose our solutions.  People behaved themselves enormously well, we tell ourselves, speaking of the power outage that stretched into 27 hours in lower Manhattan, but how would any of us behaved if, like the Iraqis, we were without electricity and clean running water for months since being "liberated?"

It's not that all our intentions are suspect or disingenuous, it's that we are simply stuck in the air conditioning of Judge Stein's courtroom.  Inside, outside two very different places and that is where the trouble starts.

Sorry for the interruption.  Let the circus continue.

Saturday, August 16, 2003


I'd love to recall George W. Bush.  Hell, he wasn't even elected.  I'm appalled by his policies which make me, a generally optimistic person, feel more uneasy about the country's present and future than at any time I can remember.  He has sullied our reputation in the world community.  His trickle down economic solutions seem to have had little impact upon the economy while burdening us again with disastrously large deficits, a Ronald Reagan legacy that we thought had been cleaned up by those much maligned tax and spend Democrats.  Another poor Democratic President is likely to take the rap for raising taxes in the years to come to keep us afloat. 

I'd love to recall George W. Bush, but we can't.  Nor, and this pains me no end, should we be able to mid term.  Recalls aren't democracy in action, they are anarchy in the making.  Perhaps I'm overreacting.  After all it's California where all this craziness is going on and you know how they are.  Well, I don't buy it.  I expect maturity and responsibility from a mega-State whose actions impact the well being of the entire nation.  Sure they have a boring and even unlikable Governor.  Tough.  Sure their economy sucks, but hello, is the New York economy booming?  But all that is beside the point.  The idea that we can just recall our public officials between elections because we don't like them is preposterous.  It may be legal in California, but that doesn't mean it passes either the smell or the sanity test.

Of course it does make for good TV which may be all that counts these days.  The Networks on and off Cable have already anointed a successor, the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger – their kind of guy.  You may have missed it, but Arnold is a man of unquestioned credentials — a proven fiscal manager who clearly has the experience required to solve the enormous problems of a giant state where, due to other spontaneous voter propositions, a Governor is left with virtually no options or powers.  Right!  Details, details.  Arnold debuted his candidacy on Leno with a few good movie character jokes.  What happened to policy-rich announcements on the steps of a public building or historic site?  What happened to seriousness.  And Arnold is not alone, there are a multitude of other self proclaimed neophyte wannabes running who just aren't muscular enough to gain media attention but are nonetheless part of the show.  If this is democracy, perhaps it's time to opt out.

And one final thing.  Firing a sitting governor should not a moment of levity or bravado.  If noting else, it is overturning the will of the electorate, a de facto Impeachment absent reasonable cause, trial and due process.  Impeachments are not happy moments.  I'll never forget the day that the House committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon, someone who had really and criminally abused his office.  When the clerk called the name of Chairman Pete Rodino, a Democrat, you could hear the cracking in his voice as he cast is "aye" vote.  This had to be his saddest and most profound day of public service.  What has happened to that kind of decency, that kind of gravitas in our country?