Friday, December 3, 2010

Two Things on my Mind

Singing and scones.  First, singing.  I just listened to Chanticleer singing "O Come, O Come Immanuel" on the radio.  It was ethereal and transcendent.  Yet again I wished I had a great singing voice.  To be able to open your mouth and produce a sweet, piercing sound that makes people's eyes well up would be to me a truly magical power.  Like beauty, a great voice is something you either have or you don't.  No amount of hard work will ever produce golden tones.

I remember a girl I knew in college; she lived on my floor in my freshman dorm.  I don't even remember her name now.  But I remember her voice.  A group of us would sit around on the floor late at nights, smoke cigarettes, and sing folk songs, and her voice rose above the others like pure silver.  I so much wanted to be able to do what she did so effortlessly, but it was not to be.  The only singing I've ever done is to my kids when they were small, and I even put an end to that when my then-two-year old daughter looked up at me pleadingly and said, "Mommy, don't sing."  Everyone's a critic.


I have a perfect Christmas memory.  (Actually, I have many, but here's one.)  I once lived in Canada where there was a village untouched by commercialism and the tourist onslaught that later devoured it.  There was a main street that ran along a canal, with a bridge at one end and an old mill with a waterwheel at the other.  The buildings were all made of stone, weathered by centuries of northern winters.  In them were shops that sold wooden toys imported from Scandanavia or handmade candles and wooly mitts or beer from anywhere in the world.  There was a tea shop, run by two Scottish grannies, that was a welcome refuge from the cold, the leaden skies, and an afternoon of shopping.  The wood floor creaked comfortingly, a fireplace crackled with warmth and light, and tea was served in giant pots engulfed in tea cozies.  The scones came with clotted cream and strawberry jam, homemade of course.

The tea shop was not  a twee imitation concocted by marketers but a plain and simple place where everything seemed about a hundred years old, the leaded windows still held the wavy glass of earlier times, and the Scottish accents of the ladies whose domain this was took you quite out of yourself.  They understand comfort in the British Isles.  Sitting in that tea shop all those years ago, with a good friend and our two babies, drinking endless cups of tea while the babies dozed in their strollers and we ordered another round of scones--it WAS Christmas--I couldn't imagine that anything in my life would ever go wrong.

What the Hell?

What the hell are the Republicans trying to do?  And why are the American people letting them get away with it?  To take just one issue--the extension of unemployment benefits--the Republicans say we can't afford it.  We have to cut spending (more like slash and burn) AND taxes, as if starving government programs would somehow solve our financial problems.  What "cutting spending" means is this: families with disabled children (picture a ten-year old who can only eat through a tube, can't speak, can't walk, can't bathe herself) will lose desperately-needed services; more families will be driven to the wall by ballooning medical costs; more people who seek employment will feel like failures because there are no jobs in sight; and the economy will still be in the toilet.

Over and over, I hear economists--famous, reputable ones--say, let government keep people afloat and create jobs in the short term, and plan on reducing the deficit in the long-term.  The Republican drumbeat is that raising taxes discourages job-creation, that government is the problem and can't be trusted.  What amazes me is how so many Americans fail to recognize that the government is us.  Everyone in Congress is there because enough Americans wanted them to be there.  Our government is not an occupying army.  If Congress refuses to extend unemployment benefits, what that says to me is that America is a selfish country, at least half of whose people (the majority of voters in our last election) lack the compassion to imagine what it feels like to be poor or to be caught up in circumstances beyond one's control.

There are two ways to go.  As a people, we can band together to create a  compassionate, fair, tolerant society and make decisions based on those values, or we can make money the measure of all things.  I love that challenge to create a hypothetical society without knowing where you would fit into it.  What if you were plunked down in a society as a gay person or a woman or a disabled person?  Would the society you "created" be as good for you as for everyone else?  The society we have now is very good for rich people.  Money rules.  I am flabbergasted that people who stand to lose the most were the very ones who elected a Congress that is intent on protecting the wealthy while slashing away at programs that benefit the majority of us.

Others have articulated my position far better than I--Paul Krugman and Robert Reich to name two--but I want to register my protest against the madness.  Americans are angry.  I am angry.  I am especially angry at the wizards of Wall Street who led us into this ravine, but I am angry too at those who fail to realize that whoever started this mess, we are all going to have to help clean it up.  Before we pull the rug out from under ordinary people, let's raise taxes to the levels of the Reagan or Clinton eras.  An undertaxed society is a starved society.  Too many of our citizens are going hungry, and we damn well better do something about it.