About A Travelling Salesman

If you want to understand the question the Democratic Party needs to answer, go read the winning essay in the Shell/Economist essay contest.

The question asked was “Import workers or export jobs?”, and while the winner – writer Claudia O’Keefe – has no prescription, she does have a damn good diagnosis of the problem based on her personal history.

I’ve always seen The Economist as the most Establishment of all publications, reflecting a clear-eyed mixture of High Corporate and Top Government thinking. It pleases me to think that people like Ms. O’Keefe have made it onto their radar.

My stepfather was a salesman during the 1960s, traveling California and the American southwest in his big, hulking Buick, selling bras, slips, and girdles to small department stores and five-and-dimes. Whenever he returned from one of his two-week trips, he brought several lunch sacks full of torn price tags with him, evidence of product sold. My job was to sort and count the tags, at a nickel for every hundred I recorded.

We lived in a three-bedroom home in an upscale Los Angeles suburb, owned two cars, and took annual vacations. My brother, sister, and I never lacked any of the benefits of a middle-class upbringing, a new school wardrobe each year, copious Christmas presents, private lessons, even horses when we were older. In a medical emergency we worried more about how to get to a doctor quickly than we did about paying the bill. All of this was affordable on my dad’s one sales job without incurring vast amounts of debt.

These days the same lingerie lines my dad marketed are now sold primarily in Wal-Mart. Instead of being crafted in the U.S.A. by American workers they are manufactured almost exclusively in China. Gone are the traveling salesmen who ferried clothing to small town variety stores across the nation, and their buyers who used to decide which lines to stock. Most of the old independent retailers no longer exist. A handful of chains have replaced them, with buying decisions made at the corporate level. Jobs which comfortably supported a family have been eliminated in favor of new ones paying so little employees are encouraged to apply for food stamps.

Go read the whole thing.

As I said, she has no meaningful prescription, no policy to get us back to what she – along with millions of other frightened middle-class Americans – sorely misses. When the Democrats come up with a meaningful one, they’ll start standing for something.

The People United … Can Never Be Defeated (II)

I assume that if you read this blog you probably read others – including Iraq the Model, the blog of the brothers Omar and Mohammed who I met in Los Angeles and Boston last year.

But in the slight case that you don’t, please go check out Mohammed’s post yesterday, Part I of Blogging vs. Terror:

bq.. The broadcasted confessions of Syrian elements who work for the intelligence give a clue about what’s being planned for Lebanon.

Some of us got panicked by the scenes and the statements of those butchers but one guy from the team said “we will strike back through blogs” I agreed with his words so I told my friends about a short conversation I had with someone a few months ago; that person said that terrorists have the capability to prepare video clips for their operations and have them broadcasted on the web in less than 48 hours.

Well, that’s fine, now we’re going to expose the terrorists and their evil doings and show it to the public opinion in Iraq and the world in a matter of few hours or even sometimes in minutes and the world then will hear our voice first before the terrorists can get their ugly voice out.

Most of the terror activities are run from bases in Syria and a few other places outside Iraq but the future blogs will be here right on the event spot itself. The people will have the ability to show their activities and thoughts and publish them faster and more often than the idiotic terrorists and this way the people (the freedom lovers) will feel stronger and more united and this can make them even more determined to confront the threats.

We’ve already seen this happening in a limited manner through the number of blogs that are linked to by the friends of democracy website; they were able to get the news to the readers way faster than the media did.

One blog has exposed a few aspects of the crimes of the Syrian regime against the Kurds in Syria and today, one blogger from Najaf was the 1st source to publish pictures for some terrorists trying to enter the Iraqi lands from Saudi Arabia.

We used to have a chant at demonstrations back in the 70’s…

“The people united … can never be defeated.”

I don’t think I really knew what that meant until recently.

All of my views on appropriate policies in the Middle East and elsewhere have been predicated on the notion that the majority of the people there have been living behind doors, heads ducked down, while mad murderous thugs battled for and held on to power.

I believed that if we could back down the thugs – even for just a while – that the dentists and lawyers and plumbers would reassert their ownership of civil society and marginalize the thugs.

I believe that even more today.

‘Sideways’ – downward…

Intermittently, I feel like I’m lost in pop culture … TG and I went to a party yesterday, and it ended sooner than we thought, and Middle Guy was having some friends over, so we decided to go to the movies; the choices were ‘Constantine,’ ‘Sideways,’ and ‘Hitch.’

We hadn’t seen any of them, and so decided to see Sideways.

Half an hour in, I was wishing we hadn’t. I sat through it, and as we walked out, asked TG what she’d thought of it.

“I can’t for the life of me understand why it’s up for an Oscar.”

“Neither can I.”

I don’t for a moment get it. Compared to ‘Aviator’ or ‘Million Dollar Baby’ – this movie is just pathetically weak. it is weakest where – for the kind of small ensemble movie it is – it ought to be strongest, in the relationships between the characters and our relationship with them.
Each of the four lead actors felt like they were off doing an individual workshop exercise – or whatever. And to be honest the women were simply there as punching bags for the two dislikable male characters to seek as prizes – sexual and otherwise.Character notes don’t make characters.

But the main problem with the film is the one I mentioned in my comments on ‘Gunner Palace’ (which did get a PG-13 rating, BTW). The author has to respect, and ideally like, their characters. In Aviator – with a deranged central character – it’s clear that Scorcese does both. In MDB, it’s obvious from the getgo that Eastwood loves and honors his characters. It’s not clear that this writer and director give much of a damn about their characters – and so why should I?

In it’s defense, there’s good talk on Pinot, tho. And sorry, but Jocko’s in Nipomo blows The Hitching Post out of the water as far as Central California BBQ restaurants are concerned.

We wish we’d seen ‘Constantine.’ And say that knowing that I hate Keannu Reeves acting in everything he’s ever done.

Terrorist Supporters in Northie

I’ve smacked Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber more than a bit – and regret none of it – but the guy made sense on something this week, and I won’t be able to live with myself until I compliment him for it.

He suggested that President Bush not receive the Sinn Fein representative at the White House this St. Patrick’s Day.

If the government wants to send out the right signals it should go ahead and hold the function – but invite only representatives of those political parties that are committed exclusively to democratic politics. This may sound like diplomatic niceties – but it would send a quite powerful signal, and, I suspect, have a substantial chastening effect on a group of people who are in sore need of chastening.

Makes good sense to me.

And it’s timely. Here’s the Guardian today:

Sinn Féin was in crisis last night as another prominent member in the Irish republic was dragged into the multi-million pound IRA money-laundering investigation police say could connect republicans to the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery.

As the first of the seven people arrested in raids across Cork and Dublin this week appeared in court charged with IRA membership, a former Sinn Féin vice-president and one of the most well-connected bankers in the country was helping the police with their inquiries.

The depth of U.S. support for the IRA during the bloody 1980’s can’t be overstated.

And it’s a shameful thing.

Gunner Palace

Got invited to a preview of Gunner Palace tonight; it’s the documentary about the artillery battalion in Baghdad.

My reaction to the movie while I was watching it was complicated – up, down, sideways, and back again. And when it was over, I was ready to sit back down and see it again, which is a strong vote that you go see it as well.

The couple that made it tried hard to make a nonpolitical film about the war – which will, doubtless, satisfy no one. It frustrated me, as someone who sees the war fundamentally politically (and I don’t just mean in the narrow sense of domestic politics). And then I just started watching it.

I love the poetry of Raymond Carver, but don’t like his stories as much as many people do. It wasn’t until I saw the film that Robert Altman made of them – Short Cuts – that I realized why.

Carver (and Altman) doesn’t like his characters much. So I wind up asking myself, why should I waste my time with them?

The filmmakers of Gunner Palace – Michael Tucker and Petra Epperstein, a couple who live in Berlin – like their characters very much. They respect them and let them speak, teenage privates and beefy colonels. They show them succeed and fail, and they try damn hard in 90 minutes to give you a window into the year the soldiers they film spent in a war.

It’s not a perfect film; I winced a few times at the visual quality and a few times more at edits and quotes that I thought were unfair. But overall, it’s an excellent film, and in a way a perfect film about this war would have been a lie.

They made a few editing choices I wouldn’t have made; they should have ended it with the quote “When this movie is over, you’ll forget me. The only ones who will remember are us.”

Now that I’ve seen the film, I can testify that that’s just flatly not true.

When it comes to your town, go see it. If you oppose the war, if you support the war, if you don’t give a damn about the war, you should see it so that you’ll remember too.

WoC Makes News, Film at 11…

It’s not every blog that can get linked to by Kos, Wonkette, and the Conservative Political Action Committee all in one 24 hour period…

But it appears that Jeff “Gannon” made an appearance on these very pages – he’s the writer for a small news service linked to the GOP who somehow got a White House Press Pass. Amusingly, he appeared to have a day job that involved web design for – or something more – for a gay escort service, among other things.

The folks opposed to the GOP are working themselves up into a righteous lather because the GOP allowed this … this … seamy guy!! to come into the White House while having (the GOP in this case) worked themselves into a lather about Billy C playing hide-the-cigar with Monica.

I think that’s a dumb and losing proposition.

But there is a serious issue to pick up regarding how this guy got a press pass, and how it is that people who are essentially shills might have been able to participate in press conferences.

Of course, there are shills for the left and for the right. So as a thought experiment, can I suggest that some enterprising blogger with more time on his hands than I have file a FOIA request and ask who got white house press passes allowing them to come to press conferences and what their affiliation was for the date range from, say June of 04 to December of 04??

I’d love to see it…

Hot Media Action

In a lot of cases, when I look at issues that I can’t make up my mind on, I’ll sometimes look at who’s standing on which side of the room, and make up my mind by choosing who I’d be more comfy standing with than against.

Today, I’m standing, uncomfortably, with Jeff Jarvis on the recent “indecency tax” passed by the House.

It shouldn’t take much explanation why I’m standing with Jeff; he’s a good guy, we see the world in much the same way (although he’s like a foot taller than I am), and on a fundamental level, I don’t like the idea of some pecksniff fining me out of business because I said a dirty word. And I doubly don’t like the idea of handing the government a tool that could be used to marginalize and criminalize speech…when we’d be told that a modern-day Lenny Bruce is being jailed for swearing, not for challenging the government politically.

So why, exactly, am I uncomfortable?
Because I was listening to Kevin & Bean on KROQ the other morning as I drove Littlest Guy to school. It was Valentine’s Day, and they were taking calls on “the worst Valentine’s Day stories” – a women whose live-in boyfriend had burned down her parent’s house when the candles he set up in their bedroom as a romantic gesture set the room on fire while he was out getting champagne. Very funny stuff indeed…and then they explained that they’d give her a copy of ‘All Anal Action v3′ as a prize, and I quickly shut the radio off and had some ‘splaining to do.

Yes, I can listen to CD’s or NPR when I have the kids in the car.

Yes, there are choices.

But somehow, when I think about this, or the New York DJ’s Opie and Anthony who egged a couple into having sex in a church (where they were arrested), I kind of squirm a bit.

Where’s the bottom? Is the market really the only thing that we can legitimately use to determine where the bottom is?

I don’t know. I do know that I’m damn uncomfortable with much that I see in the mass media today. I’m equally uncomfortable with government censorship.

Are those my only choices?

Scout’s Honor

Bruce Sterling has a great post up on his site about the array of possible reactions to crisis (hat tip, LA Voice):

Our future world has been divided into axes of threats and responses.

In the “Business as Usual” world, threats are mild and low, and nobody is feeling very responsive or inventive. So it’s a sleepy, prosperous time. No need to rock the boat.

In the “Deer in Headlights” world, threats are grave, but society is paralyzed with fear and instinctive conservatism. These people will be mown down in hecatombs. There will be hell to pay.

In the “Never Again” world, everybody is grimly aware of the threat and everyone is resolved to meet in one single, resolute, uninventive way. This is a world war, basically. It’s like a Bush II that never ends.

In “Scout World,” the threat is hysterically extreme but people are hysterically inventive! They’re out beating the boundaries of the possible, looking for anything that works or even doesn’t work!

While I won’t buy off on his casual dismissal of grim determination, I will suggest that “hysterically inventive” is going to be a key to winning…

…we’re in a world where today the best metaphors are around emergence. Let’s emerge.