November 2006 Archives

Collision Course


So the old dame has a big bump on her forehead, and this is my fault somehow. Yeah, we bumped heads, but I was just playing-- can I help it if humans have soft heads? I mean, I didn't really notice it happening. Sure, I heard a loud crack when our heads collided, but I just kept on playing. The old dame leaned on the fence for a minute and then went in the house. I waited a couple of minutes for her to come back out, and when she didn't, I went in to look for her. I got to the kitchen just in time to see her put--get this--get this--to see her put a bag of frozen corn on her forehead. Woah! I must have really knocked her silly. Humans.



This essay is posted here on the Wall Street Journal's online "Opinion Journal". I don't normally read it, but Kos linked to it today in this post, which contains excerpts.

Back in September I heard on NPR that Webb had only $400k, compared to George Allen's campaign war chest of more than $6 million. I contributed $2k to his campaign--my largest single donation yet to a political campaign and the first time I hit the legal limit. (I charged it on my VISA card, thereby earning twenty bucks worth of free books.) Webb was behind in the polls and I knew I could be throwing money into the dark well of a losing campaign. Now I'm glad I did it. If you don't want to read the whole thing, at least read the first, fifth, and last two paragraphs.

BY JIM WEBB Wednesday, November 15, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

Still others have gone so far as to argue that these divisions are the natural results of a competitive society. Furthermore, an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes.

Most Americans reject such notions. But the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.

The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.

With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.

A Shout-out to Village Hardware

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This place is about a mile from my house. Yesterday I went there three times in the course of spending five hours under my kitchen sink, clearing a badly clogged drain. The clog was beyond the trap (the U-shaped pipe under the sink), and I had to remove the trap to get to the clog with a snake. I had trouble every step of the way. On my first trip to VH I bought Liquid Plumber and a 15-foot snake. On the second trip I didn't buy anything, I just stared at and played around with some of the plumbing parts until I figured out how they went together. I went back a third time when I had to buy a new trap because I couldn't get the old one back on correctly. I took the old trap with me to show them what I needed, and one of the guys said the threads had been damaged by someone over-tightening the joint. (That would be my late husband, whose approach to every such task was to get angry, shout curses, and apply greater and greater force until parts either worked in some fashion or broke, requiring a call to a repairman.)

I've been going to Village Hardware for as long as I've lived in my house: almost 15 years. The same bunch of guys has been working there the whole time. Every time I walk in the store, within a minute or two someone asks if I need help. The answer is almost always yes. There's no limit to the amount of time they'll spend helping me search for just the right screw, resulting in a purchase of less than a dollar. They'll tell me what I need, how it works, and what tool would make the job easiest. I once got there after they'd closed. Hoping they were still open I tried the door, but it was locked. I could see a couple of the guys sitting inside, drinking beer, but I didn't expect anyone to get up. I started to turn away when one of the guys came to the door and let me in. He helped me find what I needed and rang up the sale.

I go there looking like something the cat dragged in. There's no other store I've gone to looking or smelling as sweaty and filthy as I looked, and no doubt smelled, by 4pm yesterday. I mean, I'm not going to take a shower, wash my hair, and change my clothes so I can buy a new trap so I can get back under the kitchen sink and get covered with crud all over again.

I love Village Hardware. I even love standing in line to pay because of the cool stuff they have for sale right by the cash register. As I was standing at the checkout counter for the third time yesterday, I said to the guy working the register "This is my third time here today; that must be a record." He said "The over-under for plumbing is three trips," which made me smile.

Travel As Adventure

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I'm waiting for a pan of water to boil so I can heat up a Home Bistro dinner--I'm way too tired to cook anything. My body has no idea what time it is and I had a killer headache for about half the day.

I was telling my boss that I don't know how I'm going to fill out the expense report for the trip that ended when I got home at about 6pm last night; it's not going to make any sense. I paid for 2 hotels Sunday night: one in Salisbury and one in London. I paid for a bus ticket to Woking and a taxi ride in London.

I had a good plan--an excellent plan--for getting to Salisbury Sunday night. I was expecting to arrive at the Milford Hall Hotel at about 2am and had emailed to let them know I'd be getting in around that time. I was to ring the bell to awaken the night porter.

My plan allowed plenty of time at London Heathrow Airport to get to the main bus station and buy a ticket for the last bus to Woking, where I would catch the last train to Salisbury. It should have been a piece of cake. I didn't, however, build any fallback positions into the plan to accommodate the learning curve.

As I said, I had plenty of time. I got to the main bus station at 10:30pm and the bus didn't leave until 11. The ticket windows were closed so I purchased a ticket from a machine. It was a National Express machine and the ticket had the logo printed on it even though the bus to Woking was not a National Express bus. I didn't know this about the bus to Woking--I didn't know anything about the bus to Woking--and this missing piece of information could have been inconsequential but turned out to be catastrophic. I walked out to the "platforms" on one side of the station and asked a fellow who was working there how I'd know where my bus would be pulling in. He could/should have said "Go back inside; there's a big electronic screen high up on the wall. Sit in a chair and stare at it until your bus number comes up." But he didn't. Instead he glanced down at my ticket, saw the logo, and said "Oh, you want a National Express bus; they all leave from the other side of the terminal."

So I walked out to the platforms on the other side of the terminal and waited for 45 minutes. I finally asked a woman working on the platform what had happened to the bus to Woking, and she said it had left from other the side of the terminal, since the buses to Woking aren't National Express buses.

That's the beginning of my story; things went downhill from there. The woman on the platform tried to help me. She got on the phone with someone working inside, and they discussed bus and train schedules, searching for any combination that would get me to Salisbury that night. The train I'd planned on catching in Woking originated at Waterloo station in London, and it hadn't yet left London. I'd built so much time into my schedule (it was an excellent plan--did I say that?) that there was still a possibility I could go into London and get on the train there. The woman finally decided I should try this, although she said it would be close. At this point she could/should have told me to take the Paddington Express into London and then take the underground from Paddington Station to Waterloo. I've taken the Paddington Express a couple of times; it's easy and fast--about 15 minutes to London, and I've taken many trips on the underground. Had I done this I would have had a good chance of catching the train. I guess it just didn't occur to her. I didn't suggest it myself because I was in receiving mode, so to speak, waiting for her to tell me what to do. After all--what did I know? I was a clueless American, too stupid to know that buses to Woking aren't National Express buses.

There was a bus sitting at the terminal that was about to leave for Hatton Cross station, and she told me to get on it. She said that Hatton Cross was on the Piccadilly line, so I could take the underground all the way into London and, with one change, on to Waterloo. I got on the crowded bus and grabbed a pole since the seats were all taken. It was awkward with a briefcase and a suitcase, but some guy almost always grabs my suitcase and helps me out in such circumstances, and this was no exception.

The bus arrived at Hatton Cross and we all piled off and discovered that the Piccadilly line had been shut down for the night due to construction or something. Apparently traveling on Sunday can be hit-or-miss. We milled around for a while wondering how we were going to get to London; by this time I'd become one of a large group of like-stranded travelers. Two buses were brought and we piled on.

After just a few minutes the driver pulled over at a bus stop. A young Brit complained bitterly--"Are you going to stop at every fooking stop? Just let me off here, then," and he got off. The bus driver got on his radio and conferred with someone. He was instructed to drive straight into London, to King's Cross station. After we'd gone some distance a woman came to the front and began to complain bitterly. She'd intended to go just two stops on the Piccadilly line; if she were taken all the way into London she wouldn't be able to get home. Her cell phone was dead and she had no money.

The driver pulled over, and so did the second bus, which was behind us. The two drivers conferred for a considerable amount of time. Our driver pulled out a map of London and studied it. Someone loaned the woman a cell phone and she arranged for a ride. She got out and walked to a nearby best western hotel to meet her ride.

I knew by then that I wasn't going to catch the train to Salisbury. I decided to go on to Waterloo station anyway, and find a hotel within walking distance. I figured I'd have to take a taxi from wherever the bus dropped me off.

The driver announced that he was going directly into London, and was that okay with everyone? No one objected, so we started out again. When we got to the outskirts of London people began walking to the front of the bus and asking to be let off when we were close to their destinations. The driver was accommodating and began making frequent stops. I asked him to tell me where I could get off and get a taxi. Not that I was in a hurry, but he wasn't going anywhere near Waterloo station. It was well past midnight and many of the streets looked dark and deserted. A fellow passenger heard me and suggested I get off with her at Hammersmith station, since there was a car service office there where I could get a taxi that would be cheaper than one of the black London cabs. And so I did, along with a couple others, and a fellow from Germany and I shared a cheap taxi to Waterloo.

Of course I'd long missed the train to Salisbury. It was after 1am by the time I got to the station. A couple of very nice men working the night shift offered to let me stay in the first aid room there, saying they'd wake me at 5 and I could catch the 5:30 train. It was a nice offer, under the circumstances, it was better than sitting on a bench all night, but I had all day Monday to get to Salisbury and trains left every half hour or so in the morning, so I decided to get a room. I asked the workmen if there was a hotel nearby, and one of them walked out to the sidewalk with me and gave me very simple directions, which I asked him to repeat just to make sure I'd understood: walk down here to the main street, cross over, turn left, then take the first right; you'll see a row of hotels.

I followed his instructions. No hotels. I walked further along and took the 2nd right. No hotels. I continued on, carrying a briefcase, dragging a suitcase, and I was beginning to get a sinking feeling. I knew roughly where I was, having seen the London Eye, the big ferris wheel, while in the taxi. I was right in the heart of London, near the Houses of Parliament. I couldn't have been more than a few blocks from the hotel I'd stayed at last time I was there. But because I hadn't intended to see London at all on this trip I had no map with me, and once the sun goes down I can't navigate (note to self: study the stars).

I was relieved to see one of the black taxis coming toward me. He had no fare and I flagged him down. I asked if there was a row of hotels up ahead and repeated the directions I'd gotten at the station. He shook his head, then said "Get in; I'll take you to a hotel, don't worry about the fare." He drove past a couple of "posh places" and took me to a Novotel, one of a chain. Think Motel 6, but not. He said they get busy and might be fully booked, but they could help me find a place from there. I offered to pay him something but he wouldn't take it, so I just said thank you and let the good deed stand.

The hotel did have a room, and I checked in at about 1:30am. It was cheap for central London, but still expensive: £109, about $200. It was clean, with clean bedding and a good shower. It was a smoking room but it didn't smell like stale cigarettes.

Once I was comfortably in bed I started to feel sorry for myself, not for what I'd been through but because I'd gone through it alone. I examined my feelings and asked myself if I wished my husband had been there with me. Lord no. He had a tendency to lose it under difficult circumstances, which would have made it much, much worse. I used to try hard to prevent his losing it, and because he knew I tried, he complained all the more bitterly. Lord no, I didn't wish he'd been with me.

I asked myself if I wished my son had been with me. Lord no. Although he doesn't "lose it", he sees no reason why he should try to keep his (or my) spirits up when things are falling apart, and he can get downright morose. Seeing him miserable raises my own misery to the power of ten. No, I didn't wish this night on my son.

On the other hand, I did wish my dog were with me. He takes responsibility for his own good cheer and never blames me for his misery, even when I squirt medicine in his ears. He's always happy to be with me, and he loves taking walks so much that he'd have loved walking down a dark London street at 1am. He loves sleeping on the bed with me and would have loved doing so in an expensive cheap hotel in London.

Of course the reality is that he'd have growled at the cabbie, but we'd have made our way to a hotel eventually, although he wouldn't have been allowed to stay there. Sigh. Well, still, I missed the dog most of all at that moment.



and I missed it. This may turn out to have been the best election night of my life, and I missed it. I missed the chance to get the dog riled up with joyous shouting and gleeful prancing around the family room, maybe some pillow tossing and certainly some invented-on-the-fly drinking game. I was in Salisbury, England, and let me tell you, the election coverage was pathetic. Even allowing for the time change, it was truly sad.

Oh it was big news, don't get me wrong. But there were no details, no running vote totals, and only the most mindless, aggravating commentary imaginable. I'm heartbroken at having missed the commentary, both democratic and republican, and having missed being online all night as bloggers live-blogged the election returns.

I went to bed at about 11pm on Tuesday-- 6pm in Virginia. None of the polls were closed and I'd gotten no hint from the news of how things might be going based on turnout or exit polls. I woke up at 5 and turned the news back on. I heard that dems had taken 21 house seats and 3 senate seats, and another 3 senate seats hung in the balance. So hurray--we'd won control of the house, although I'd hoped for a larger victory. It was an hour before I realized that not all the house seats had been decided and the victory might yet be larger.

I got more information in bits and pieces over the past couple of days. There were other Americans at the meeting I was attending, but I didn't know the political leanings of any of them, and if I had to guess I'd say they were probably not pleased by the results. It was like being in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers. Oh wait. I was in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers.

Mental Cruelty

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My brain has been turned to mush tonight by all the political ads on TV. I'm seeing both the Virginia senate ads and the Maryland senate ads--both hotly contested races and of course Virginia's being one of the few that will determine control of the senate. I've seen ads attacking all four candidates--it's slime overload.

Did you know that Webb blamed the women for the tailhook scandal? That he feels no shame for writing about sex in his novels? Or that Allen wants to privatize social security and take away a woman's right to choose? Steele still supports the Iraq war, and the dog he's holding in his ads isn't his. I can't remember what the ad against Cardin said; all I remember is a grainy photograph of a shady-looking politician--or it could have been a shady-looking serial killer.

I've learned that something like 27 years ago Webb was a chauvinist pig. Well that was back when he was a Republican; he's seen the error of his ways so I forgive him. His fiction is highly respected; soldiers pay for blowjobs, get over it.

I've learned where Allen stands on several issues, the only relevant information presented all evening. Of course I already knew all of it and had I not, would have guessed correctly on every point based on the knowledge that Allen is a conservative Republican.

Apparently Steele is pretending to own a dog but doesn't? What the hell? Does this matter? And Cardin was once photographed in Very Bad Light.

I'm hoping for a dem blowout on Tuesday, but win or lose it'll be a relief to get back to Oxyclean.


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For weeks now the only ads I've been seeing have been George Allen's ads bashing Webb. Webb's campaign wasn't putting any ads on the air, at least not here in Fairfax County. Tonight, finally, I've seen two good Webb ads, and none from the Allen campaign.

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