Sunday, May 10, 2009

30 Minutes Free

photo of a TV screen showing the San Francisco Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum
The photo above is from a few days back and is my favorite pitcher, the Giants' Tim Lincecum. I meant to spend the evening watching wee Timmie pitching against the hated Dodgers of Los Angeles, but the game was at one rather than five, so I have just tuned in to find that the Giants scored two in the top of the 13th and went on to win.

The Dodgers are without Manny Ramirez, of course, because he was caught with untoward chemicals coursing through his veins. Manny complains that he took something prescribed by a non-Dodger doctor, but he took the 50-game suspension anyway. Not much protest for an innocent man. Perhaps because the steroid in question is widely believed to be a female hormone which curiously restarts testosterone production after a run of steroids. The country meanwhile froths itself up into further shock that ... egads ... there are steroids in baseball. What ... "gambling at Rick's"!

All sorts of writers and pundits and persons on the street call for their ... heads. No punishment is too severe. Ban, 'em, jail 'em, spurn 'em, and most assuredly don't let 'em into the Hall of Fame. I'm with San Francisco's incomparable sports columnist Bruce Jenkins who wrote in yesterday's Chronicle: "Better to just drop the [Hall of Fame] integrity clause and make conspicuous note - right there on the plaque - of any inductee's transgressions. Here stands Barry Bonds: noted cheater, hell of a ballplayer. Judge him as you will."

No one calls for a rationale approach to steroids, one in which we research pros and cons, and look for ways to use the economic value of performance enhancement to provide medical value for all of society. No, better to just point.

Because we have a problem in this country ... I would call it a madness of blaming. We are a giant audience of finger pointers, slouching in our lounge chairs and digitating madly at all the bad folks out there, all the people who got caught, everyone we can feel superior to. Nyah, nyah, you got caught ... off to jail with you.

photo of a billbord displaying a pair of grim darj eyes and the words Armes Citoyens partially visible at the bottom
There's another story in the news, totally different and horrifying. It seems that some whack jobs outside Dallas deliberately shot four people whom they thought were trespassing. Only it turned out they weren't trespassing. And it turned out that one of the four shot people, a seven-year-old boy, died. These lowlifes shot and killed a seven-year-old for apparent, though not evident, trespassing. What is even more horrifying is that under Texas law, chances are good that there would have been no charges had the four actually been trespassing.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the shooters' property was protected with a sign that read "Trespassers will be shot. Survivers will be reshot!! Smile I will."

This too is a part of the madness of blaming, though in a different sense than the self-satisfied finger-pointing at Manny Ramirez. These are people who sit on their front porch, rifles in hand, waiting to find someone to blame, and shoot. Imagine them scampering around grabbing the hardware ... "there's trespassers, ma ... git yer gun." The stir-crazy rage of people whose focus in life is so narrow that even a hapless puncturing of their property line calls for bloody murder.

Blame and panic ... albeit, in this case, a carefully contrived and self-absorbed panic.

photo of street art in which an apparently Chinese woman is carrying bags of goldfish with a background that appears to be Hong Kon
Blaming and panicking. But it is typically a short cycle of blame and panic ... and thereby a kind of cheap panic. That is the tonic in these times for the overwhelming crisis that faces the species. Cheap panic. One day it is swine flu, then it is Manny, then it is a big-eyed girl child lost somewhere. Each of these items real and worthy of attention. But the short cycle of panic and blame reduces them by exploding them, turns them into bling when they are real events worthy of intelligence and reflection and examination.

Of course, we all know this. And we all know that there is nothing we can do about the permanent short cycle of cheap panic.

Rather, we are a society that is in the grip of a manic permanent state of recycling panic that is called the Republican Party. Not saying anything new here. They are proud of running around fowlly screaming that the sky is falling. Indeed, one terrifed opponent of gay marriage admitted as much in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle: "'We absolutely believe the sky is falling,' said Kris Mineau, a former Air Force pilot and pastor who is president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. 'But we believe it would be a generational downfall, not an overnight downfall.'" That's a change in tune, of course, but hardly a surprising one. Given that christians have been eagerly anticipating the apocalypse for 2,000 years, they have a lot of experience with stringing out their panic. They have, indeed, succeeded in grafting this theology of fear and panic ... and blame too ... onto one of the two quasi-state institutions that masquerade as political parties in this country.

photo of a billboard of a young man staring wide-eyed
So the 'publicans feed on and off panic. Big whoop. What annoys me is the degree to which our love of cheap panic in the hands of such commentators of Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow is having the effect of enabling Republicans to continue to dominate the national political debate out of all proportion to their shrinking base. Don't get me wrong ... I love those two. I listen to them most evenings as I go about my household duties after work. But they need to spend more time focusing on the debates within the dominant party about how to implement the perspective that accompanied Obama's great victory. Instead ... drub drub drub ... punish the torturers, lampoon the idiots, point fingers at the hypocrites. And, as the inimitable Talkingpointsmemo pointed out today, "Can it really be true that the list of Americans who will appear on the Sunday shows this weekend is David Petraeus, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain?" Folks, it is not getting the job done.

And it undermines Obama who seem too willing to use the racket as an opportunity to soft pedal the perspective. He came into office as a man of big ideas. He is operating right now as a man happy that things are still moving along. Permanent cyclical panic as a mode of national life makes it nearly impossible to break out of the trap of tiny ideas, of yesterday's assumptions.

In other words, pointing fingers at Manny is of a piece with clean coal. Both issues would benefit from rational analysis and the development of policies that point to a new vision of the future.

photo of a sign reading 30 minutes free
But I am not optimistic. We are, with a nod to my last post, a bunch of cheap whores easily bought off by cheap sugar, cheap fat, cheap panic, cheap gas, and cheapening of the self that is a national obsession with finger-pointing. As long as we have our cheap we just roll on to the next thing. Not a lot of room to break out into something different when we are stuffing our pudgy faces with the moral equivalent of Twinkies.

So, there's a post ... 30 minutes I will not get back. A cheap 30 minutes.

30 minutes free. See ... I like cheap stuff too.

Photos by Arod: top photo of Tim Lincecum taken a few starts ago from my TV set; second photo taken a few years ago from a poster on Haight Street advertising a televised soccer event; third photo taken today on Linden Alley of a new piece of street art that replaced one of my favorite Obama pieces; fourth photo taken today of a poster on Lafayette alley advertising some upcoming Fox TV show that I promise to ignore; and the last photo taken today from a Walgreen's store window also on Linden alley.

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