Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Disney Post

You may recall that I went to Disney World a couple of weeks ago.  Now, you may expect that I, being one to brag about knowing when he’s being lied to, would hate Disney above all else.  Yes, and Las Vegas too.  The one is a colossal waste of energy and resources in the middle of a desert; the other transformed a swamp into The Happiest Place on Earth.  Am I a hypocritical asshole for loving to go to both places?  Perhaps.

There is an aspect of “If you can’t beat em, join em” to my enjoyment of Disney World.  Had you asked me before I became the father of a girl if I would buy into the Princess shit, I probably would have spit in your face for thinking so lowly of me that you would even ask the question.  But here is my daughter, draped head to toe in Princess clothes and shit.  Round 1 goes to Disney.  And I don’t really care.  She’s a kid, she likes Belle.  Big deal.

And there is another simple reason Disney is able to out-duel the cynic in me:  They are better duelers; they outsmart me.  The people at Disney are so damn good at their jobs that I can’t be mad at them when I’m there.  I might think I’m going in ready for battle, but they disarm me so fast I’m not even sure when it happens.  They out-dueled me in a store; I do know that.  We went in at the end of the day, looking for Mickey Mouse ears for the kids.  I stopped to check out a big rubber ball, a kickball I guess, painted with Mickey Mouse’s smiling mush.  I looked for the price and couldn’t find it.  “Sonsabitches don’t want to say how much this is, huh? Well, I’m not paying $20 for a rubber ball, I promise you that!”  A worker walked by.  “Sir,” I asked, “Do you know how much these are?” 

“Seven fifty, if memory serves me correctly.”

“Seven fifty! Wait, seven dollars, fifty cents?  That’s actually not bad.”

I carried the ball over to my wife, bent down and whispered in her ear, “This ball is only $7.50.  Shh. Don’t draw attention to us. Let’s buy it. “

“Okay, I’ll add it to this huge fucking pile of bullshit I’ve already grabbed.”  She could have said but didn’t.

Anyway, we bought some stuff.  But we really didn’t go crazy.  And we “only” spent $30.  See, they know exactly what price would offend you; you'd probably pay it, but you wouldn't like it.  I'll call it the movie-theater-$4-bottle-of-water-price.  They know that price, and they go below it.  That ball would cost $4 at Target.  So when I paid less than a 100% Disney Premium, I felt like I was getting away with something.  They almost have you believing they are there to make you happy as opposed to make a buck.  I'm not a communist.  There is nothing wrong with them making a buck.  But you have to admit, some of the Magic is lost when you consider the place as a huge cash register rather than The Happiest Place on Earth.  Anyway, I never saw the cash cow while I was there; just the Magic.  As I say- Geniuses.

And of course, Disney has Jasmine.  That hussy.  I filed a few live on-location Facebook dispatches.  You probably saw them, so I won’t waste much space here with a blow-by-blow account.  Quick recap: We saw her early on our first day there.  She was with The Drip, as I call Aladdin.  They were surprised to see me, I think, as I pretty much wrote her off in a post some time ago.  The Drip was flustered, his eyes darting back and forth between me and Jasmine’s heaving breasts.  He saw the same body language I saw- she was happy to see me- and he did not like it.  They both signed my kid’s autograph books and posed for a picture with the kids.  Then my wife asked Jasmine if she’d pose for a picture with me alone, without The Drip, explaining that she (Jasmine) was a star of my blog (as if she didn’t know!).  Well, The Drip didn’t like it and was about to cause a scene when he remembered his duties as a Disney ambassador.  My wife got the picture (Jasmine grabbed my ass, of course. No one saw, OF COURSE.)  And that was that.  Well, not quite.  I think The Drip had a couple of goons follow us around the rest of the day but I can’t prove it.

The kids seemed to have an ok time, too.  Our son is only two, so most of Disney goes over his head.  He loved the parades and fireworks, though.  Danced-in-the-streets loved.  Jumped-in-puddles-and-laughed-his-ass-off loved.  Shook-his-butt-like-Donald Duck loved.  Waved-his-hands-in-the-air-like-he-just-didn’t-care loved. 

My daughter is more reserved than my son is.  She is uber-shy like me.  In the weeks leading up to the trip practically all she could talk about was meeting the characters and getting their autographs.  But she is not one of these kids who jumps around with crazy excitement while in line waiting to meet, say, Rapunzel.   She’ll intently watch the kids in line; she’ll watch Rapunzel so she knows how things are going to go down when she gets her turn.  She’ll have her autograph book open to the page she wants Rapunzel to sign.  And, when it is her turn, she’ll stare at Rapunzel with a blank, what I can only assume is slightly off-putting, look on her face.  She nods and answers yes/no questions, but that’s it.  It was hard to tell if she was even having fun a lot of the time.  And when you consider that our other kid was too young to get much out of Disney World, it was sometimes frustrating that my daughter wasn’t giggly and giddy over the whole experience.  But when I did get frustrated I’d remind myself that my daughter isn’t the giggly, giddy type.  Not in public anyway.  And I realized that I love that about her.  I love that she pays such close attention to what’s going on.  I love that she doesn’t always know what she thinks about something or someone until she’s processed it for a while.  And I love that she’s learned those things from me. 

So…Thank you, Disney World, for turning a swamp into a place where my family’s best qualities came out, where each of us could have his/her own fun, in his/her own way, together.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bye, Bye Miss American Dream

My family and I luxuriated at a fancy Orlando resort last week.  The place was huge, with four swimming pools, a bunch of bars, a couple restaurants, convenience stores, a “lake” where guests could rent paddle boats and fishing equipment, 9-hole golf course and, of course, a spa.  Yes, it was amazing.  And I sort of hated myself for liking it.  Because by the second day I realized that the resort was lying to me.  Not the people, mind you, but the place.  And I guess the employees were part of the lie, too. But in their defense, they were just doing their jobs.  What was the lie that offended me so?  That I deserved to be there. 

It occurred to me as I sat on my private balcony, looking over a palm-lined pool, at the 5th hole of Nick Faldo’s golf course, that the resort was bending over backwards to convince me that I deserved this.  “You work hard, sir! Enjoy yourself.  Play an expensive round of golf!  Send your wife and daughter to the spa!  Pay $8 for a glass of beer!  Buy an ice cream cone!  You look exhausted; here sit down and have a drink.”

Anyway, I had a nice time at the resort.  I had fun walking in green grass under a warm sun.  I had fun swimming with my family. I had a few nice evenings reading under a light by the pool.  And I actually had a nice time pondering and debunking the huge loads of bullshit we Americans are fed daily, which we gladly gobble up:

“You deserve this.”  For most of human history, humans worked every minute of every day simply to stay alive.  A lot of people still do.  That is hard work.  We’ve simply allowed ourselves to believe the lie that going and standing around somewhere, separated from our family and all of our stuff, is hard work.  As for deserving it- that’s a relief isn’t it?  No guilt that you have so much while most of the world has so little.  You work hard!  You deserve it!  And forget wondering why so many laws favor the wealthy!  They deserve it! 

“Every American (black, white, Mexican, male, female, rich family, poor family) who wants to, who works hard, can succeed.”  Here is a link to a study which shows who your parents are matters more in America than it does in most of the Western world: .  That alone proves the fallacy of the American Dream.  But I’ll go on anyway.

“If you think the wealthy have it so easy, you should work hard and become wealthy.”  (I know we’ve already talked about the “hard work” lie. But let’s leave that out of this argument.)  Here’s a real-life example of this lie that I see a lot:  If I say baseball owners have it too easy, that we taxpayers shouldn’t build billionaires stadiums, some of you will say that I’m jealous.  “They earned their money by working hard.  They didn’t break any laws.  If you want it as “easy” as they have it, do what they did and become a billionaire.  Besides, it’s players who are over-paid.  They demand more and more money.  They’re lucky to be paid as well as they are to play a game!”  My response is always the same:  If you think players have it so easy, work hard and become one.

See what I did there?  It’s preposterous to think that all a regular old dope has to do to become a professional athlete is work hard.   We know that it takes hard work to be a professional athlete.  But it also takes some skills and talents that most don’t have.  And it’s worth remembering that for every owner there are dozens of players.  Therefore we can say with unassailable logic that it’s much, much easier to be a professional athlete than an owner; that the talents necessary to be wealthy are more rare than the talents it takes to hit home runs.  By the way- yes, we’re ignoring, for the sake of argument, all the billionaires who have used psychopathic means, means you wouldn’t use even if you could, to make their money.  To wit:

British journalist Jon Ronson immersed himself in the world of mental health diagnosis and criminal profiling to understand what makes some people psychopaths — dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted. Among the things he learned while researching his new book, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry”: the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large.

Anyway, we can say with absolute certainty that hard work, to say nothing of “hard work”, has nothing to do with success.  Maybe most wealthy people have “worked hard”, but most hard workers are not wealthy.  And they never will be. 

“Raising taxes on the wealthy is punishing success!  It’s class warfare! Why do you hate rich people?”  I don’t like to say that wealthy people should pay their “fair share”.  Not because they shouldn’t; we all should.  But I don’t know what a “fair share” would be.  Maybe the answer is a flat tax. Everyone pays the same percentage of income, period.  That’s a different debate, one that comes only after we call this lie out.  Because, while I don’t know what a fair share is, I certainly know what it isn’t.  And the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share.  Mitt Romney’s effective tax rate has been all over the news lately.  It’s about 14%.  That's pretty damn low.  It’s so low because his income isn’t considered income.  It’s considered a capital gain, a gain on an investment.  But make no mistake- it is his income.  And he’s not alone, of course.  Warren Buffet benefits from the same loophole. So do all those delightful Wall Street hedge fund billionaires.  I hope it doesn’t surprise you to learn that the wealthy benefit from more tax loopholes than you do.  I don’t want to waste time pointing them all out.  Let’s agree that if we closed the capital gains and Cayman Island tax shelter loopholes down, if we took away all deductions, the wealthy would be affected way more than you and I.  Therefore they are disproportionately benefitting now.  Conclusion:  They are not paying their fair share.  Now that we agree on that, we can debate what everyone’s fair share is without calling it class warfare, right?  “You own a yacht and a private plane?  Good for you!  You want to pay half the taxes I do?  Wait…what now?”

“No poor man has ever given me a job.”  If you’ve worked in customer service for more that four days you’ve heard this from an angry customer:  “Goddamnit, I pay your salary!”  While that is maddening as hell, there is some truth to it.  Consumers make our economy go ‘round.  So actually plenty of poor people have “given” you a job.  Which is to say:  We’re all in this together.  The wealthy don’t usually just give people jobs out of charity.  They hire because they need employees.  And employees need employers who take chances, blah, blah, blah.  We don’t need to be thanked for working. They don’t need to be thanked for hiring.  They aren’t doing us a favor; just like our lungs aren’t doing us a favor by breathing.  They can’t survive without us.

“Americans feel entitled to handouts.”  This may even be true.  But it includes the wealthy.  Except when a Captain of Industry wants a handout, he doesn’t call it an “entitlement,” he calls it greed (And of course he wouldn’t even call it that in public!  Only to his friends will he admit that it is greed that drives him.  In public, he’ll call his handout a “tax incentive” or something equally inoffensive).  And he is very pleased with his verbal gymnastics!  Greed is still good, but any fool knows only losers feel- I’m sorry, I know there are ladies present- entitled.”

“I’m a self-sufficient, self-made man.  I don’t need the government’s help.”  There was an article in the New York Times that illustrates this last week.  If you look at the map, you’ll see that the areas of the country that receive the most government benefits are the most Red areas of the country.  Put another way:  The people who rail against the government the loudest, need it the most.  Does this make them all assholes?  No.  It means they’ve bought the lie that people who use government programs are “other people.”  Yes, even while they are on welfare, they continue to believe that the real problem is everyone else, who are nothing but a bunch of Commies; lazy sucklers of the government teat.  They convince themselves that these “others” want welfare, as opposed to the Red Staters, who take it begrudgingly. 

“You only have two choices. You are either a Republican or a Democrat.”  Bull-fucking-shit.  I should have made their supposed differences Lie #1.  Their differences are window dressing; the fa├žade that covers up the truth:  They both work for the wealthy.   We’d notice this if we looked very closely.  So they make sure we don’t look very closely.  Some of them yell, “Look at those Godless Fags trying to get married!  Oh my God, they’re kissing!”  And we run over there and check it out.  Some of us throw stones at the poor lovebirds.   Then the rest of us call the stone throwers rat bastards.  And guess whose hands are in the cookie jar while we’re over there fighting amongst ourselves like a bunch of goddamn puppets?  Hint:  It isn’t the illegal immigrants.

Want good news?  It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can stop letting them distract us, lie to us, and artificially divide us with wedge issues.

We the People’s rousing defeat of SOPA showed us how to act.  Before SOPA, few of us had thought much about online piracy.  Then SOPA came along, and with it Big Business’ message that we MUST stop online piracy now!  “I suppose we do,” we thought.  But they didn’t start muddying the waters soon enough.  They didn’t have their paid “experts” on news shows, with their supposed Independent Research, showing us what a great deal SOPA was for us people.  Their story, their lie, didn’t have time to set in before the actual Internet experts said, “Hold on a minute! SOPA would do way more harm than good and here’s why.”  And because we had heard the truth before the lie set in, we were able to clearly see the lie:  It was a power grab, a rogering.  SOPA wouldn’t just blow up pirates; it would drain the ocean, which isn’t theirs to drain. It took too much from Us in the name of giving Them what they wanted.  We the People saw through the bullshit and realized that SOPA was a terrible deal for us.  So we stood together and said, “No, try again.  And next time come back with something that doesn’t insult our intelligence. ”  And they went back from whence they had come to lick their wounds.  But don’t worry, they will go to the oil companies and ask, “How in the hell did you convince so many of them that climate change was a hoax?”  And the oil companies will tell them about muddying the waters with supposed Independent Research, about how to pay a bunch of experts to go on T.V. and not be in consensus, and then send a guy out to say, “Well, you know, there is a lack of consensus.”  I promise you this:  We will start hearing that there is no consensus among the experts regarding SOPA soon.  Some well-paid jackass will go on T.V. and say, “Well, you know, many experts, myself included, believe that SOPA was a great deal for American consumers, and especially small-businesses on Main Street!  It’s a shame that Internet terrorists and trolls, with the help of Washington insiders and lobbyists, prevented the American people from benefiting from that legislation.  My hope is that one day some valiant Senator will stand up, sponsor a new bill and fight for the people.”

Dear friend, please, stop believing that and start believing this:  You will never achieve the American Dream.  Your life was more or less decided the day you were born (more on that in a future post). We have more in common, much more, than any of us do with the uber-wealthy.  We proved that we are powerful enough to protect our self-interest when we are clear and honest about what our self-interest is.  We do live in a Republic after all.  One person, one vote.  And that remains powerful as long as we don’t allow ourselves to be scattered by lies and wedge issues that artificially divide us. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's?

My wife, kids and I went out for Valentine’s Day sushi tonight (it’s the same sushi, you just need to wait an hour for it).  When we left, I noticed a kid, probably 17 or 18 standing in the crowd of people waiting for a table.  He held two roses and a small, heart-shaped box of chocolates.  He stood out in the crowd because he was the only person holding something besides a phone and because he was alone.  His body language made clear something it looked like he didn’t want to share:  He was sad and anxious.  Now I suppose he could have been worried about any number of things.  But standing there alone, with those gifts, on this night?   I think he was worried about being stood up.

I felt that kid’s anguish and his insecurity.  I remember being that kid.  I wanted to go up and put my hand on his shoulder and say, “You’re a man standing here amongst kids.  You don't know it, but you're brave.  I hope your night turns out the way you want it to.  But it’s only one night.  And life is a fucking marathon, not a sprint.  Keep showing up with flowers and chocolates.  Eventually you’ll find a woman who wouldn’t stand you up for George Clooney.”