Friday, September 18, 2009

Collar Color

The most memorable event of my summer was “helping” my father and brother build a shed for me. (By “helping,” I mean I held and carried lumber, drove a few screws, and wrapped plastic around the incomplete frame at night.) I keep thinking of this because of several discussion I’ve been involved in on web sites where blue collar labor is sometimes described as the easy way out, an option for people who lack the discipline to devote themselves to college.

These eloquent and well-educated people are full of shit.

The first argument that offended me was the idea that people in what they would describe as menial jobs are there by choice, due to their own sloth or ignorance. One even went so far as to say coal miners must like it, or there wouldn’t be so many generations of minors. This shows an ignorance that borders on racism in its breadth and depth. No ten-year-old kid dreams of a life in the mines. A well-known writer—it may have been Val McDermid—told of her father’s glee at having only daughters, as it meant none of his children would follow him into the mines.

The second offensive argument spins off from the first, an implication these jobs are somehow less worthy than those held by “educated” folk. I have a Masters Degree, and earn my living at a computer keyboard working on learning management systems. I’m good at what I do, and I make good money at it. I am also aware my expertise isn’t worth a damn if the building isn’t properly wired, or the microchip wasn’t manufactured to a minute tolerance. My building is heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer, and I can go to the toilet by walking around a corner.

Those of us for whom this facility was built couldn’t handle any of these things on our own. We are wholly dependent on a skilled or semi-skilled workforce that largely consists of high school graduates. They do the plumbing and wire the buildings and assemble the machines and build the roads and manufacture the parts and fix things when they go bad. They pick up the trash and treat the sewage that keeps 21st Century Washington from looking—and smelling—like 14th Century London. Our quality of life depends far more on these laborers and craftsmen than on your stockbroker’s alleged ability to make you rich. Your money’s only good to buy things someone else has made; the least we can do is respect the people who make them.

There’s a lot more to doing any task well than meets the eye. My father and brother—high school graduates both—were intimately familiar with construction and engineering principles I’d never heard of. They’re not engineers, but their lay knowledge of stress and load bearing was vital, considering this shed was built to be disassembled, transported to my home, and re-assembled by the likes of me. That took not just skill, but foresight. (“What’s that dumb ass likely to do here?”)

Is a PhD in English a worthy endeavor? Absolutely. It’s just not critical. Is a PhD in English worth a shit if there’s no one to manufacture, run, and maintain the publishing equipment? Should anyone complain because they have a PhD in anything and can’t get a job that pays more than an “unskilled” laborer? The PhD was your choice, pal. Man up.

This isn’t to argue which jobs are “better” or “worthier” than others; it’s to remind us everyone has their role to play, and we’d do well not to underestimate the importance of any link of the chain. White collar jobs are not inherently worth more to society than blue collar jobs. Besides, when’s the last time a garbage collector screwed people out of $50 billion?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remembering What's Important

The reckoning is coming for health care reform is near, and there’s one group of vocal whack jobs who need to get their minds right in a hurry if anything worthwhile is going to get accomplished: the extreme left. To be precise, those on the left who claim they’d rather have no bill than a bill without a public option.

Frankly, I think a public option would be a good idea. People can opt in if they want, then time will decide whether it’s a viable alternative. (Private insurers and those who think the government can’t run anything should be in favor of it; according to them, it should be bereft of customers in a couple of years.) That doesn’t mean we can’t live without it. What’s needed now is to ensure everyone gets coverage, that no one loses their coverage because they have the bad manners to need it, and that no one lose everything because they got sick and their bills went over an arbitrary insurance cap. That’s what is important.

But no, these left wing loons have decided they’ve been on the outside looking in long enough. Obama won the election! Everything is completely different! Grow up, people. Even if he was some kind of messiah—which he’s not—he can’t rule by fiat. Bills still have to be passed the old-fashioned way. Too many of these vocal lefties forget the object is to do the most good for the most people. They’ve decided they want it all, or nothing. If they’re not careful, nothing is what they’ll get, and 46.5 million people will still be uninsured. Preferring ideological purity to effectiveness is what got the Republicans in their current state; Democrats aren’t immune.

If they want to get into a pissing contest about something, insist on the end-of-life counseling provisions. The “death panels” were pulled back because of brazen cowardice on the left after despicable misrepresentations by the right. You want to stand up for something, here’s your chance.

It’s not like a failure to get a public option now creates a Constitutional amendment against one. (There isn’t a Constitutional amendment against health care, no matter how creatively Michele Bachmann interprets her copy.) You can come back in five years if the current bill doesn’t work well enough. No law is immutable, except for those accounting for stupidity and cupidity on either extreme of the political spectrum.

Seventeen and Counting

The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a team in the National League since 1887, and were champions in 1901 and 1902. There was no World Series then; they won their first in 1909, beating Detroit four games to three. Their next appearance was in 1925, when they overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Washington Senators. In 1927 they served as fodder for the juggernaut Yankees, considered by many to be the greatest baseball team of all time.

Lean years followed. The Pirates lost 100 games three years in a row in the Fifties, no mean feat when you remember teams only played 154 games a year then. In 1960 they surprised everyone by winning the National League pennant for the first time since 1927, then beat the Yankees four games to three, despite losing by scores of 10-0, 13-1, and 16-3. Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 won the game 10-9, and is still the only walk-off home run to end a seventh game. Many consider this the greatest World Series game ever played.

The decade of the 1970s were the Pirates’ glory years. They won six division titles and two World Series (1971 and 1979), both times overcoming 3-1 deficits to beat Baltimore. Baseball’s cocaine scandals hit Pittsburgh hard, and the team suffered for it until General Manager Syd Thrift and Manager Jim Leyland put together a team that won three straight Eastern Division titles 1990-1992.

The Pirates have not won as many games as they lost in any season since.

A perfect cesspool of cheap ownership, inept management, and bad play culminated this week in a seventeenth consecutive losing season. No team in any major North American sports league has such a record for futility, and Year 18 is virtually guaranteed by the young and marginally talented roster. The longest World Series drought—33 years, from 1927-1960—will surely be surpassed. (1979 is the most recent appearance.)

Pittsburgh deserves much better. Aside from its five world championships, many Pirate players’ names are spoken with reverence by baseball cognoscenti. Honus Wagner, one of the first truly great players, still considered by some historians to be the greatest shortstop of all time, and one of the original five players in the Hall of Fame. Mazeroski, considered by many to be the greatest fielding secondbaseman ever. Roberto Clemente had 3,000 hits, won four batting titles, twelve Gold Gloves, and was named to twelve All-Star teams. Willie Stargell hit more home runs over the right field roof of Forbes Field than all other players combined.

Now the Pirates are a glorified minor league team, developing players to be traded to teams serious about winning just before free agency escalates their salaries. It’s a shame. They play in a beautiful ballpark, in a city that supports decent sports teams as well as any. The diehard fan base is still there. The farm system has players with great potential, but how many will be allowed to achieve it in Pittsburgh? Current management swears it has a plan, that it doesn’t just want to build a team that can eke out a winning record, but a champion. Nothing we haven’t heard before.

For someone who grew up watching the Pirates in the Seventies, this is hard to take.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Enough is Enough

In the 1950s I would have been called a New England Republican: social liberal, fiscal conservative. I think government exists to help people with the things they can’t take care of themselves, and that everyone’s position should be viewed as though it was happening to me, or someone close to me. I also think we need to be able to pay for anything we do. The only personal debt I have is my mortgage.

Another term would have been added to me in the Sixties: pragmatist. We can try whatever looks promising, but it has to work. I'm okay with increased law enforcement as a means to combat drug usage in this country. I do have issues with our insistence on doing more of the same when it hasn’t worked all that well in forty years.

As the nation has moved right, these opinions of mine have categorized me as a Capital L Liberal, which is fine. What is not fine is the evolution of "liberal" into meaning a weak-kneed pussy who has no choice but to put up with whatever tripe those on the other side of the spectrum choose to sling.

We’ve all seen pictures of the signs made that show Obama with a Hitler mustache. Yesterday was the first time I saw one in person, as I was accosted by someone ranting about whether this was who I wanted as my president. Something about that moment hit me. I’m not sure why, but in that second something in me decided enough is enough.

I never drank the Obama Kool-Aid. I didn’t vote for him in the primary, and I voted for him in the general election because I truly believed he was a better choice to run the country than McCain, not because I thought he was The Messiah. I am less then enamored of his performance in office, though I think he’s done a generally good job considering the pile of shit he was handed. This is not a reaction to people picking on my president.

What I’ve had enough of are lies and distortions. People on either side of the argument blatantly ignoring, misrepresenting, or making up “facts.” I am always willing to debate and discuss an issue, so long as both sides are debating in good faith. No one learns anything by talking; we learn by listening. Listening to lies and half-truths won’t work for anyone. As for the media’s current attempts to be “fair and balanced” by reporting what each side says and leaving it at that, there’s a quote from The Wire that sums it up: A lie isn’t another side of the story. It’s just a lie.

The First Amendment exists for exactly this reason, so everyone can make their point. We do it a disservice, and disrespect those who have sacrificed to protect it, when we hide behind it to spread falsehoods. I’m sick of listening to, and have no stomach for addressing, the more egregious examples as they occur. With that in mind, I’m going to exercise my First Amendment rights and provide my final answers to some of the worst trespasses.

To those who argue this year’s health care reform legislation had provision for “death panels” and encouraged euthanasia:

Fuck you.

To those who deny all evidence to the contrary and insist Obama has not adequately proven he was born in the United States:

Fuck you.

To those who bemoan the deficits accrued by the stimulus and stayed silent while the previous administration ran up comparable debts on tax cuts:

Fuck you.

To those who would deny gay couples the marriage rights you have in the name of “defending marriage,” yet cannot show one heterosexual marriage that has been damaged, or even cite one cogent reason why giving gays the right to marry would affect anyone else in any way:

Fuck you.

To those who would depict the President of the United States (or any member of his family) as a monkey, or use any other racial slurs:

Fuck you, racist bastard.

I’m still happy to debate and discuss anything. I’m not just going to lie around and listen to some of this bullshit anymore.