Monday, November 28, 2011

Fool For Thought

Nowadays, I typically do not use the drive-thru. For one, I drive a truck and wish not to exhaust any more fuel than necessary. Secondly, I have come to find the convenience of the drive-thru impersonal. Sometimes, taking the added time to go inside gives a person, on both sides of the counter, the human need for personal interaction.

Recently, I needed a new fuel pump installed on my truck. Using a can of starter fluid, I was able to determine that this was in fact the cause of my troubles. Cost = $2. Typically, I try to do my own repairs, mainly because I am capable enough and to save labor costs. Occasionally, as in the case of a fuel pump stupidly designed into the fuel tank, I have to use a repair shop for the work. There was a time when a mechanic – one you knew by name from years using them – could diagnose a problem just by looking at your vehicle. Now, drivers shell out hundreds of dollars for a mechanic to hook up a diagnostic computer to do it. What happened when I took my vehicle to a mechanic? Even though I had told them the specific problem, they needlessly hooked it up to a computer to determine the problem. Cost = $95.

On Thanksgiving, I decided to participate in “Black Friday.” By participate, I mean drive (thanks to the new fuel pump) to a mall, park and observe the chaos. No serious shopping for me, though I did peruse the electronics for deals. Nothing caught my eye that was so necessary for me to have camped out for days – missing my turkey dinner – or wait in line for hours. As I aimlessly meandered through the dense crowds, I overheard
an associate radio another at one store, “there’s no place to do returns for a couple of hours.” Presumably, the situation dictated that those registers be used for checking out customers, but would there really be an overabundance of them trying to return an item at midnight? Who is standing in line for hours to purchase something, only to turn around and stand in another to make a return? Guess people really do go loony on Black Friday. Or, just want more time interacting with others.

Now, it’s “Cyber Monday,” the catchy name given to the online version of frenzied consumerism. As impersonal as it may be, hidden by the veil of cyberspace, it is a day that can draw even the most anti-shopping person. For starters, unless a shared computer, finding a parking space is no problem. Second, no fuel is wasted driving store to store – averting, for a time, the necessity of a costly new fuel pump. Moreover, even with shipping costs, one can save money while checking yourself out. Without having to stand in line(s).

©2011 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A House Divided

“History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.” Oh Mark Twain, how true your words ring. Many pundits are comparing the Obama Administration to that of former President Jimmy Carter, and for good reason:  economic woes, social unrest and political activism. All bundled together by a general malaise over the divergent path of the nation. Both periods also have witnessed Afghanistan and Iraq in the throes of uncertain transition, Israelis and Palestinians in conflict and Iran a foreign-policy nightmare. Sound familiar? And while these conditions have the appearance that 1979-’80 is recurring three decades later, it is more the variety of commonality than repetitive.

Yet, in many stark ways, it is not 1979. Even as drivers grow angry over the price of gas while continuing to drive all over creation – ostensibly to purchase the latest electronic gizmo that they absolutely MUST have – there are no lines or quotas at gas stations disrupting our daily lives. When President Carter left office, unemployment was at 7.5%, with a truly dismal jobs report on opportunities for American workers. (Again, with an unemployment rate sustained above 9%, sound familiar?) Today, unemployed protesters besiege Wall Street, however justifiably, over their role in the economic collapse, yet do nothing themselves to revive the allegedly worsening economy by filling the thousands of unfulfilled jobs purportedly taken by illegal aliens or shipped overseas. “Job creation” is nothing more than a buzz phrase used by politicians to push their economic agenda. Peruse any classifieds of any city and you will see jobs available, just not ones Americans deem suitable for achieving the self-proclaimed right-by-birth “American Dream” – a prime example of prosperity breeding indifference, and any threat, real or otherwise, to that accustomed level breeding indignation.

Frankly, I have never been a sign-making, camping-out protester, leaving it more to private and written rants. Feeling accomplished without paying the issue another thought. In high school, I once dragged my friends Pete and John to a rally sponsored by a local radio station protesting the censorship of rock lyrics – a campaign spearheaded by the Parents Music Resource Center, whose committee members included none other than former Vice-President Al Gore’s wife, Tipper. We woke up, drove down and basically stood around listening to people decry government intrusion on individualism and choice. The rally, while an enlightening experience that allowed us to lend our voice to a cause, failed to accomplish anything other than the continuance of our teenage angst against the establishment. In the end, the opposition eventually won out with warning labels on controversial music albums still seen today.

There are those individuals whose sole purpose in life is to rally against every trivial issue. As that trend escalates, there is a dangerously growing divide in this country among political ideologies, perhaps on a scale not seen since the Civil War or Civil Rights eras. With the dramatic gulf between liberals and conservatives, civility in political discourse has taken a backseat to escalating hostility and bitter, unabashed polarization. As if two nations exist, with either side no longer willing to compromise egoistic hegemony for magnanimous accord. Or acknowledging fault for missteps that have heightened rather than alleviate the socio-economic crises the country continues to face, instead choosing to politicize and demonize the other side in blame.

In placing blame, many have fallen back on tired language and stereotypical rhetoric. Surprisingly, this comes more from liberals than conservatives – even though conservatives endure the brunt of accusations for such perpetuation – who bring up these issues with no other purpose than to change the focus of discussion, marginalize the opposition and draw attention away from the real issue. Ironically, the continual mention of race, gender, disability and/or age maintains, rather than alleviates, the societal stigma that liberals are so keen on eliminating, thus preventing the extinguishment of such biases despite efforts otherwise. If we abandoned the need to mention such demographics, society would no longer associate the long-ingrained negative connotations of those terms. That, of course, is optimistic. The first three – race, gender, disability – have long histories of bias, examined in depth by numerous scholars. Age is particularly strange, though, as older members of society used to be associated with wisdom and experience; now, it is seen as a drain on resources and out-of-touch.

Many, including myself, like to blame the media continually giving voice to these deluded extremists. In certain cases, this is not an unwarranted indictment. Let’s face it, though, human bias has played a role since humanity first began recording events eons ago. Until our robot overlords begin reporting the news – and in some instances, hasn’t this already begun? – such bias will continue to be an influence. It simply comes down to filtering the irrational from the reliable. What the United States needs – what it must do – is to return to its core principles. Principles defined in our aged, yet enduring founding documents. We, the People, are exactly one year away from the next presidential election, with the hope that it can bring change that moves us from the brink rather than irrevocably pushing us over the edge. For as President Abraham Lincoln wisely, if not prophetically, stated, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

©2011 Steve Sagarra