Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


It's all connected

Let's talk about Chuck. Chuck is in his mid-thirties, white as Wonder bread, and lives, well, let's just say in Mesa, AZ, shall we? Chuck is a teacher at a high school and he has a lovely wife who underwrites mortgages. He has two daughters - one is almost four, and the other almost one. The elder one has cerebral palsy.

Chuck is a hard worker. He teaches "at-risk" children in an unpleasant section of Phoenix. Many of these kids are illegally in the United States, or their parents are. Many of the kids are from poor families with drug abuse and domestic violence in them. Many of the kids are Hispanic or black. Even the white ones are poor.

Chuck sees kids come to his class and leave with stunning regularity. He tries to teach them about topics that have absolutely no relevance to them, like proper grammar. Why should they care about proper grammar when there's a good possibility they or someone close to them might end up in jail soon? Chuck explains to them that having good grammar is the first step along the way to a better life, and that school is a way to better themselves so that they don't have to exist on the margins like they do. He tells them that they have a lot to overcome because they are poor and in a minority racially. He also tells them that there are many opportunities for them because they are poor and in a minority racially. They just have to know where to find them.

Why, Chuck wonders, do these kids destroy themselves when the consequences of their actions are all around them? Why do they think they are all just a lottery ticket away from escaping this world? Chuck turns on the television and sees Terrell Owens getting paid millions of dollars for being a crybaby. He sees Kobe Bryant getting away with adultery and possibly worse because he can throw a ball through a hoop. He sees Curtis Jackson bragging about how many times he's been shot and how many women he has sex with. He does not see enough stories about Warrick Dunn aiding single mothers in the Atlanta area get into houses or Joseph Simmons, co-founder of Run DMC, who is now a minister. He realizes that there are plenty of bad role models for white youth out there, but the role models for minorities are almost lopsidedly negative.

So Chuck turns off the television. He decides to go out for some groceries. He heads to the local large conglomerate and pays a miniscule amount of money for Chilean salmon. He notices that in the back of the store, several Hispanic men and women are working. He asks them how much they make, but they don't answer - either they don't understand English or, more likely, they are scared to answer. He considers the wages they are being paid - probably less than minimum wage. He wonders how little they would have to be paid before he decided cheap fish just wasn't worth the suffering. He enjoys cheap groceries, however, so he doesn't think too much about it. When he gets home his yard is immaculate because the inexpensive landscapers have been over. He doesn't wonder how much they get paid either. Businesses are trying to make a profit, after all, and they want to pay as little as possible for labor. They are, after all, passing the savings onto us. The government has to give the businesses tax cuts so that they will stay in the state or the country, so in order to make money, they have to tax someone. They also have to pay for rounding up illegal immigrants, and that comes out of Chuck's taxes as well. If the companies Chuck shops at didn't hire illegal immigrants, they couldn't keep the prices low either. Chuck once went into a store that didn't hire illegal immigrants and got all its produce and meat from "environmentally-friendly" farms. The prices were higher, so Chuck didn't shop there again.

Chuck wonders why the government doesn't do something to stop the big conglomerates from hiring illegal immigrants and other forms of unskilled labor. If the fines they incurred were stiff enough, they would find other ways to make money - but that would mean raising prices, something Chuck doesn't really want, but would be willing to live with. Then he reads in the newspaper about lobbyists for the conglomerates and the factory farms and the foreign governments giving money to his Congressman to keep the fines low and the regulations non-existent. Chuck believes in a free market, but then he reads about certain conglomerates driving their competitors out of business and giving large amounts of legal money to the campaign fund of his Congressman to allow it to happen. He didn't vote for the Congressman, but the Congressman is supposed to represent his district. Now, on the one hand, the Congressman talks about getting tough on illegal immigrants, which is fine, but he also votes against funding for schools, which would help the sons and daughters of those illegal immigrants escape the ghetto and be bigger contributors to the economy. Chuck admires his Congressman because he doesn't want to raise taxes. Chuck already gives quite a bit of his paycheck to the government, and doesn't want to give any more. Then, on Monday morning, he goes into school and teaches kids using textbooks from the 1960s instead of using computers.

Chuck supports the War on Terror, because he thinks terrorists are cowards and that our troops are the bravest men in the world. He certainly doesn't mind paying taxes for the Department of Defense to equip the troops. Then he reads that they lack sufficient body armor and that they are spread too thin to be effective, and he wonders where his money is going. He doesn't necessarily trust what he reads in the newspapers, but when he sees it in several different places, he begins to wonder.

He also wonders where we are fighting. Some places, it seems, are only peripheral to the War on Terror, but they are prime places for oil. Then his president tells the American people we must decrease our dependence on foreign oil, a move that Chuck certainly supports. When he goes to the gas station, however, he notices that the price is still low, the tax on the gas never increases, and oil companies get subsidized by the government to keep prices low. Why, Chuck asks himself, are we not allowing the free market to decide what kind of energy we use? If the oil companies are operating too inefficiently to make a profit without government help, then perhaps they need to change. Our president said we were in a crisis, after all. Chuck vaguely wonders if the troops are dying to secure sources of oil, but that's pretty far-fetched. The president believes in the free market. He wants the free market to rule in determining who handles the security at six American ports, doesn't he?

Chuck and his wife both have good health insurance. Their daughter requires therapy and medication to handle her CP, and Chuck doesn't have to pay for it. Whatever his personal insurance doesn't cover the state does, but both the companies and the state believe that his daughter needs less therapy than her doctors and therapists are recommending, so Chuck and his wife are constantly battling to get more coverage. Chuck pays only a small amount for health insurance, and he appreciates the help, but he's unsure why his taxes pay for his Congressman's bariatric surgery when that same Congressman has spoken of the need to reduce state-funded health care for the children of illegal immigrants. Those same children who are losing out on education, and therefore will be more likely to become welfare recipients. And need more state-funded health education.

Chuck goes to his school and can't figure out why his classes have gotten so big when study after study prove kids, especially kids who don't like school, do better in more intimate settings. He doesn't work at a public high school, because the public high schools are even more crowded, and even though they get money from the state, it's still not enough. He works at a school that gets money from the state based solely on the amount of kids enrolled, and therefore his administration doesn't care about improving things, they just care about enrolling more kids. However, his president wants test scores to improve and has empowered states to take over schools that fail in this regard. Instead of improving the infrastructure of schools, the state and federal government simply order "better" teaching - whatever that means. Chuck is not quite sure how he can teach his students to pass a test when they don't know what a noun is. When the schools fail, the state shuts them down, and hundreds of kids are uprooted and must go somewhere else. Many choose not to, and another wave of uneducated poor hit the streets. Chuck and his constituents then pay taxes to round them up and send them to jail. It must be cheaper than teaching them.

It's all connected, but ironically, Chuck feels disconnected from it. He feels disconnected from a community that is built on car travel rather than pedestrian travel, disconnected from a local economy that is dominated by corporations and not small businessmen, disconnected from a school system that allows students to go wherever they want instead of improving the schools in the neighborhood, disconnected from a state government that worries more about keeping those corporations in state instead of improving the quality of the air, and disconnected from a federal government that listens to men with briefcases full of money.

It's 2006. What the hell happened?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Chuck is a bit of an ungrateful complainer. Somewhere along the way, Chuck lost his sense of humor along with the knowledge of how wonderful every day we get to experience is one to be cherished. Chuck should appreciate that he has a wonderful wife and two beautiful children and doesn't really want for anything that he may desire. Chuck may be morally outraged at how things work around him, but he should never let that outrage outshine the blessings he has already been given. If he were to leech some of the cynicism from his system, the world and the people that inhabit it wouldn't seem so horrible.

2/3/06 3:55 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Everyone is a Chuck on some level. The state of dysfunction is dynamic, so it's hard to pin down. What's outrageous today will be replaced with something equally outrageous tomorrow.

If only the leaders of the world's wealthier countries cared just as much about what is happening in Darfur, Sudan as they do about what is happening in Fallujha,Iraq.

I think people have the capacity to care, it's just our efforts are so misplaced. After traveling overseas to incredibly poor regions, I vowed to spend much less money on holiday-focused charities like, Toys for Tots when there are children struggling to survive on this planet everyday. They want a sip of water and a bite of food, not a Barbie doll or an iPod.

2/3/06 6:21 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Come on, Anonymous, don't pick on Chuck so much! He just worries a bit, that's all! I'm certainly glad I'm not him - I'm happy most of the time, especially when I'm spending time with my kids. I just think Ashley makes a good point, aboout being hard to pin down. It's hard to figure out what to concentrate on to make things better, because I think I'm right that everything on some level is connected.

As for being cynical - yeah, maybe he is. But we should watch giving advice like "don't worry about it." George Will wrote a column recently about how conservatives, on the whole, are happier than liberals. He gave a host of reasons, all fine and dandy, but I think he missed a valid point - conservatives tend to shrug their shoulders when confronted with the crap in the world and think "It will all take care of itself - I'm just going to enjoy myself." While that's certainly true for some things that liberals worry about, it's definitely not true about other things. We do need to worry about some things.

But it is a good thing to concentrate on the good things, as well as trying to figure out exactly what we can help.

2/3/06 7:13 PM  
Blogger Krys said...

I think it's dangerous to be so focused & insular that you don't give a crap about what happens outside your own little sphere of good fortune.

That's what I've always felt is wrong with politicians, particularly Republicans, but all politicians really. There is an urge in all of us to want to bury our heads in the sand and not believe that so many horrible things could happen to so many innocent people, especially children. It's tough to read about it, think about it, and try to think of a solution.

At some point though, we have to start realizing that yes, I am fortunate in my life, and how can I do something--even something small--to make this world a better place. And no, I don't think I'm being naive. If everyone does one small thing--if you can help one person, you've done something good & taught your children how to be good people.

3/3/06 8:21 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

It sounds like Chuck lives in a real hellhole.

I'd advise him to go back to that "environmentally-friendly" grocery store for his shopping. It'd be a small-step investment in a better community, moreso than paying for his Congressman's privileges.

I kind of disagree with Anonymous that strawman Chuck should leech some cynicism from his system. The problems you mention seem tangible and alarming enough to me. The conservative shrug that "things will work themselves out" is inevitably true, but they don't turn out the way you want unless you make in an investment in how that happens.

3/3/06 12:37 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Gary, where did your blog go?

3/3/06 1:36 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

I deleted it because no one visited-except RAB, and having only one reader is depressing.

I've thought about restarting it, but, naw.

BTW Danko Jones' SLEEP IS THE ENEMY album is out now and it is fantastic. (Hard Rock, NSFW lyrics used sparingly but vigorously.)

3/3/06 6:21 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's the guy whose songs you sent me, right? I still have the e-mail if I ever get my e-mail back, and you're right, those songs are good. I may have to check it out.

I went to your blog! Not all the time, but at least once a week!

3/3/06 6:41 PM  
Blogger Roxy said...

The disconnect is everywhere - and that is the most painful thing. I like what Krys wrote - if we are all disconnected from everything, nothing will ever get better.

4/3/06 10:16 AM  
Blogger ymelendez said...

I have So much to say because I graduated from the school Chuck teaches. I don't have time and energy to type....

4/3/06 10:12 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

Another comment from me. For all those Chucks out there it might be helpful to know that you're not alone and that other people are concerned about the same things as you.

See: Seven Stories Press for lots of books on these kinds of topics.

And a writer named Anya Kamenetz who writes on Economics and youth.

Also, Greg, having hemmed and hawed all weekend I am thinking about restarting my blog and on a specific topic line. I'd be looking for a collaborator though. Would you be interested? I can send you a few ideas of what I'm thinking of.

5/3/06 4:07 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Gary: Hit me. In the crash of my computer I think I lost your e-mail address, so send me one. I actually had something I wanted to discuss with you. Serendipitous, no?

5/3/06 4:39 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

I tried to send an e-mail off but hotmail replied with a Delivery Notification Failure.

5/3/06 7:04 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Hmmm ... Strange. Try it again, and I'll keep looking for yours. I have been receiving e-mail, so I'm not sure what the problem is.

5/3/06 7:56 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

I got another "Message Failed", so I'm just going to drop it. Thanks for being kind enough to show an interest though, I do appreciate it.

6/3/06 9:01 AM  

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