Stuff That Surprises Me!


I’ve been roaming around this planet for a while now, and without putting on the brag, I can say I’ve seen and done a few things.  Nothing spectacular, but I’ve gained enough experience points to view the world with a very wary eye.  In fact, I’ve been called downright cynical on more than one occasion.  However, just because I know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, that doesn’t mean I’m jaded, faded and ready for the boneyard.  Actually, unlike most folks of my generation, I find a lot of wonder in the world.  Plus, even as my chronological odometer is creeping towards clicking over, there are things that still surprise me.  Sometimes, that’s a good thing; sometimes, it isn’t.  Here are just a few examples.

It surprises me …

That it’s still called Twitter, with a cute little blue bird icon — even though all the evidence shows it should be called Lynch Mob, with a flaming red Hangman’s Noose logo.

That coffee tastes way better when it’s not in a paper cup.

That the people who scream “science” at the first mention of religion are the same people who refuse to accept the scientific fact that there are only two human gender chromosomes, XX, XY — and one very, very, rare XYY combination that’s only found in men.  (BTW.  Call yourself whatever you like, just don’t call it science.)

That Johnny Depp lost all of his cool, and somehow, Keanu Reeves found it.

That people believe Qatar, population just shy of 3 million, has more Covid-19 cases than China which has like 100 times the population — over 1.5 billion!

That, at night, train whistles make me lonely.

That the people who want to legalize drugs to solve the drug problem think banning guns will solve the gun problem — and the people who want to make drugs illegal to solve the drug problem think banning guns won’t make any difference at all.  Weird!

That even the worst little brat on the planet is cute when he/she/it is sleeping.

That even though it’s been totally discredited, Politically Correct still rules the world.

That the Big Brother anti-mask brigade haven’t figured out that masks fool Facial Recognition software.  (Looks like a win/win to me.)

That I feel infinitely small whenever I look at the stars.

That we bitch about bad customer service when people with crap jobs occasionally seem grouchy from some reason.

That despite the “Imagine” video and Kanye West, there are people who still take celebrities seriously.

That they’re making another Fast and Furious movie.

We think that calling people names will somehow change their political opinion.

And finally:

That we’re still protesting the same stuff we did when I was a child.  Progress, people!  Have we made no progress?

Occupy Wall Street or Whatever!

I’m old enough to remember when Monty Python swept the neighbourhood.  It was too funny!  You just had to talk about it, and it kept getting better and better.  That’s the way I feel about the Occupy Wall Street movement which has rapidly turned into Occupy Whatever!  I simply can’t stop talking about it.  Every time it comes up on the panel, some new absurdity raises its lovely head and I’m caught between laughing my haunch off and saying to anybody who’ll listen. “Did you see that?”

First of all, let me get serious and clarify.  I’m not opposed to people exercising their democratic right to assemble and protest.  Knock yourself out!  Also, I do believe there is an unholy bond between large corporations and government that needs to be broken.  Okay!  I just think there’s a lot of jawboning going on when the same amount of energy could be put to good use.  If it’s any consolation, when the Tea Party starts yipping I feel the same way – more about that later.  The problem is, to skewer Marshall McLuhan, the movement has become the message.   It seems the physical act of standing, sitting or lying around in a park is of paramount importance here.  The commitment to change is limited to physically being there.  It’s like finding a charity or social cause on Facebook and tapping the “like” icon: it’s a nice gesture, but it doesn’t do any good.  In fact, every inane remark or other bit of nonsense, no matter how small, that comes out of the Occupy movement has the cumulative effect of downgrading what’s really important.  The genuine need for change and all the hard work that that entails has been hijacked by a dog and pony show that closely resembles America’s Got Whiners and it’s playing on Comedy Central.

For example, recently, conservative YouTubers (and quite a few others) were rolling on the floor laughing at a viral video from Occupy Atlanta.  You can see it here.  It’s long and full of boring, but if you check it out for just the first minute you can get the idea.  It shows just how directionless and ineffectual the Occupy Whatever! movement really is.

Spoiler Alert!

Notice the repeat bleating.  Didn’t any of these people read Animal Farm in high school?  Plus the incredulous look on Congressman Lewis’ face is priceless.  I’m not going to put thoughts in the guy’s head, but I don’t think he can believe what he’s seeing.  If you’re tough enough to hang in there to the end the best part is the guy with the microphone showing his commitment to nobody’s democracy but his own and shouting down the opposition.  I am certain that this is not representative of the entire movement.  However, if stuff like this is being passed off as a serious attempt to change society, all I can do is shake my head – words fail me.  And, the scary part is this is the public face of the movement, I’m not creative enough to imagine what goes on when the Smart phones are shut off.

In the same vein, here are some recent quotes:

“As long as these big corporations have a good crony capitalist in the White House, they can rely on DC to bail them out until the whole system goes bankrupt, which, I am afraid, is not very far off.”

“At this point, I don’t see any difference between George Bush and Obama.  The middle class is a lot worse that when Obama was elected.”

“I have children and grandchildren, and I don’t want them to grow up in this world.  I want the world to change.  It can be done.”

“I’m just saying this feels an awful lot like the 60s or 70s when I was a kid.  I mean, you have the same feeling out here that government and nation have parted paths, and the people will bring the government back to the nation.”

“We got sold out!  Banks got bailed out!”

“You leave your country and you expect things to be better in America, a step or two up from what you left back home.  And then there’s this rude awakening: America is just not what it used to be.”

“Republicans, Democrats and independents are stepping up and demanding we put our fiscal house in order.  I think the overriding message after years of borrowing, spending and bailouts is enough is enough.”

Time for a shock: these come from a BBC quiz, and they’re salted with quotes from the Tea Party.  But could you tell the difference?  It’s difficult if you’re not careful, because they sound so similar in tone.  Yet, I doubt very much if Tea Partiers would be welcomed with open arms by the folks who say they represent the 99%.  In fact, I think they`d be met with scorn.  By the way, you can take the quiz here, if you like.

It’s not one philosophy or one action or one quote that has turned the Occupy Whatever! movement into a joke for me.  It’s the incredible waste of organizational skills, time, money and energy.  The people who are part of the Occupy Wall Street movement have shown they can get things done.  They`ve shown remarkable organizational skills and a strong commitment to effect change.  If they were to turn that energy into just one bank boycott or one corporate embargo, the real effects would be monumental.  Unfortunately, I don`t think they realize that democratic change is a long and arduous process; it`s not a montage from an action movie.  It takes long hours and hard work, and while I recognize the need for speed to find a way out of this mess, I’m convinced it doesn’t involve sitting around some park all day.  However, I`ll take what I`m given and enjoy the grins — while I got èm.

Occupy Wall Street: Part Deux

I thought it was hilarious when Warren Buffett, the guy who can blow his nose with 100 dollar bills, supported Barack Obama’s Let’s Eat the Rich 2012 Pre election Campaign.  It was a ringing endorsement from somebody who doesn’t need to care how much the taxman wants.  After all, he’s got a room full of lawyers to make sure Barack’s IRS boys don’t get it.  But for pee-your-pants funny, nothing beats George Soros coming on as the Daddy Warbucks spokesperson of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d be wondering if he didn’t want to tear the system down just so he can buy Manhattan cheap and turn it into a private estate.  It’s always stand-up comedy time when the uber-rich start telling us peons how the real world works.  Quite frankly, when your other seven cars are limos, there’s a reality gap between you and the general population.   George might be talkin’ sympathy and solidarity, but I don’t think he’s going to be slingin’ his Armanis in Zuccoti Park any time soon.   Hell, even Roseanne, Sarandon and their celebrity cohorts clear off before dark, and Sean Penn hasn’t even shown up yet.  Word is he’s still saving puppies in Egypt.

Personally, I’m always suspicious when rich people start talking about effecting positive change with no visible return on their investment.  They didn’t learn to be rich people at the Mother Teresa School of Business Ethics, so when I can’t see their profits, I keep my hand on my wallet, just in case.  Buffett, Soros and their ilk are intimately connected to Wall Street, so when they endorse a movement that’s committed to tearing it down, I get worried that they’ve got something up their sleeves that isn’t a Rolex.  But let’s put these characters on the back burner for a minute.  We’ve got to keep an eye on them but…  For all the other capitalism-sucks-and-I-hate-everything crowd, here’s how capitalism actually works to effect positive change – and all without a bunch of gullibles wasting their time in New York, tapping their laptops to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.”

Half a world away from the high media lights of Occupy Wall Street, the streets of Paris, France are undergoing a fundamental change.  The city is building an infrastructure to accommodate a fleet of pay-as-you-drive electric cars.  Called Autolib’ and based on Paris’ successful Velib’ bicycle sharing system, the project is a partnership between the French government and the Bollore Group.  You can read more about it here, but in essence, it works like any car cooperative.  You pick up a car at one of the stations, go about your business, and when you’re done, you return it to a station and walk away.  And if that isn’t sweet enough for you, the cars are 100% electric so you haven’t dirtied your hands with ethical or unethical oil and you haven’t contributed to the chokehold humans are putting on our urban environment.  Plus it’s cheap: individually, it’s a lot less expensive than buying, outfitting, insuring and feeding even the smartest Smartcar for a year.  It sounds like a wonderful idea, but let me set the record straight: it’s all a capitalist plot.

The Bollore Group is a family-owned multibillion Euro company that’s been around for just about two hundred years.  They obviously have some smart folks in their planning department because somebody looked around and said something like, “Hey!  The days of sucking oil and belching smoke are coming to an end.  We need to change our modus operandi and cash in on the future, n’est ce pas?”  So in the true spirit of capitalism, they’ve invested 100 million Euros in the Autolib’ adventure which is a good product that people will buy into – and oh yeah, it might just change the urban landscape forever — for the better — but that’s beside the point.   The reason they’ve put their money where their minds are is to make a profit, pure and simple.  And here’s the rhetorical question: what’s wrong with that?  Autolib’ cars are going to move people around Paris, cheaply, easily and greenly.  Will anybody be harmed if the Bollore Group makes a busload of Euros doing it?  I doubt it.

The bottom line is it’s worth it to me (and a lot of other people) to pay for a quick, occasional rent-a-car.  It’s a great little idea in so many ways I’m not seeing a downside.  My world is getting clean, reliable, personal, inexpensive transportation that puts a big dent in the fossil fuel empire we all live in.  I’m paying less for it than for dinner and dancing once a month — and it can work in every city in the world.  Somehow, I find it hard to get angry at the corporate person who put this thing together.  If he or she or their families live in abject opulence for the rest of all eternity, it’s no skin off my nose.

So here’s my question: who has done more, in the last few months, for the future wellbeing of this fragile rock in space I live on, Vincent Bollore and his group of rabid capitalists or the Occupy Wall Street professional malcontents?  Never mind; I already know the answer.  The real problem is the folks down at Liberty Park (or whatever they’re calling it this week) are not part of the solution.  And as the movement spreads, they’re going to be an even bigger part of the problem.  If even half of those people wake up tomorrow morning and commit that same energy to effectively changing the world instead of wandering around rebaking pies in the sky, we could fix some of these problems.  But it’s not sexy to toil away at little ideas when you’ve already decided to repaint the big picture.  As far as I’m concerned, as a wise man once said quite differently: “The fault is not in the banks but in ourselves.”

Friday: The True Nature of Capitalism