Saturday, March 08, 2008
My first reaction to seeing Samantha Power’s [latest public gaffe] was to recall recall that she was pretty cute when we were in college together. She wasn’t much of a drinker and seemed entirely immune to my many charms but she had a great smile, eyes that sparkled and an impressive figure.
My second reaction was to remember how annoying her politics were. She was always saying that what the world needed was another government with weapons, fighting men, and the power to tax, jail and destroy. She seemed entirely immune to any evidence about the dangers of global governance.
A typical conversation with Samantha would go something like this.
Samantha: “The lack of an international enforcement mechanism is a terrible weakness for international law that needs to be remedied through creating new institutions and stregthening existing ones.”
ManhattanTransfer: “It’s pretty when you push your hair back like that and get excited.”
Samantha: “Can you take your hand off my knee? Did you know you’re spilling whiskey on your shirt?”
ManhattanTransfer: “Let’s find some place quieter to talk.”
Thursday, February 21, 2008
But recent past performance suggests I won't.
In the meantime, I'm reading DealBreaker.com for the latest financial shenanigans and I've discovered one of these tumblr things by a feller named John Carney that's worth reading. Tumblr is great. It's like blogspot circa 2004. Thank God it's always 2004 somewhere.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Monday, June 11, 2007
Let's get moving, into action.
A song to celebrate the defeat of the immigration bill. Songs of redemption, songs of war, and songs like this to pack the dance floor.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Me, trying not to drop the book I'm precariously carrying: "(Mmnph)"
Man in a delivery truck on Canal street: "MnnHmnn... I want you to teach me science."
— Miss Anna
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Someone handed me a cigarette. Down on the corner, there was a couple taking their frustrations out on each other.
She wore sensible shoes and a longish skirt that shortened her. He wore a generic man costume and her tote bag on his shoulder.
They were the kind of couple that has public street fights that aren’t brought on by alcohol and jealousy. They had the look of cat owners.
It was hard to gauge the severity of this fight. Onlookers took bets.
She was pouting, reprimanding, and generally acting as if he had screwed up. He probably had screwed up. But the tirade was beginning to border on abuse. We quietly rooted for the man to slap her, but he refrained.
I hoped that he would scream back, approach her a bit menacingly, and sweep her up in a kiss. That didn’t happen.
The bartender was sure the man would walk off soon. We pointed out the tote bag. He recalculated his prognosis. It didn’t look good.
And then, the man stalked off, a glimpse of freedom within his grasp. Our spirits were lifted, but quickly dashed when the woman put up no protest. He took a few non-committal steps before lowering his head and returning for more of the same.
Leaning against a building, he laid the sensible tote bag on the ground with a heavy sigh.
She got into the passenger seat of a parked car and slammed the door. He followed around with her tote bag in tow. Or maybe it was his tote bag. It could have been his tote bag.
They pulled away from the corner and things started to look brighter. Moments like this were designed to make people who spend too much time in bars feel better about themselves. Inside it was the opposite.
As their car disappeared around a corner in all its taupe, MT hobbled out of the party with an unhappy man in his wake.
“I hate book parties.”
The open bar appeared to be shuttered.
“Why does this guy have to rub his success in everyone’s face? So you got a bunch of money to write a book everyone will pretend to read. Who cares?...”
Different unhappy men had given this speech before.
“…I’m done feeling sorry for myself, though. I shouldn’t envy that guy. He should envy me. You can’t buy happiness — he’ll be miserable in three months.”
There was a cab coming toward us and a life devoid of taupe to be had if we wanted it. The night still held promise. Numbers were exchanged. Cabs were shared. People fell onto the streets of Chinatown. Tomorrow there would be regrets, but that was the thing about tomorrow. It wasn’t here yet.
“…Blah blah blah… bankers blah blah over privileged… blah Alex P. Keaton.. blah blah … white men...”
This was getting tedious: “Oh stop. You sound like poor people.”
The car winked at us and we got in. As we sped away from the curb, the lights of the bridge beamed down and the colors blurred on West Broadway.
— Miss Anna
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
— Miss Anna
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
My friend Lawrence made this fantastic video. It does a great job of capturing another year of our lives.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Question. Is this an inappropriate gift for a friend who just got run over?
— Miss Anna
Friday, January 05, 2007
Very prescient, that. Medea was a little negligent with the details for the party she wrought. She was after a hot med student from Columbia. Perhaps the only one. It was worth the effort. For her. The rest of us were on our own with an overripe cheese plate.
There was a man with a bouffant at this party. We would not be staying. Once I saw Medea settled in with her med, I asked them if they needed anything to drink. They said no. I made a beeline for the front door. On the way out, I corralled the rest of our party and we hopped in a cab pointed toward Brooklyn. Medea would thank me later.
There was a house party and friends djing at a bar in the borough. We promised no soldier would be left behind. We always promise that.
On the way down, I got word that the house party was being abandoned. We tried rerouting to the Hall and nearly got dropped off by the Watchtower because one of us couldn’t shut up about the window not functioning properly. I won’t say who lacked traveling etiquette, but the homeless man on the median telling us our cab was busted did not improve the driver’s mood. His year was not ending well. Ours might not either.
In fact, we might all be Jehovah’s Witnesses today if Frenchie hadn’t started chatting up the driver. Or showed some leg. Either way, she was in the front seat. She fixed things.
When we were filing inside the bar, I realized I didn’t have any money. I told the lovebirds I needed to go to the ATM. They didn’t believe me, and gave me an escort to make sure I didn’t make a run for it.
Inside was so crowded I forgot it was Brooklyn. A man in a loud shirt inside the door liked my dress and gave me an escort to the bar. But getting a drink proved difficult. It appeared to be close to midnight. With drinks in hand, we made our way through the crowd.
We appeared to be just in time. 8. I spotted the crew holding court on the dance floor. 7. Hugs all around. 6. I was given champagne. 5. Someone grabbed me. 4. Mnn. 3. Frank was playing. 2. Sigh.1. Kisses.
Those lasted for a while. And then there was dancing. The music was so good I forgot my feet hurt. I took a trip through the crowd and wondered why I didn’t come to Brooklyn more often. The Non-Blonde was there, but I almost didn’t recognize her. Reunions were had. There may have been ridiculousness. Brooklyn was great.
The Girls were in rare form. Memories were made. There were shiny hats and broken glasses. Things were stolen. This was New Year’s.
Time passed. Despite their fear of being left behind, it was the lovebirds who had made a quick exit. This was allowed. The Girls were also leaving, but the Former Non-Blonde was sure I should stay. The music was great. Everyone was going back to Manhattan. I’d be fine.
In retrospect, things were not fine. If only friends came with a sticker that displayed their level of drunkenness. In ten more minutes, The Former Non-Blonde would be dropping the speaker on a woman with a very large boyfriend. The woman might survive the impact, but the speaker would not. And no one would be going back to Manhattan.
But there is no such sticker. And Prince was playing. I stayed.
Soon, a small Asian man attached himself to Jodi Foster. The boy I was dancing with started talking. MT began negotiations to fight the boyfriend of said speaker squished girl. The music had stopped. Dignity was lost. Brooklyn was over.
I took a step outside. It was raining. Wasn’t this winter? Were we still in New York? There were crowds of damp people in shiny outfits as far as the eye could see. How did I get here? Where were the cabs?
I took a look at the corners filled with zombies making vain attempts to get yellow cars to whisk them away and began to lose heart.
But just as I was about to lose faith in the New Year, I saw a figure walking toward me. It was the Getaway Kid, come to rescue me in my time of need. He’d been nearby and came to see how things were progressing. He saw the look on my face and knew it was time to go. We sped off into the night, and rang in the New Year on our way back to civilization.
— Miss Anna
Saturday, December 23, 2006
And after three hours of waiting for another flight, the disgruntled stewardess at the gate, unlike the male stewardess at the baggage check who cheerfully sent my belongings off to the Midwest without me, told me there was no guarantee I could get on a plane before Christmas. As much as I feared spending over a day in JFK, the possibility of doing so and still not getting anywhere was too much for me. That and the man sleeping on his suitcase who kept drooling on the floor.
My father had been waiting for two hours on the other end when I sent him home. I didn’t have the dedication to the holiday to compete with these people for a seat. It was my third year as an aunt, and we were celebrating a new engagement, but I’d have to send my congratulations over the phone. This isn't my holiday and I wasn’t cut out for airport endurance tests.
I hopped in a cab and spent the better part of the day in my apartment, tending to the hangover. On my way to get some day before Christmas Eve tacos, I walked past the tree sellers on my corner. The arches that supported the trees were nearly bare. Only one lone tree sat propped up against the two by fours. I felt more than a little for that sad tree, wrapped up in twine like a poorly manufactured cigar, waiting to be wrapped in lights tomorrow or kicked to the curb the day after. Against my better judgment, I found myself wanting to buy it.
The slick streets and balmy weather today did not feel very festive. Having that tree might have helped make it feel more like Christmas. But I only owned one ornament, a stray Secret Santa gift that I keep neglecting to chuck. Chances are the tree would stay tightly wrapped in my apartment, but at least it would be off the streets for a night.
And it was on sale. I felt obliged to take it home with me (puppy sales inspire the same ill advised urge). But aside from the guilt of letting another plant die in the confines of my poorly lit apartment, there was the nagging reminder that Christmas trees are my least favorite part of the holiday.
Looking at them, I am always reminded of the layer of needles that the dried husk would leave on the rug every March when someone in my family finally remembered to drag the thing to the curb.
It was a laziness that pervaded the whole affair. We neglected to move the tree from the garage to the living room until the last possible moment so many years in a row that tree decoration had become a Christmas Eve tradition. And while Sharon was busy preparing the house for guests, the children were responsible for realizing her yearly vision.
Once we had a Blue Christmas, another year was a Circus theme. In 1985 it was a Very Nutcracker Christmas. The Muffin Maker and I thought we had cultivated inordinate skill at avoiding the decorating task, but The Little One had one-upped us.
She was in the laundry room watching Ela get washed. The knit penguin had materialized somewhere around The Little One’s second birthday, and the kid hadn’t been able to tear herself away from it since. By this Christmas, Ela was missing an eye, had lost her little orange hat, and was just barely distinguishable from a beloved, but abused old sock. And at some point, The Little One had decided that poking a hole through Ela’s bottom big enough for her thumb brought her a good deal of comfort. All attempts to provide newer, cleaner playthings were fruitless.
And efforts to remove the thumb up Ela’s ass in polite company were regarded as frontal assaults. More than a few glasses were broken at dinner parties before Sharon realized that a passive buggering of Ela was preferable to the ear splitting scream that The Little One reserved for precisely this sort of attack. But the thing would at least be clean for the guests.
So on this Christmas Eve, Ela was still in the washer on rinse when Sharon threatened to hide our house from Santa Claus if the tree wasn’t decorated within the next hour, leaving The Muffin Maker and I to attack each other and the tree with tiny Nutcrackers on our own.
Except Sharon was only half joking about withholding presents. The next day, there were plenty of gifts under the tree. Maybe more than usual. But there were only a few brief moments of unwrapping bliss before we were told that the quality of gifts was indeed too good to be true.
My older sister and I had gotten to that awkward girl age where our inability to care for ourselves was in direct conflict with our disdain for our every parental interaction. Still completely dependent on the two people responsible for our well-being for most everything, we had a growing disdain for them and all things related to them. This caused some trouble when we expected to receive gifts.
But this year, Sharon had decided to take action. She waited until The Muffin Maker and I had ripped through all of our wrapped treats:
“This year you pick. One. Gift. Each. The rest go … BACK.”
The Little One was happily tearing at her packages when The Muffin Maker and I began to counter this maneuver with angry groveling.
She seemed equally distraught, for a second, but we were too busy weeping over the best video games and dolls we had ever seen to pay much mind.
The unfairness of it all. The Muffin Maker and I quickly began foraging through our piles in search of the most perfect gift. We were in the midst of brokering a truce to garner some manner of combined excellence when I vaguely noticed that The Little One had stopped opening her gifts.
And then, as I pondered the Nintendo Zapper Light Gun in my left hand and the Strawberry Berry Buggy in my right, The Little One stood up. She parted her booty and made a disdainful nod towards her boxes. With a thumb in the ass of her favorite one-eyed penguin, she padded out of the room.
The Muffin Maker and I were impressed with her steely resolve for a moment. But then someone threw the Pie Man across the room and we were engaged in a war over whose gift would have access to the Barbie Club House upstairs.
“…We should have given them coal like we planned.”
That shut us up quickly enough. During dinner, Sharon gave a lecture about the true meaning of Christmas. As I had a policy of not paying attention to speeches that made me look bad, I was still picking scallions out of my mashed potatoes when The Muffin Maker punched me in the arm. Turns out, with some efforts at remorse, we would be permitted to keep each and every piece of swag that we had opened that day. Apologies and hugs all around.
Later in the night, after The Muffin Maker and I finished our first (and final) game of Duck Hunt, I noticed an extra lump under the Christmas tree. I went over to see what sort of goodie we had missed. But it was just The Little One. She had fallen asleep under the tree wrapped around her penguin, with a smile of utter content on her face. My dad scooped her in his arms to carry her up to bed. For a moment as I followed them up the stairs, I found myself wishing that I had what she had.
And walking through the city's streets tonight, noticing the strange calm of an empty city, I felt a little more alone than usual. When the man on the corner wished me a Merry Christmas, I almost bought one of his trees. In the Christmas spirit and all. But in the end, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I've been meaning to post something here for the longest time. Maybe it will be a New Year's resolution. For now, here's a video for Teeter Sperber's band, LRS.
Monday, November 06, 2006
So, as a favor to them, I offer the following proposals for building a Republican victory in 2008.
1. You didn’t get enough Hispanic votes this time. Clearly what we need are more Hispanic voters! Annex Mexico, or at least grant everyone in Mexico the right to vote in 2008. They’ve almost as much stake as anyone else in who runs America, so why shouldn’t they have a say? All those Mexican Catholics are bound to be naturally conservative, GOP voters. Bring them into the big tent!
2. Invade Iran! Those “the terrorists want the Democrats to win” almost worked this time around. The only problem is that Iraq isn’t scary enough to most Americans. It’s far away, and seems unlikely to spill over into some sort of global, nuclear conflict killing lots of American civilians. So bring on the next war! With all those Iranians up in arms, that’s surely got to get some Americans thinking about security again. If we don’t invade Iran, the terrorists and the Democrats win!
3. Speaking of not being scared enough, isn’t it time to start increasing investment from the ruling class of the Gulf States? Sure people kind of misunderstood the whole Dubai Ports deal the first time around. By why stop with the ports when we have all those airports, power plants and military bases to run? You’re Republicans, so start privatizing that stuff. And help Americans get to know our Middle East allies better by privatizing it into their hands.
4. Crack down on the right of your own party. Look, we all know your party is full of bigots and religious fanatics. It’s time you started telling these people who is boss. This may alienate some of your base, and drive some white male voters into the arms of your rivals. But that’s a feature, not a bug. You get way too many votes from white people right now. It’s totally embarrassing. And this will totally help you garner Asian, black and Hispanic votes. For every two dozen white male votes you lose, you’ll probably get 1.4 minority votes. Think about that. Get excited.
5. Keep supporting left-wing Republicans. Look how well that’s working. I mean, sure Chafee is going to lose. And supporting Arlen Specter probably cost Rick Santorum his seat. But these things work like clockwork. Think pendulmns. All these years of losing with the people the media like to call “moderates” is bound to pay off one of these days. And maybe that day will be an election day in a couple of years. Nominate Rudy!
6. More spending! Sure, you spent and spent and spent for the last five years. But I guarantee the Democrats are going to come in and try to spend even more. Resist the temptation to call for spending cuts. That’ll just make you look like hypocrites. Call for more spending. New entitlement programs. There’s got to be somebody who still needs a prescription drug program, right?
7. Keep reminding people how we’re on the path to victory in Iraq. Sure it made you seem weird and out of touch this time. But the alternative was to admit that things went terribly while you were in charge. So keep up the unreality. And then, if by some miracle (fingers crossed!), we get out of Iraq intact, you can claim credit.
8. We need more amendments. Flag amendments, marriage amendments, locking-people (who may be terrorists)-up without trials amendments. If the founding fathers didn’t want Amendments, why’d they pass ten of them? Being against Amerndments is anti-American. And, let’s face it, you’re not going to actually pass any of these amendments. So even if we don’t need them, you should start calling for them early and often.
9. Judges! I know, I know. I can’t believe this trick of talking about judges ever couple of years at election time, and then not doing anything about them, really works. But it does. Keep it up.
10. Can we talk about Hillary? Let’s get her nominated. Those Clintons are total political poison and always lose. Except, you know, on election days. But those are only a couple of days a year! We could totally move election day to a Wednesday—Amendment time!—and then we’d beat her for sure. Clintons win on Tuesdays. But America wins on Wednesdays. I smell a slogan!
So cheer up, fellas and fellettes. We're just ten steps away from a Republican victory in 2008.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I step outside the bar for a smoke. A long avenue cutting down through the lower east side toward the end of Manhattan stretches out in front of me. The streets are slick with rain and a few light drops are still falling. The tops of the trees look yellow under the street lights but I’m not sure if they’ve changed with the season or it’s just the lighting. I’m sure there’s a full moon in the sky somewhere behind those clouds but that’s a secret kept from those of us whose vantage point is from the ground up.
A young woman who I had been speaking to in the bar follows me outside. She’s got long, very straight blonde hair and excited eyes. She had been drinking a vodka and soda, with an extra lime thrown in. I couldn’t remember what we were talking about but I think it had to do with why I was wearing a suit at half past three in the morning. I told it wasn’t an interesting story because it wasn’t. And that’s why I’m not telling you either.
She lights her cigarette off of the end of mine and starts talking.
“So in this book I’m reading there’s a scene where two characters are talking, and a group of others are listening. It’s like a salon or something. And one of them asks the other, ‘What are the three saddest words in the English language?’” she says.
She’s talking very fast. Too fast for this late into the night. There’s too much energy and excitement in this girl for a rainy October night. I imagine what it would be like to take her home. And then I imagine what it would be like to try to fall asleep afterwards while she chattered away into the dawn. I decide we would definitely be taking separate cabs home from this place.
“So the guy thinks for a while,” she says. “And then he replies, ‘I give up.’ It’s brilliant. At first everyone thinks he doesn’t know the answer. And then they realize that is his answer. It strikes them as profound. Surrender is the ultimate heart-break.”
I nod. I’m not sure now if she is trying to seduce me or trying to convince me to seduce her. Or just trying to tell me something I need to know about the world. I hope it’s not the last one. On nights like this I feel like I already know too much about the world.
“But then the guy who asks the question shakes his head. ‘I’m afraid you are wrong,’ he says. ‘The three saddest words are What If?’ What breaks our hearts the most, what keeps us up at night, are the things we never tried,” she says.
She’s right, of course. I discovered long ago that embarrassment usually passed with the hangover but regret over lost opportunities could last for years. Maybe a life time. It’s a lesson I don’t like to think about much because it reminds me of those lost opportunities all over again.
There’s no doubt now that she’s trying to seduce me. Who talks about lost opportunities to a stranger outside a bar at quarter to four in the morning unless they want to spend the night with them? I wonder what I can say back to her.
“That’s impossible,” I say. “What If is only two words. Those might be sad words but they aren’t the three saddest. You should burn that book and pretend you never read it.”
I flick my cigarette out into the middle of the wet avenue, turn my collar up against the rain and head off home for one of my last nights living in Manhattan.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I maneuvered my belongings through the revolving door on offer with just enough effort to temporarily trap a resident inside. The suited man sitting gave me a quizzical look, then a knowing nod as I strode past.
The elevator was as gilded as I remembered. I slid the key into the lock and remembered the dreams and aspirations that once brewed inside this place. The latch slipped, I took a breath and went inside.
The first step was familiar, but the rest was new. The estate seems to have born the brunt of MT’s new career status.
It had achieved a state of dilapidate grandeur. This was becoming on certain cheekbones, but the light of day was not something the abode should have seen. I pulled the curtains. MT had either called off or buried the maid. Things were looking suspicious. There was no Tivo.
This night called for a martini. I poured myself a gin on the rocks, minus rocks. The MT estate was officially in decline. It was time to depart.
SweetVicious was waiting nearby. It had been a long night at the office, she claimed. The bartenders were peddling free drinks. Someone helped me into a seat at the bar. I remembered there were times when being XY in New York was equal parts broken glass and wasted lust. This was not one of those times.
We traded conversation for some nods and a drink. Our seats were by the window to bring in new business. The bartenders spoke in Turkish. We let them. The night would end here if we weren’t careful.
Michael walked in wearing sunglasses. It was midnight. He was leaving for India in the morning and claimed this was acclimation for the new time zone. He always said that.
We walked toward the river. The bar was dark and smelled of other boroughs. Sam Malone and his woman saved us from the hordes. There was a cool breeze off the water, but it scared the owners. They liked it hot, even though no one else did. Sam cracked a window, which reminded us to go outside.
Phones were buzzing, but the last gasps of summer were making us dog obligation. It was fashion week and Truman was in the midst of 200 heroin addicts drinking champagne on Gaansevort. He said this as if it were a good thing. We deleted him. Again.
Someone called from above 14th street. Someone always does.
We found an outdoor garden and some of the last sweet drinks we would have this year. The wind played in the streets as people remembered why they like this place. Music called us. We danced in the bar without a cabaret license. No one seemed to mind. Out on the street, calls were made.
SV pulled over a ride. There were crowds and cobblestone. Someone handed me champagne.
We were on a roof. Drinks were thrown. We were made to leave. The teetering tentpoles were beginning to think they could hold up their part of the conversation. Someone offered up my new abode for a gathering. I was feeling hospitable.
Jimbo got there early and stopped to say hello to Bob on Sixth Avenue. He had purchased two cigars from Bob earlier in the night, and had returned to recount the evening. When we arrived they were just finishing up. Bob was using his old standard: “I won’t screw you over like those crazy crackwhores. Don’t get me wrong. I am a crackwhore... But I’m not crazy.”
This bum had spunk. We brought him back to the estate.
“Shit, I’m covered tonight. You don’t want me in your apartment.”
“Oh come off it, Bob.”
“It’s not our apartment.”
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
I tried to think about how things could be worse. I could be in Queens, where they haven’t even had electricity for eight days. Were people still even living in Queens? Or had they fled the borough for places with ice and air conditioning.
I turned off Ludlow and onto Rivington. From the east there was something close to wind. Only the breeze was warm. It stirred things up a bit but didn’t do much to cool things off.
They shut down my old bar this spring. It had been called the Cellar and had been my home away from home. And you can scratch that “away from home” bit. It had been my home straight-up while my actual apartment, the place I paid rent, was more like my home away from the bar. The usual crowd was always there, tilting back drinks and telling each other outrageous lies or courageous truths. I never cared which and never bothered to sort one out from the other. If it didn’t involve me handing someone my wallet or leaving my barstool, what business of mine was it whether the stories the drinkers at the Cellar told were true or just stories that ought to have been true. I liked the place so much I actually stopped keeping whiskey in my apartment just so I would always have an excuse to go down there.
So now I was on my way to a new bar. The new place had actually been around longer than the Cellar but it was new to me. I’m not particularly a fan of new things, and I dislike old things that are just new to me even more than than the genuinely new. The old ways and places are best. The only exception I know to this rule has to do with women. But let’s not get into all that just now.
I’m sorry to get all nostalgic about my old place. Especially when it doesn’t have much to do with what happened next. The Cellar doesn’t even come up in the conversation I was about to have with Hillary. But that’s how I was feeling while I walked across Rivington Street to meet her, and that’s about all I was feeling. Sad for myself and my bar. And unbelievably uncomfortable in the heat.
Even though nothing was right with the world, Hillary is the kind of girl who makes you forget that for a moment. Your see her and the world stops for a minute. No. That’s not right. It doesn’t stop. It just moves differently, seems to get on the right track again. If I were a dancing man, I might say that it finds the rhythm it had lost. But I’m not really sure what that’s like because I only dance to the slow songs.
Let me put it different. When you sit down on a barstool beside her, the things that shouldn’t happen don’t, and the things the shouldn’t have happened haven’t. I’m not sure I’d say that she makes anything that should happen actually happen. It’s more like standing athwart all of life’s little disasters and yelling stop.
She might be the perfect woman if she wasn’t so full of ideas. When she’s talking about music or clothes or what bastards men are or how come the bartender hasn’t bought us a free round yet, well, at those moments you start to think maybe you love her. But then she starts talking about ideas and things go all wrong.
At some point someone taught her economics, and with that came a few lessons about politics. Not practical economics—like how to save money or run a business. And not practical politics—like how to win elections. She learned about economic theories and political theories. Ideas, like I was saying. And they filled her head up and now sometimes—okay most times—its hard to have a talk with her about the world without your words bumping up against her ideas. They’re like a road block standing between the world and her mind.
Here’s where we hit the problem with ideas. At some point I mentioned something about how a friend of mine had started a little Mexican food place a couple of blocks away. They served great fish tacos that you can get coated with guacamole. They’re real cheap and they sell beer too. Hillary wanted to know why she hadn’t ever met the guy who owned the place. I told her how he had moved out of New York City when it became uncomfortable for him to keep living here on account of his opinions about immigration. She shifted a bit in her seat and I knew we were in trouble.
“What was he saying about immigration?” Hillary asked.
“He took the position that the immigration policy of the United States should, first and foremost, be decided on the basis of what was good for the citizens of the United States,” I said.
“Why should it be decided on such a narrow basis?” she said.
“Well, I’m not saying there aren’t other considerations. And neither was he. It’s just that it seems kind of self-evident that the job of the Untied States government should be to look out for its people first, to put their lives, liberties and interests before anyone elses,” I said.
“Not self-evident to me at all,” she said.
“Hillary. You’re not that dense. It’s called patriotism. It’s a pretty normal human way of looking at things.” I shouldn’t have used the word dense. She was getting agitated.
“I think there are plenty of practical reasons to be patriotic. Of course, nations should in many cases devote more resources to their own citizens than to foreigners, and therefore be more concentrated on the interest of those foreigners, because they are more familiar with them and less likely to make errors about how best to use those resources. But the kind of patriotism that thinks foreigners are ‘worth less’ than citizens or that the government should treat them as if they were worth less, is based on a falsehood,” she said.
I took the top off my pint of Six Points Sweet Action. “What do you mean it’s based on a falsehood?”
“It’s an error of moral arithmetic. The ‘worth less’ position is false and does not follow from the practical argument for patriotism,” she said. She was hardly drinking at all anymore, and she was talking about arithmetic and morals in the same sentence. Neither of those are good signs.
I should have let it go. Nodded my head and said something about not being very good at either arithmetic or morals anyway. Ordered us some shots of Wild Turkey. Let her smile return and set the world right. But she wouldn’t let me.
“Hillary, I’m curious about how you’re so certain you know what’s morally true about nations and people? I know you believe in individual liberty and I’m not arguing against that stuff now. But that’s a pretty strong statement, you’re making. I mean, if we all were to try to care for everyone equally on the basis of equal self-worth, wouldn’t that mean…”
“Stop,” she said. “I knew you’d go straight for that reductio ad absurdum. Let me turn this around and say that I think you need to make a positive argument for national borders as sources of moral delineation.”
“Fine. I’ll tell you what I think. First, I want to get off this abstract idea about whether people are ‘worth less.’ We’re not talking about arithmetic, or cash registers or God’s score board in the sky. We’re talking about how we treat people, and our duties toward others. So I’ll say that I do not agree that we have any duties to people from other countries that arise their being the equal members of a community composed of all the people in the world.
“And that’s because I’m not sure I can follow your assumption of a world wide moral community of people. So I’m not sure you are entitled to demand reasons for why we should carve that up into nations. From what I see, we’ve got a world of nations, for the most part. And for a long time, people in nations have generally preferred their own to foreigners. So the way I see it, this is the way things are whether you like it or not,” I said.
“You cannot prove an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ Just because that’s the way people act doesn’t mean that it’s right. In fact, these facts are irrelevant to the argument. You’re just showing that lots of people make the mistake in moral arithmetic I was talking about earlier,” she said.
“I don’t agree that it’s irrelevant. Let me put it this way. Suppose there were eighty people on a tiny island in the South Pacific, mostly tourists (and for our purposes, all women—perhaps the island is a terrible fishing destination, keeping away the men). And suppose there was a tsunami coming to sink the island. Forty of these folks are Americans, and forty of them are foreigners. If the US could get four helicopters to the island to rescue ten people each, I suppose you would have to say that we should be neutral about whether the helicopters rescued American women or foreigner women. (And now you see why I made them all women—so we wouldn’t get distracted by issues about women and children getting off before men.) But any normal American would say that the American helicopters should rescue the Americans. And if the copters were British or Chinese, the people of those countries would expect their nationals to be rescued first. Now why should this be, since there are not purely practical reasons involved here? I think it’s because we have a deep moral intuition about our people, and I think this moral intuition tells us that our people are not equally all people, but subsets of that larger group.”
“I know you probably still don’t like the idea of relying on habit, tradition or intuition but I’m afraid that’s a problem for your argument and not mine. In fact, I think I won the argument the moment you said that it was false to think that we shouldn’t treat our fellow citizens as if they were worth more than others. That is a losing position. If your philosophy says that nations are morally irrelevant, I’m afraid it is your philosophy that will have to go.
“This is my positive argument for the moral importance of nations, and for the morality of preferring citizens to foreigners—because I think my position coheres with the way we think about the world and ourselves, with what we know about the world, with the way we live and the way we want to live. And I don’t think the contrary position makes as much sense with any of these things.”
That’s it. I was done. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore but I could tell she did. There was a look on her face that I’ll call an emotional Manhattan—one part confused and two parts angry.
“Your position is almost nihilistic. No it is nihilistic. You aren’t offering reasons or arguments, you are offering up feelings, sentiments and popular opinion. You are denying the role of reason in moral arithmetic,” she said.
“Actually, I’m not. I mean, I'm borrowing some of my arguments--probably even my words--from guys like Richard Posner and Socrates, who have questionable relationships to morality. But I think it’s strange that you think I’m nihilistic for defending the all-but universal moral intuitions of the world’s peoples. I’m not even denying the role of reason, either. Not really. I’m saying that the kind of reason we use when we make moral arguments is different than the kind we use when we calculate interest rates. You keep using the phrase ‘moral arithmetic’ and I think that’s where you are going wrong. The problem with moral arguments is that we aren’t adding things up. It’s trickier than that. We have to take positions on a particular understanding of what it means to be human, what kind of world we live in, and what kind of human good our public life should be concerned with.”
“So, then,” she said. “Out with it. What’s your underlying position?”
“I guess my position is that being human means being human together. Social animals and all that. And that being together means being together with particular people, not all people and not people in the abstract. I guess there are concentric circles of togetherness, and I think each one probably has moral significance. Practical significance too, but moral also.”
“Oh, MT,” she said. “You are a wonderful drinking companion. You might even be the perfect man if you’d slow down with the whiskey. And if you didn’t have so many ideas in your head.”
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Both the Senate and the White House seem to have dropped their attempt to open our border with Mexico even further, so life probably got a little bit more uncomfortable if you are one of the millions of people who want to be an American but are not yet for the simple reason that you broke the law to live here. As if who is and who is not an American should be decided by law rather than the more practical and equitable arrangement of deciding who is an American according to who lives in the poorest country closest to an unprotected American border.
But it wasn’t only foreigners who are not Americans but would like to be who suffered last week. Other suffering foreigners included the three British bankers who never wanted to come back to America at all but now find they may never be allowed to leave. The Nat West 3--those three British bankers accused of once having something or another to do with Enron--were extradited to the US to stand trial for the sins of Texas. And then promptly informed by a judge that they will have to wait out their trial in Texas or some other part of America, which the bankers described as psychological torture, immediately endearing them to their new neighbors.
Actually, by saying they were charged with "something or another" I'm afraid I may have given the mistaken impression that I do not know precisely what the NatWest 3 are charged with doing. This would put me in the company of everyone else in the world. But I am in the unique position of knowing and understanding exactly what the charges are. They are precisely this: consorting with strippers and other Texans while engaged in investment banking.