I'm an optimist.
I really am. I honestly believe that the problems that the world is facing - that we, as human beings, are facing - can get better, can be overcome.
That said, I've been really worried recently that things are sliding further and further in the other direction. I know it's only 2003, but at this rate I'm thinking that "the aughts" might wind up being a staggeringly low point in modern history, if anyone's there to record the history by the end of it all (heck, the Aztecs have the world ending in 2012). And I've been trying to figure it out.
I think it's down to human motivations, and their astounding inscrutability. I've been taking a hard look at the people making the decisions these days, and I assume they're doing what they think is best, if not for the greater good, at least for themselves. And I keep being astounded by how often they shoot themselves in the foot, metaphorically speaking, of course. Human beings aren't very logical creatures when emotions get involved, but I'd like to address a few issues that I see are just rife with poor decision-making and, more to the point, self-defeating points of view.
First, let's take a global perspective.
I've got a good one (in other words, a bad one): will people please stop blowing themselves up in the name of God or the destruction of Israel or the West or whatever? I'm astounded that there are people out there who feel that committing such a heinous crime against humanity as deliberately taking the lives of innocent civilians will help them to achieve their goals. Blowing up teenagers in a pizza parlor or on a bus or in a dance club will not be rewarded with your enemies turning tail. I think the US and Israel have both proven that attacks against their citizens will be met with returned and stronger violence, not surrender. Israel is not going to be pushed into the sea by some fundamentalist with a death wish. Or an army of them.
And beyond that, if we can examine the causes for a moment, the whole concept of suicide bombing, if I have this correct, is that these Palestinians (or whoever) are of the mind that by martyring themselves, especially if they take a child or old woman with them, they will get to Heaven, where Allah will reward them, etc. I doubt any of them are reading this, but if you are, two points to make: 1) you don't wage war by killing civilians. Not that I'm in favor of Israeli soldiers being blown up at a bus stop instead. But there is nothing right or honorable or even human about taking the life of someone who poses no threat to you. And 2) you can't martyr yourself. You can't. By definition. From Webster's - martrydom: the suffering of death on account of adherence to a cause. "The suffering of death" - if you choose to blow yourself up, that's not suffering. That's a conscious decision to end your life. That doesn't make you a martyr; that makes you a murderer and a madman. If anything, the people you take with you are the martyrs. Think about it.
Okay, maybe the problems of the world will have to wait. Chances are I can't do anything about global terrorism. What about some national issues to sink my teeth into?
Well, for starters, has anyone else noticed that the current national economy is in some distress? I could be cynical and say that Bush got us into a war in Iraq so we'd take our minds off the fact that a $300 tax refund in 2001 didn't exactly hold the defibrilator paddles to the recession, but I won't. I'm even willing to take his reasons at face value. But it doesn't change the fact that we're mired in a terrible market, and it doesn't look like we're getting unstuck for a while.
I know the economy is cyclical; that doesn't mean it's going to jump-start itself. And I haven't seen one plan or one sound bite that convinces me that President Bush is really feeling this as a problem. I watched him give a speech last night to a bunch of sailors on their way home, and they're applauding him, and I'm thinking that were I them, I might actually want to stay on the aircraft carrier just a little longer: at least it's guaranteed employment.
Maybe it's just because I'm not a conservative Republican, but I just can't figure out how taking money from the government will help people get jobs. I hear they're planning another possible tax refund. Again, call me cynical, but this seems like a good way for the President to remain popular without actually putting money into any programs that actually need it, like, oh, I don't know … education? Because the thinking goes "if you give money back to people, they'll spend it on economy-boosting goods and services." Except no. Well, maybe lower-middle income people would. But if you're making six figures or above, and the government hands you a check for $300, what are you going to do with that? Put it in the bank with all the other dividends you get. And a tax cut that gives a millionaire an extra million and gives me an extra $50 is not likely to help any of my unemployed friends find work.
Because a poor federal government equates to poor state governments. An April 21 article in the New York Times announced, to my dismay, that "teachers are doubling as janitors in Oklahoma and working two weeks without pay in Oregon ... Connecticut is laying off prosecutors and Kentucky is releasing prison inmates early" because their budgets demand it. And while, yes, the American people like tax cuts because it seems like money in their pockets, any carefully worded poll will tell you that we care about other things, too. Because if your average Joe (or Adam or Jael) is asked "do you want government to raise your taxes?" the response would probably be "No." But ask "would you be willing to forego less than one percent of your income so that Medicaid in your state won't be cut?" there would probably be a lot more answers in the affirmative.
It's getting to the point that there are some economists right now talking about "deflation" being a possibility in the near future. That can't be good.
Another little national news tidbit that's really sticking in my craw is all this brouhaha regarding the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and music trading sites like Kazaa and Morpheus. Now, I'm of two minds about the relative morality of trading music over the internet, but one thing I do know: the music industry threatening legal action against every-day users of these sites is practically antithetical to their goal of getting people to buy music. I understand why they're annoyed that people can download songs for free. But they're overlooking a few things:
1) people might not be so quick to steal music if CDs were actually reasonably priced. I, for one, would much prefer to have the studio copy of any CD I was interested in. The quality's perfect and the packaging is better. And I'd bet my hat (it's a very nice hat) that if retailers were to drop the price of CDs by $5, they'd make up their earnings difference in significantly increased sales.
2) Trading music isn't going to stop just because the RIAA wants it to. People have figured out that they can get something for free and they're not going to go back to paying for it, even if it's the "right thing to do." The internet isn't going to collapse because BMG would rather you buy something with their bar code on it.
3) The backlash against the RIAA for biting the hand that feeds them hasn't yet begun to be seen. The more college kids they sue for trading music, the less likely their peers are going to be to want to support such an autocratic industry.
4) The music industry, especially the big 5 companies, would be doing better if, on the whole, the music didn't suck.
No, no. These are still problems that affect me, but that I can't control. Perhaps I can get a handle if I think more locally.
Well, and I'm partly to blame for voting for him, I think New York's esteemed Mayor Bloomberg is just making bad calls left and right. He's making bad calls for New York City's economy, he's making bad calls for his own reelection, and he's making bad calls for the people of New York.
I know there's a budget crisis, don't get me wrong. And I know it has to be balanced, but I find it difficult to believe that the answer is laying off city workers and raising the sales tax. In fact, in economic terms, that seems pretty dumb to me. Force more people to go on unemployment and they have less money. Raise the prices of the things they buy and they won't buy them. I'm not sure what the answer is, but if, as is generally agreed, the economy gets a boost when people buy things, making things harder to buy is not a good idea. I just don't understand.
But that's not all. He's obviously very anti-smoking, which I think is good. Smoking kills people. Being anti-killing people is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. But you can't force people to quit. The ban on smoking in NYC bars and clubs might be the most heavy-handed political move I can think of in recent times. And it's, again, self-defeating: a) he campaigned on a lower street noise platform, and making people who are drinking go outside to smoke is not exactly adding to the quiet; b) there's a very large population of smokers who just switched their vote to "anyone but Bloomberg"; and c) there were better plans that could have had the double-bonus of successfully cutting down on smoking in bars and, at the same time, made some money for a city grossly in need of it. My idea was that the city of New York start making bars buy tobacco licenses like they buy alcohol licenses. It would be a windfall for the city, as bar owners would probably pony up the money, and there are hundreds of bars in Manhattan alone. But some of them wouldn't; hence, the no smoking bars. And go even further by only allowing bars with multiple rooms to allow smoking, and then only in, say, one of those rooms (provided adequate ventilation, of course). The city makes possibly millions of dollars; people aren't smoking on the street; bar workers who care about it aren't exposed to second-hand smoke. Instead, with the current plan you get angry, drunk smokers on the streets until 4 a.m. Nice going, Mayor.
Okay. Here's something I can do. If anyone reading this has any suggestions about how to get my "tobacco license" idea to City Hall so it can actually be heard and considered, please contact either me or Mayor Bloomberg. I'm serious about this, you know, if it's feasible.
Anyway, I don't know about you, but I've depressed the hell out of myself. Sorry; I just had to get these things off my chest, you know. As I said, I still believe in the fundamental goodness of people. I still think that we haven't quite passed the point of no return. But I don't think we're heading anywhere near the right direction yet. And I'm not going to turn this into a "here's what you can do to help humanity" thing. I'm really just frustrated. And I know there are rarely any easy solutions. That's part of life, too.
Now discuss amongst yourselves.
Oh, and Happy Mother's Day.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.9.03 @ 2:44a
Oh - this is 'way too serious for my current state of mind.
Some would say that if you look to Revalations in the Bible, it's foretelling the current state of our world.
But I try not to think about that.
5.9.03 @ 7:35a
Some also speak fluent Klingon.
I don't put a whole lot of creedence in two-thousand-year-old prophecy. My guess is that 100, 200, 1,000 years ago people were saying the same thing about Revelations. And, with luck, 1,000 years from now, they'll still be claiming it describes the current climate.
If it makes you feel any better, Jewish folklore still gives us over 200 years, at least.
5.9.03 @ 10:35a
Although your column is depressing, it is also well written and thoughtful. I enjoyed reading it even if it didn't make me laugh.
5.9.03 @ 10:49a
I was going to Email this to the mayor but he doesn't list an Email address on his website. One of these people might be able to help with the tobacco license plan, though.
5.9.03 @ 11:39a
I'm not sure why the media isn't all over Bush's proposed tax cut. Hmmm...let's see, the first one went over like a fart in church...so let's so it again!
Bush was recently here in the Bay Area to tout a $550 billion (over 10 years) tax cut...for military companies. Could he be any more fucking pandering?
One of the many problems with Bush is, he has zero original ideas. He just keep pulling pages from his daddy or Reagan - two of the most destructive presidents in the last century.
5.9.03 @ 11:50a
I just read an article today that rather than oppose Bush's tax cut, GOP senators are recommending an increase in taxes for Americans living overseas. "Americans working overseas would be hit the hardest: the bill would no longer allow them to exclude $80,000 in income from federal taxes. That provision alone would amount to a $32 billion tax increase."
I'm nearly for it. A poor federal government sounds to me like a recipe for disaster.
5.9.03 @ 11:46p
1: I would hate to think, in 100 years or 1000 years from now people would still be claiming the book of Revalations describes current affairs, because I would hope the human race will eventually learn from their mistakes and not just stagnate.
2: I'm sorta for the blowing up of teenagers. Not so much as a political statement, but because I've encountered teenagers from time to time, and they piss me off.
3: While it isn't exactly as funny as I find much of your writing to be, there were bits of humor enough to keep me going. Unfortunately those bits-o-humor were also statements on the reality of many a bad situation in the world in general.
4: You're not a conservative republican? Wow! I really miss read you. I would've sworn you were a conservative republican.
5: Bush is an idiot. It doesn't matter if I'm referring to the father or the son, or the dipstick in Florida. They're all idiots.
6: Tax reform in general is something we need in this country, but so many politicians have a finger in the pie the average Joe (Adam or Jael) would be lucky to get a crumb or two. And if Bush is pandering to military companies, I'd look to another future war situation.
7: Thought provoking article. Very good.
5.12.03 @ 8:44a
Thanks. Now go and write that in a critique.
Are you serious about thinking I was a conservative Republican? I think the staff member who comes closest to that would be Russ. I'm only a conservative compared to Matt.
I would hope the human race will eventually learn from their mistakes and not just stagnate.
Which mistake would that be? Religion? Because while human beings don't stagnate in regards to technology, we also don't change very much in regards to mentality. And just because the "end of the world" people might be wrong ths time around, that doesn't mean a new generation won't think they've got it right the next time around.
5.13.03 @ 2:35a
I was joking about the conservative Republican thing.
There are so many mistakes the human race has made it would be hard for me to narrow the list down.
I always feel the world would be a perfectly beautiful place, if it weren't for the human beings mucking it up.
Okay, I critique ya.
5.13.03 @ 3:09p
I've been getting a lot of feedback saying "wow, that was depressing." So the question comes, are there any solutions?
Does anyone think I'm wrong?
5.13.03 @ 4:47p
I definitely don't think you're wrong. One could argue you point out the obvious in your column, but in my experience I've discovered sometimes it's necessary to point out obvious problems because people either overlook them or ignore them completely(like a pothole. It's there, okay, steer around it instead of fixing it).
There are no easy solutions, as you say. I'm afraid I fall into the same unhelpful category of person who will say "something's wrong here, and someone better do something about it," but I don't have the answers. I don't think the current political leadership is looking at a big enough picture to grasp the scope of change/reform needed, but then I'm just Republican bashing because it sometimes feels good. Honestly, neither party has the answers alone, and they must work together, be inclusive (not in the way Sen. Santorum is inclusive), and accept the fact ruling the world is a job for the masses not the individuals.