A series of colliding deadlines – it’s nice to have work, and I’m not complaining – plus the arrival of houseguests means I will have to do the unthinkable, and fob off previously posted comments on someone else’s site as a fresh Bleat. While I’d like to think there is perfect synchronicity between Tim Blair’s site and my readership, that’s probably not the case. So then.
Oh, the guests? A houseful, all weekend, which is making my wife go mad. One of these days I’m going to behave like the guest she fears, and poke in every drawer, run a gloved finger behind the furnace – which sounds naughty, I know – and remove everything from the fridge to check whether the back of the produce bin has a slight tacky feeling equal to the adhesive power of a wet Post-It. Poor woman. There’s only so much I can do to help, and actually just existing sheds skin cells, so I may just roll up in plastic wrap and hide in the water feature, breathing through a straw, until it’s over. Also, (G)Nat returns from camp, and we will have some catching up to do. So. We have new motels today, if you’re disinclined to read some miserabilistic nonsense from an Australian columnist who believes that the act of shopping in bulk breeds fear, guilty and greed.
Here’s the piece. The title –“We’re fat and scared, so I’m glad petrol and food cost more” give you a hint of the remarkable insights that follow. Just so we're on the same page, I am not irritated that someone criticized excess. This sort of hand-fluttery babbling free-association nonsense about the End of Everything and the Rise of Horrible Things and the How Keen It Is That We May See the End of the Poison of Plenty just strikes me as more of the same bizarre cultural self-hatred we discuss here from time to time.
There’s so much twaddle in that piece it’s hard to know where to start – it’s like a bucket of depression larger than a human head, flavoured not with reason but panic-flavored fear-sauce – but there is one telling line:
“Abundance takes the value from everything.”
Ingratitude takes the value out of everything. I can easily imagine the columnist complaining about the abundance of a civilized frippery like toilet paper, and wishing we could go back to corn cobs, which would get us back in touch with nature. Literally.
If you needed any benchmarks about what the apogee of comfort looks like, there you are: a newspaper columnist paid to worry about the size of other people’s popcorn purchases.
Hold on: after reading more, I discovered that she actually does complain about bulk toilet-paper purchases, which one can obtain at that imported American horror, Costco. I belong to Costco; I go there a few times a year. I like it. She says: “it encourages a mentality of fear, famine and greed.” Well, at the 1930s Soviet Inner Party Costco, yes, but ours is rather cheerful.
She says: “It encourages people to consume more than they need. Eat three chocolate bars for the price of one. I've opened that kilogram bag of chips, so I may as well polish it off.”
Speak for yourself, ma’am.
“Because it's cheap people feel they're getting value for money. They're not. It just means they're eating more, spending more and feeling emptier. Instead of going to the local supermarket to buy what they need, they're driving kilometres, taking 20 minutes to park and buying stuff they don't need, because it's cheap. And it's there.”
I can’t speak for Australia and its parking lots so wee it takes a third of an hour to find a spot; around here I find a spot in 30 seconds. But I will admit that I drive actual kilomitres, or miles as we Yanks call them, to get there. But why do I go there, when the local supermarket has what I need? Because it doesn’t, or because it costs too much. Because Costco sells large deli trays for the party we’re having, printer ink at low prices, great barrels of gummi vitamins the kid likes at half the price, and great bolshy bags of dog food I can store in the basement so I don’t have to walk to the common market and buy a half-pound bag every other day.
I know she would prefer that I slump to the People’s Distribution node every afternoon wearing sandals made out of old tires and walk home with a farking bag of Purina on my head and two hemp sacks of produce nurtured in night soil strung around each shoulder, but that sort of rich, community-building, soul-enriching experience is usually reserved for people who have to pause on the way home because a soldier butted their ear with a rifle butt for sneezing in front of a picture of Mugabe, and it hurts.
“Costco is opening this year in Melbourne. That sentence seems benign enough until you realise what Costco it. It's an American chain of warehouse clubs.”
O the horror. If they had the cruel audacity to open one in a poor rural country, I expect she’d consider flying there to lay down in front of the bulldozers. And then decide against it – carbon excess, and all that.
Okay, one more thing. I listen to a lot of Obama speeches and remarks, and will probably discuss them here more than what McCain says. McCain is not a fellow who throws off surprises daily. Obama either makes a good prepared speech that lofts bromides into the stratosphere on gusts of good intentions, or makes foreign policy statements that seem to put more faith in stern palaver and the malleability of Iranian leadership than the evidence would suggest is wise. Or he vamps, and things come out.
So. Re: Obama’s remarks on bilingual education and dumb Yanks what can’t say ooo est le Loover without running a finger beneath a line in a phrase book:
"I agree that immigrants should learn English,. But understand this: Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they'll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. . . .You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say (is), 'Merci beaucoup.'
I don’t object to the encouragement to speak a second language – I’ve had my kid in Spanish classes for three years. (And she doesn’t say “yuk” to tacos, so we may be jake with the British thoughtcrime, or rather totcrime encorcers.) If he’d left it at that, it wouldn’t be controversial - if that is, he’d made a push for foreign language proficiency outside of the context of laws that would require the official business of government to be printed in English, and if he’d made the point without his usual habit of turning a Should into a Must, and avoided turning the serious quesiton of the necessity of a monolingual culture into an opportunity to talk down to people because they don't speak enough French. Like many politicians, he has boilerplate preconceptions familiar to fellow inhabitants of the ideological bubble; unlike more seasoned politicians, however, he tends to air them in public without realizing how they sound to people outside the bubble. Let's run that last part again:
“You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say (is), 'Merci beaucoup.'”
Oh the shame of being embarrassed in front of the Europeans. For some people they are the cool teens, and Americans are the mortifying parents.
It’s the old argument among the betters with well-stamped passports: fie on those foolish grunting hoi polloi who show up in Paris in loud shirts expecting people to speak English and calling everyone Pierre. In the context of English-as-a-national-tongue laws, it’s an interesting assertion: Apparently it is right to expect people who visit Paris to speak French the day they get there, but it is cultural chauvinism to expect people who want to live and work in America to understand English well enough to navigate a ballot.
In any case, it seems that Obama speaks as much Spanish as JFK spoke German, but when Kennedy said he was a Berliner (yes, I know, jelly donut, etc.) it wasn’t his command of the tongue that thrilled people; it was the sentiment. If Reagan had said “Mr. Gorbachev, leave this wall in place” in Russian, I think a great many people would have been impressed with his cultural sensitivity and worldiness, and hang the text of his remarks.
It was the self-satisfied and chummy laughter that greeted the remarks that sealed the deal; everyone basked in the wonderful moment of a presidential candidate dinging the average Dorkus-American for not going to Europe more, and showing up dreadfully unprepared when he did. Quel horreur. Well, it’s a big country. There’s a lot to see here. Europe has grand sights and wonderful food, but I’d bet a few dollars that the people who sneer about Americans who don’t have passports haven’t toured the plains of North Dakota, the small towns of Maine, the mountains of Montana, the outback of the Southwestern deserts, the coastal glories of California, the croc-snapping Everglades, the Appalachian trail, the Boundary Waters where the US blends into Canada – and so on.
Some people like to get to know their own country. You don’t need a passport or a phrasebook, either. They even have museums and old stuff, too! Honest. To state the obvious, Europe is a continent made up of countries, and America is a country that spans a continent. If people in Wisconsin spoke Wisconsinee, I’d learn a bit, but I can travel vast distances, experience different places and different cultures, without having to switch tongues. I suppose that makes the experience less genuine, somehow.
(Note: I have a French niece, a highschooler, who speaks English – modern idiomatic teen English, and more - flawlessly. Not a trace of an accent. She works at the neighborhood grocery store now; I was talking to a cashier who said she didn’t know she was French until a Frenchman showed up in the line and his accent gave him away, and they started talking. My niece knew about 20 words of English when she got here. She picked up her English in her early teens going to English-speaking school. She loves it here. Such an enormous place; so many things to explore. [Her dad, a Frenchman who now lives in America and works for a Minnesota multinational, travels abroad for his job, and sell wares in many countries. His good English comes in more handy than the French, I suspect.)]
New Motels, starting here – old and new pictures. Click until the interface reverts to the old style, and pause to wonder why I redesigned the site when everything looks more or less the same. Because it doesn’t, for starters; the main banner is more retro-riffic, the individual motel names are gone – I got tired of the font – and the photos and text are bigger. So there. Enjoy! And see you at buzz.mn for Lance Lawson Thursday.