Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Higher Education Ruined the World

I’ve decided that higher education has ruined America, and of course, you should feel compelled to agree with me, but let me spell it out for you so when you make my argument at backyard barbeques this summer, you’ll have some weight behind your words.

Ninety percent of the jobs we have here in the US are fake jobs. They are made up. They are jobs for the sake of job-having. It reminds me of the scene in Shawshank Redemption when old Red let’s the man on the parole board have it, telling him that rehabilitation is just a made up word that allows a man to wear a suit and a tie and have a job. The jokes on us though. That movie, set in the early 1900’s was just the beginning. Today, we all have made up jobs with made up titles so we can get paid and live make believe lives. How many of us actually do anything though?

Everyone has a college diploma these days. It’s a useless piece of paper though, because everyone has one. And no one who has spent four grueling years of binge drinking, note copying and test cheating can ever possibly stoop to doing real work, so we have to continually invent jobs for them.

Have you ever taken a step back and asked yourself, if what you do for a living is essential in any real way? The fact of the matter is, unless you’re a farmer, a soldier, a fisherman or a builder of some sort, you’re expendable.

You look down at the kid working the counter at your local McDonald’s, but at least that kid serves a necessary purpose. We all have to eat. You laugh at the idea of being a dishwasher or working in a factory but these are real jobs, these people perform necessary functions in our society.

Corporate America is a sham. Most of us have jobs because some committee met and thought they could maximize profits if they added a new position to the fold. Have you ever noticed how the higher up you get, the less work you do?

You take that piece of paper that verifies your brilliance—if only in beer pong and quarters—and you demand a desk and a computer and a phone. You work until you have an assistant with their own assistant and a team of other mindless diploma wavers under your direct command and you consider yourself a success.

It’s all an illusion though. We’re all too qualified to do the things that make a difference, so we continually invent jobs that, in many cases, exist only for the sake of being a job and allowing us to dress up in nice clothes and have something to define ourselves with at cocktail parties and barbeques.

But if things ever got bad—really bad—with our economy, how necessary are you? Do you play a vital role in anything that matters? If society had to function at a *cough, cough* lower level and we were forced to give up the white collar paradise facade we’ve constructed, how necessary is what you do? If you’re honest, you’ll realize that for most of us, what we do is false. It’s an illusion.

Come what may, the kid at the counter at McDonald’s is always going to have a job. That kid does something real. There’s nothing made up about the need for food and those who supply, prepare and serve it. Of course the people who make the commercials, brand the logo, ensure the internet presence, manage the 401k and make sure the employees feel good about themselves are superfluous. They are only self important. Remember, it’s the meek who shall inherit the earth. And make no mistake, sooner or later, some day something will happen to even it all out. Then, we’ll be begging for that job at the counter at McDonalds, you know, so we can pay off our college loans.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Deciders

Five simple questions:

Do you insist on staying the course in a conflict that’s unpopular and divisive?

Do you consider yourself the decider, the person who knows better than everyone else?

Do you refuse to listen to the American people who have spoken their minds?

Does your ego get in the way of what’s best for the country?

Do you have trouble realizing when enough is enough and it’s time to finally withdraw?

If you read these, I’m sure you’re likely to assume that these are questions that would be aimed at our current president, George W. Bush, but you’d be wrong. These are the thoughts I had last night after watching coverage of the Kentucky & Oregon primaries and they were directed on one Hilary Clinton.

Funny how irony can come along and smack the self-righteousness out of someone isn’t it? I have to admit, it was quite the revelation when I realized that the very thing I don’t like about President Bush is the exact same thing I dislike in Senator Clinton.

Ambition is great, just ask Julius Caesar, or his buddy Brutus to enlighten you on that. Tenacity is neat too, but obsession with your own righteousness, this prevailing attitude that everyone else must be wrong, while you alone are right and so you’ll stick to your guns and go out blazing is just idiocy.

The whole idea of Democracy, in case you’re not aware—and I’m sad to say that I don’t think most people are, in fact, aware, is that the elected represent the people. They are not our betters, our superiors, our parents. They are not elected to look over us like we are so many ants in a child’s ant farm. They are there to do what we tell them to do. They are elected to fight for our interests, for what we tell them we want.

With this ridiculous pair, compromise seems to be as foreign as modesty.

So, I find it highly amusing to listen to Senator Clinton rail against President Bush now, from some moral high ground of her own imagination she petulantly berates him like a child. And I can’t help but think that perhaps the reason she hates him so much, is that they are so very alike.

The policy is different, but the people are the same. And that scares me, so I’m glad it will be one of the other two, McCain or Obama who will become our next President. I don’t sense the same kind of narcissism from either of those candidates.

You see, I don’t need a president who has all the answers and always knows what’s best. I need one who’s smart enough to ask all the right questions, resourceful enough to find the answers, persuasive enough to convince the people of their choices, brave enough to enact them and humble enough to admit when they were wrong.

It’s a simple formula really. And there’s no room at the top, for a pair of deciders.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Hey, I've got my new shoes on (but it's not going to be all right)

With all due respect to Paolo Nutini, I’ve got my new shoes on and not only is everything not all right, you might even say that things are wrong. I remember the first time I heard that song, I immediately knew he was shamelessly pandering to the female audience; that he couldn’t possibly mean it because new shoes are pretty much the bane of any real man’s existence.

I should clarify. When I say shoes, I am, of course, speaking of gym shoes—sneakers, knockarounds, tennis shoes—you know, the one’s Mr. Rogers changed into when he got home from a long day wandering the neighborhood. Gym shoes are the only real shoes that count in a man’s life. Sure, we own dress shoes, but it’s a function of necessity, not a matter of choice. We own our gym shoes because we want them, we love them, we need them and unlike the shiny black and browns we keep in our closets and wear when forced to dress up, our gym shoes are a part of who we are as men.

So, it’s a bit traumatic when we are forced to part with the old and wear the new. As a single man, I have it good. I can wear my shoes until they’re capable of walking themselves, but sadly, this makes them even more difficult to part with when the time comes. Today is a day of mourning because today, I had to cowboy up, say goodbye to the old and take on the shame, that is owning a new pair of shoes.

And make no mistake, a new pair of shoes are a badge of shame, our own scarlet letter calling out to all who see us that we have forsaken the old and taken on the new. There is no shame in all of manhood that rivals the indignity of a bright, white, clean pair of gym shoes. Imagine, if you will, what it would be like if every time you walked into a room, everyone in that room immediately knew that you had just recently put your beloved pet Fido to sleep, just because he was old. That is the shame of the clean white gym shoe.

Everyone who sees them knows that they are new, unbroken, that we are strangers to them and they to us. There is no bond. There is no camaraderie. There are no shared adventures. They haven’t carried us safely through adversity. They have shared no triumphs with us. They have no history, no past, they are untested, not tempered, they are rookies, virgins, neophytes.

Sadly, we can’t hide them from their shame. Only time and wear can allow them to gain acceptance. Only rain and sleet and snow, mud and puddles, grass and dirt can give them the character they so desperately lack.

Perhaps the worst part about the new shoes isn’t that they have no history with us, no past to speak of; it’s the fact that they are there, on our feet, meaning that we recently had to part with a pair that did share our times gone by, a pair that were a part of us. We have forsaken old for the new. Know this though, we did not want to do it and if it could have been avoided, it would have been.

Today, I finally caved in and bought a new pair of shoes. They are looking up at me, mocking me as I write this piece. They are a neon white reminder that in a shoe box, in the trunk of my car is a pair of shoes that I love and already miss. Sure, the rubber bottoms flip and clap as I walk and yes, the holes in the sides allow rain, sleet and snow to invade them and dampen my feet, sometimes making me miserable for hours at a time. It’s true, they used to be white at one point and now are a dingy, worn down grayish-black mixture. The Nike swish may have fallen off one side, leaving a clean spot amid the dirt and crud, but they were my shoes, my amigos, my friends.

They have been with me to Cubs games and nights out in bars. We have shared great books and fine cigars. We have walked the world together. We are not strangers, in fact we are the oldest of friends. And it’s going to take me a while until I’m ready to throw them away. I had to put them in the box the new shoes came in because I cannot bear to look at them, to have them see their replacements, but I cannot simply toss them either. They were my friends and I will miss them.

So yes, I have my new shoes on Paolo, but they don’t symbolize that everything’s going to be all right. They symbolize a betrayal, a weakness, the death of successful partnership. Every man I see will judge me because of the bright, white, shiny shoes I am wearing and the adultery they represent. I am Hester Prynne. I have sinned against all it means to be a man, and I wear my badge of shame for all to see.

Perhaps, someday this new pair will be to me what my old shoes were, but it’s really too soon to think about that now. It’s a sad day in the life of a man when he must forsake his shoes for a new pair. It is a sad day today. You will be missed my old friends. I’m so very sorry it had to end.