Season’s Greetings

look forward
to Christmas.
Mysterious triple god
condescending to a virgin birth
to suffer and die for my sins—a dour myth!
Besides, Santa works for the Corporation
and merry gentlemen, undismayed,
are globally fleecing the poor.
But . . . lights twinkle on evergreens.
Gold and silver shimmer against the dark.
Holly berries preen in falling snow, and bells,
despite the evidence, sing hope.
‘The old year’s thumb in the eye of death.
That to you, Death! Life is eternal. You’re an eyeblink.
So I succumb to the season and
wish you excess—of friendship, song and feasting.
Bright clothes and dancing. A warm hearth. Witty company.
Fond and clever children.  Things that shine.
Love. Peace.
A silent, holy night



Social Security Blues

The first thing I thought of when I heard about the tax deal was that it’s the beginning of the end of Social Security as we know it—and another commitment I thought Obama had made that he’s reneging on. I wonder what he says to Malia and Sasha when he breaks a promise. Does he just tell them to stop whining and think about how many other things he’s done? I mean, we’ve been talking about a potential shortfall in Social Security for years, so what do we do? Guarantee a bigger shortfall by lowering the influx of funds. Why couldn’t we have given the rich their tax cut and then taken a teensy bit of it back by eliminating the cap on income subject to the Social Security tax (it’s now a really paltry first $106,000) and expanding it to include all income, including (gasp!) CEO bonuses??? That would satisfy the billionaires AND fully fund Social Security. Win-win, no?

Unless there really isn’t a shortfall at all, and the goal is to eliminate Social Security by whatever means are available, and Obama’s going along with it. If so, I wish him a poverty-stricken old age, and his co-conspirators too.

I’m always amazed when I encounter the fanatical hatred for Social Security and its recipients that exists in some quarters. It’s shocking. A lot of it is from young free-marketeers, who (a) resent the idea that there’s some money that can’t be accessed to prop up the markets; (b) are convinced that they’re personally going to be so wildly successful in life that they won’t ever need to augment their stock profits and CEO salaries; (c) choose to ignore the fact that those collecting Social Security paid into it during their entire working lives; and (d) have no problem with the idea of “death panels for Granny” so long as they’re run by and for the rich.

Seriously, the blogosphere is vicious on this subject. So is Senator Simpson. The Right is campaigning against Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, and its poster child is Ebeneezer Scrooge. This year, whatever version of Christmas Carol you watch or read, listen carefully to Scrooge’s cold-blooded rant about the “surplus population” to the charities soliciting his largesse. I suspect it’s the Republican policy statement of the future, maybe as soon as campaign 2012.

Learning French

Arlette is here from Geneva, just as I’m finishing my fourth French course at Alliance Française. Arlette is multilingual and sometimes works as a translator. We’ve been talking about the way that language structures thinking. When we learned to talk, we learned to think and communicate within the structure our language provided. Arlette says there are many phrases in English that simply can’t be translated into French because the French language—i.e. thought structure—has no equivalent concept; the language simply has no framework for the linking of certain types of ideas. They can only be expressed, if at all, circuitously, with more words than English requires.

The French do not, in fact, always have a word for it.

The structure of the American language, she says, is much more flexible. On the one hand that makes us often sloppy in our conceptualization of things, and encourages Europeans to dismiss our thinking as “American,” i.e. imprecise.   But on the other, our more flexible structuring of language corresponds to a generosity, an openness to innovation and the unexpected, a willingness to make mental leaps that Europeans admire and even envy.

Frankly, after a year and a half of feeling inadequate in my French class, it has been a pleasure to (a) carry on these conversations mostly in French [I’ve worked my butt off in those French classes] and (b) hear a Francophone say that in some ways our language is more expressive than theirs.

Tis the Season -I.-

December 3

Christmas season, NYCNew York seems to be hungry for light this year. I don’t think the Christmas tree in my building’s lobby has ever gone up, fully decorated, the day after Thanksgiving. And the week before Thanksgiving, I heard a woman on the bus wondering, rather hopefully, if the snowflake over Fifth Avenue had  been lit yet. There’s a store on 5th at 57th with a wall of white and gold lights framing the entrance. And for the first time ever, I wonder (with WNYC) how Jews deal with the nine nights of Hanukkah gifts—eight dredls and a Wii box?

I remember the first Christmas lights I saw in 2001, festooning a tenement fire escape in the far West 40s. They were really early. But I, who never greet this season with undiluted joy, said a loud internal “YES! We will shine this year, no matter what!” I wished for snow to cool the smoldering rubble in Lower Manhattan, and I vowed that from now on it would be different. I would be different.

Well, we’re nine years older now, me and the world and the city, and it is different. The solstice—the resting time, the bottom of the light,  the onset of the cold, the hard time—is coming on faster than usual. The light this year is a little like a last hurrah, “the Christmas before . . .” like this October, heart-breakingly blue-skied and golden-leafed, felt like “the autumn before. . . .”

Next year, I suspect, everything’s going to be even more different. The future is starting, bigtime. It’s visible on the horizon like the Visigoths outside Rome.

I feel bad about all this until I look at the holly and the spruce. If I squint, I can actually see for a minute that they’ve survived all this before, and they’re still here, still beautiful, and maybe that’s the meaning of the season, that things can and do blossom in the snow, and so can we. . . .

And then I go, yeah, there goes another rubber tree plant…

Well, it’ll all be over in a month.