"But if you ask for a rise, it's no surprise...."

>> Monday, May 11, 2015

One's first thought, as ever, is to remember that old ditty about currency and the wry observation alluded to in the title to this post: "Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today; but if you ask for a rise it's no surprise they're giving none away."  Congressman Issa is evidently the humblest of men: he could, perhaps, give away all his Guilders  and Simoleons and walk the streets barefoot in sackcloth and ashes, living in a park and conversing with the squirrels and pigeons à la a latter day St. Francis of Assisi, but he wouldn't want to make us jealous.  Indeed, his martyrdom is the most noble and severe kind of martyrdom: the more evil Kronen he gathers to himself, the prouder the rest of us can be in comparison.  I'm not nearly as enviable as the guy who stands in the median on the W. Brookshire at the I85 interchange, but next to $448 million (sorry, $448 point four million, my bad), I'm the frickin' cock of the walk.

A first thought implies a second, and there's certainly more.  For instance, one wonders why a certain segment of the population seems to think--and in the CNN clip, Issa explicitly states--that developing, Third World, post-colonial states should be where we set our bar.  Apparently, we're to take it as a given that it's better to have one's family starve in America than, say for instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the poorest state in the world, not one mentioned by Issa), a premise that manages to simultaneously be broadly true and yet bafflingly irrelevant.  We might grant that the United States is a better place to starve than some without agreeing that starvation is acceptable in the first place.  It also doesn't make the claim any more palatable when one considers the extent to which the miserably low bar set in some of these places was set by our own conduct as a colonial/demi-colonial power in the first half of the 20th Century and as a Cold War superpower in the second half.

E.g. doubtlessly one reason it's worse to be poor in the Congo than to be poor in Alabama is that in the 1960s the United States funded a right-wing anti-nationalist coup led by Joseph Mobutu, who proceeded to install himself as a corrupt, homicidal despot who spent thirty years watering his country's soil with the blood of dissidents and rivals while siphoning his country's wealth off to personal Swiss Bank accounts (in this, we yet again discern the humble man morally elevating his people by making them enviable); we did this, naturally, because a Congolese nationalist (Patrice Lumumba) was giving our friends the Belgians a hard time (first mistake) by saying maybe the Congo shouldn't be nearly so Belgian anymore (especially given what the Belgians had done with it) and went to the Soviets with hat in hand (second mistake) when the United Nations seemed, well, a bit Belgian about the whole affair.

Regrettably, this is a narrative that repeats (with variations) all over the place: "Well, if you think it's so bad here, what about life in this other place we raped, or helped rape, or helped the rapists of--count your lucky stars you aren't living there."  Following this line of thought all the way down the hole, one has to admit to wondering if one of the reasons some of these wealthy Republican types are so keen on keeping the proletarian classes so blessedly poor is that the West is running out of opportunities for rape and pillage abroad.  I mean, yes, our corporations pay people pennies to assemble shoes and computers and answer telephone complaints, but lately many of those people seem  keen on keeping their pennies over there where we're sending the pennies.

I dunno, maybe that's not a tenable hypothesis.  But the point perhaps remains the same, which is that one really wonders about an American Congressman not only suggesting that poor Americans ought to count their blessings they're merely desolate and not utterly devastated, but going on to suggest that if these Americans want to stay competitive in a global economy, they might consider emulating those terrible places they're lucky not to live.  (Does this sound anything like cognitive dissonance, by the by?)

And then there's one more thought, a sort of punch line to the whole thing that isn't quite relevant to Congressman Issa's comments and yet is somehow so apt one wonders if there is in fact a God and this Creature has a penchant for white suits and labored literary affectation.  I had to wonder, you see, where Mr. Issa's four-hundred (and almost a half!) million dollars came from, and to that end consulted with my era's version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, our great digital brain to which you pose any question and from which you receive any answer, and it turns out that Mr. Issa's burden was not inherited from some 19th Century robber baron, as so many American fortunes have been, but was, indeed, self-earned.

By selling car alarms.

Now, it is possible you don't see why this is so grimly funny.  Or maybe you do, and in that case I may not say anything worth reading (this assumes you're still here and have found this worth reading so far, natch).  In case you don't see why this is terribly ironic and so funny that one can't even laugh, but ends up grimacing with gritted teeth and shaking one's head like a dog trying to get out of a collar, please allow me to explain something you already know.

You see, in the United States of America (as in many places), an automobile is a thing of value in and of itself, and a status symbol as well.  It allows one to get from one place to another rapidly, it is made up of myriad components that have some inherent value as replacements and/or possibly upgrades, it possibly "looks cool", it makes a statement that one is independent and free as the wind, it may send (the possibly erroneous) message that one has mad cash that one can throw away on something luxurious and impractical (a self-effacing display, of course).  And it is inherently mobile, unless it's up on blocks or has a blown engine or something--forget the qualifier, and let's just agree for the point that the automobile as designed can be taken from one place to another some indefinite distance away.  And it's expensive, or expensive-ish, depending on the model and one's budget.  And it is large enough to function as a kind of container--one might keep many things in the compartment or the trunk, often things of value (even though this might be a bad idea).  And various improvements to the use and enjoyment, the radio for instance, also have some value.

All of which, point being, makes the vehicle a target for thieves.  Specifically and generally, for thieves for whom it is easier to steal a car than to buy one, or who find that taking a car and/or it's various components and selling them is a somewhat reliable and convenient way to acquire much-needed money.  (Sure, you could rob a bank instead, but if you try sitting on top of the pile of money in the vault and making vroom-vrrrrooom--scroooch-va-room noises, they will catch you.)

While some people will surely always be thieves, just as some people will always be serial killers and some people will always be saints, most people will be nothing much in particular unless forced by their circumstances to be better or worse than the human lot.  'Tis just the human condition.  Thus, if there is a rise in car thefts or breakings-and-enterings, one might conclude that more people are being forced by circumstances to steal, and that the most likely pressure is a lack of money, perhaps a lack of money brought on by lack of work or lack of opportunity.  That is, one might suggest that a rise in property crimes is a symptom of poverty.

Naturally, however, the people who have cars and things in their cars don't much want their cars broken into, their cars stolen, the items in their cars taken away, and--you see where this is going, yes?  Faced by an epidemic of automobile break-ins, car owners buy car alarms, and Darrell Issa gets rich... because poverty.

I don't intend to imply that Issa is a parasite, so instead I'll just say it outright: Darrell Issa is a parasite.  This is a harsh statement, I realize, and I should mitigate it by observing that while parasites are squicky and disgusting from a certain perspective, taken from another they're also wonderfully amazing and resourceful illustrations of the wondrous variation millions upon millions of years of evolution has produced on this planet, and are even admirable in the many ways they savvily occupy and exploit the openings (no pun intended) created by life's great flourishing.  Perhaps you think of your GI tract as, well, your GI tract, but from another perspective it's just a warm, wet place with lots of nutrients regularly flowing through it and wouldn't it be a nice place to live if clamping down in warm, wet places and passively absorbing nutrients was your thing; wouldn't it be downright clever if millions of years adapted your species into the form of the simplest, most efficiently-constructed entity that can anchor itself, soak up food, and periodically spawn?  No, you wouldn't want to have a tapeworm living inside you, but you can nevertheless grudgingly admire the tapeworm's lineage for thriving in thousands of generations of guts.

So when I say Issa is a parasite, I honestly don't mean that in the sense of a creature that embeds itself somewhere and takes and takes while giving nothing back to its host, and is therefore (from a certain POV) lazy.  (An accusation so often leveled at parasites that "lazy parasite" sometimes appears redundant.)  Starting an automobile security company with the sale of several used vehicles and a loan from family members  and nurturing it into an extremely successful four-hundred-million dollar venture clearly takes resourcefulness and effort (and we'll confine ourselves to only passing snark re: stealing cars is something Issa seems to know something about, and thus could be seen as an application of his skills and education).  Many parasites in nature also put hard work into finding a host--that is, into finding a place in their world--and latching on and never letting go and getting all they can from their situation.  Nothing to be ashamed of.  Sure, it's possible Mr. Issa could have embarked on the surely less-lucrative enterprise of figuring out ways to obviate anyone's need to break into cars, but let's not talk the crazy talk, you and I.  Realistically, it's a lot easier to treat a symptom of need than to cure the underlying cause, and Mr. Issa has done well by that, for sure.


Warner Monday, May 11, 2015 at 5:57:00 PM EDT  

I think you mean saprophyte not parasite.

Issa has no desire to kill his host, as long as they vote for him.

Eric Monday, May 11, 2015 at 7:28:00 PM EDT  

I suppose the body politic is a dead thing, after all.

Phiala Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 1:34:00 PM EDT  

Eric, I was WAITING for the Roland reference. Did I miss it?

Warner, you've got that backwards, unless I misunderstand your point: parasites don't want to kill their hosts, because they'd then be homeless.
Saprophytes feed on things that are already dead. Parasitoids are the ones that eventually kill their hosts, usually as part of the reproductive process (eg the larvae feed on the host, and kill it at the same time they metamorphosize into adults).

Phiala Monday, May 18, 2015 at 8:44:00 AM EDT  

Roland, helping out the Congoese.


Eric Monday, May 18, 2015 at 5:45:00 PM EDT  


Y'know, this is one of the reasons art is important. My Dad had a copy of Excitable Boy when I was a kid, and I heard "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" long before I knew anything about the Congo more than "It's a blobby territory in the middle of Africa, and Africa is worth three extra armies if you hold it at the beginning of a turn." (Indeed, it's likely I first heard "Roland" while playing Risk with my Dad.)

But, point is, it's thanks to Zevon--and to Joseph Conrad--I was interested enough to ever bother learning anything at all about the Congo (Conrad was 19th Century and King Leopold, obv, as opposed to Zevon ruminating about more recent events). "Congo? CIA? What?" Art was a reference point, a touchstone, a reason to know.

You know, he--Zevon, I mean--did the same thing for me with Mexican history. "'I heard Woodrow Wilson's guns, Veracruz is fallen'? What?" Same album, too.

Seriously, I literally picked several college electives because of Warren Zevon. I kid you not. The man was a gateway drug to learning.

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