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Donald N.S. Unger DONALD N. S. UNGER teaches in the Program in Writing & Humanistic Studies at MIT. His book, Men Can: The Changing Image & Reality of Fatherhood in America, was published by Temple University Press in 2010. www.men-can.com

Recent Work By Donald N.S. Unger

We’re in the midst of the latest in a series of Work-Life Balance eruptions, from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” to Sheryl Sandberg’s admonition that women need to Lean In, to Marissa Mayer’s recent diktat that everyone needs to “get back to work,” no more of this “phoning it in.”

Will we see real progress this time?

While I have a great deal of respect for my opponent, President Obama, I am forced once again to come to the American people and set straight the distortions that both his campaign and the leftwing, lamestream media have continued to promulgate.

Two plus two does not equal four.

This is not complicated. And I will say it loud, proud, and straight-faced, every hour on the hour, from now until election day.

 

For the first time in a couple of decades, I recently watched Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic Metropolis, the two-and-a-half-hour restored cut: the Über Rich live in a paradisiacal topside that is part Manhattan and part Ancient Rome; the workers live in subterranean housing projects and commute to their (also underground) jobs on conveyances with a remarkable likeness to Mitt Romney’s car elevator. 

I grew up sailing on the Hudson with my father, in a fourteen-foot sloop he built himself. If you launch on the Rockland County side, just North of the Tappan Zee Bridge, there are two distinctive landmarks on the Westchester shore: Sing Sing Prison and the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.

Today, most people would probably view James Dean as an icon of Thug Lite, rather than Thug Life.  The engineer boots, the jeans, the tee-shirt, the black leather jacket, the precision-trimmed pompadour, it’s not just that it all looks retro—American style is additive; nothing ever really goes away—it looks Straight Edge, really.  Subtract the tattoos, and plenty of the hardcore punks who kept the rock but ditched the sex and drugs, look like they’ve “Gone Dean.”

I wish the magazine Parenting would just go the full shot and rename itself Mothering; it’s never too late to be honest.

It’s a magazine by women, about women, and for women, with only a few obligatory Man Ghettos, a page or two on which fathers rear their dense and uncomprehending heads. I won’t bore you with comparative page counts or (follow the money!) an analysis of the advertising: more tampons than pickup trucks (and the latter at least can be gender neutral).

Congress is the 1 percent.

If I’m off here, I’m not off by much. Two-thirds of our senators, and over 40 percent of our congressional representatives are millionaires. The family of the average member of the House of (Non-) Representatives has about five-and-a-half times the wealth of the average American family. 

It is from that exalted perch that laws are handed down which tend to benefit. . . the 1 percent.

Surprise? Not really.

Politics has always been a rich man’s game. And I’m not being gender-neutral here, because for the most part what I’m writing about isn’t gender-neutral. Money as an access point to politics—and wealth as a consequence of wielding power—is nothing new or different: see Washington, George; real estate deals.

Nor should we reflexively smear anyone and everyone simply on the basis of income or origin:

Roosevelt in 2012!

But this severe economic skew in the makeup of our leadership class has serious consequences in terms of what our representatives think of as baseline normal. I am less concerned about the pernicious effects of “the Washington Bubble” and more concerned about the effects of “the Money Bubble.”

Congress decidedly does not feel our pain.

And they need to, if they are to properly diagnose and understand what ails us as a society.

We tinker with the Constitution at our peril. It has long been true that the Bill of Rights could not survive a popular vote: Americans are strongly in favor of free speech and freedom of religion, for example. . . except when people say things we don’t like, and excluding—you know—those weird UnAmerican religions. The Founders couldn’t possibly have really meant to permit them.

Having acknowledged the dangers, I would still propose three constitutional amendments to put the U.S. House and Senate back in touch with the day-to-day realities of “we the people.”

1. The mandatory medical plan for members of Congress and their families shall be Medicaid.

They think funding for Medicaid is adequate? Then they should get perfectly good care there.

2. Anyone serving in any public office—national, state, or local—shall have their children enrolled in public school.

We’re defunding kids? Fine. We’re defunding your kids, too.

3. There shall be created a Congressional Battalion, made up of the sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of every person elected to Congress (no substitutions please; spouses or exes not accepted). In any American military action, the Congressional Battalion shall be the first unit put into service.

Congress seems indifferent to its constitutional responsibilities regarding declarations of war; presidents more or less get to do what they want.  One suspects that substituting their own for the children of other people would make them a little less blithe about the exercise of U.S. power abroad.

I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to a Cadillac and a vacation condo; I do believe everyone is entitled to healthcare and education. That’s not just soft altruism: you build a strong society, a strong economy, on the foundation of a healthy and well educated population.

While I am often skeptical about military action, I’m not a pacifist. But I am disturbed by how freely our politicians spend the lives of other people’s children on causes to which they would be loathe to sacrifice their own.

We get the word “society” from the Latin word socius, meaning “companion.” We get “companion” from the Latin com and panis, “with bread,” meaning people with whom we break bread.

And when our leaders eat cake and the people get crusts. . . ?

That bodes well neither for the fate of our society nor for the fate of our leaders. 

 

Occupy Worcester is now officially homeless, having left the lakeside park in which they were encamped. So far, they haven’t found anyplace else to go: the city won’t give them a permit.

I am broadly in favor of the Occupy Movement. It’s good to see the left in general and youth in particular stir from their multi-decade political hibernation. But this strikes me more as Civil Obedience than Civil Disobedience.

When I get to the gas station down the street on Sunday, the day before Halloween—having snagged the last generator at Sam’s Club, because it snowed in October, I no longer live in a First World country, and my house is without electricity—the pumps appear to be working but the credit card reader isn’t.

I spent a recent Saturday in Asbury Park with my 16 year old daughter, for the middle day of All Tomorrow’s Parties “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” It was a bizarre experience in tightly controlled transgression. This doesn’t really fit neatly under the rubric of these-kids-today-their-music-is-just-noise; there were just as many graybeards on stage as well as in the audience; the contest for who wore the funniest costume was fierce and thoroughly intergenerational.

Easy to get stuck between “how did your parents let you leave the house dressed like that?” and “do your kids know you’re stealing their clothes?”

It often felt like there were just as many security people—from police in various flavors of street and combat gear to venue guardians to private operators—as there were festival goers. East Berlin didn’t have this many checkpoints—and the authorities there fretted rather less about beer.

Forgive me if I can’t find the right tag for most of the music. Fill in obligatory cliché about the rattling of internal organs here ____________. And I’ll no more than gesture in the direction of mocking dumpy or wrinkled musicians in their fifties and sixties doing a simulation of the spazzing out that made them famous on stage when Jimmy Carter was president. People in my age bracket shouldn’t throw stones; we’re too brittle ourselves.

I’ll just say that a lot of the music was meant to be played on bad sound systems in abandoned warehouses, in which you could dance for six or eight hours at a time to the rhythm of your recreational substance of choice, until the sounds of helicopters (either in the sky above or in your head) became too loud and you had to run for it.

It’s not the perfect fit for an auditorium in which pimply twenty-somethings wearing yellow security t-shirts jostle through the crowd to yell politely in your ear, “Sir! I’m afraid I have to ask you to step back from the stage!”

The crowds were obedient to the point of standing up and attempting energetic movement when instructed to do so by the musicians: rebellion on command! But you could as easily dance in a two-seat commuter plane. So people pogoed, twitched, and head banged, periodically puttin’ their hands in the air! in a way that had to make anyone who has seen video of Nazi rallies just a little queasy.

There was a bonfire on the beach that night—speaking of rallies—but it was tended by professionals, surrounded by a fifteen foot buffer zone, and encircled by benches, chaise lounges, and tiki torches. No alcohol permitted on the beach, of course. Burn baby. . . oh never mind.

Things started on time and ended on time and people paid strict attention to rule #3 in the festival program: Please refrain from being an asshole.

Well, as long as they asked nicely. . .

Chaos is over-rated, violence flat out sucks, you get nostalgic about mayhem chiefly when it’s pretty far back in your rearview mirror—and the surgeons have confirmed that the loss of vision in your right eye will be fairly minimal.

But it’s an odd sight to see a middle aged man rage on stage, violently knocking the mike stand over, only to have it returned to place a minute later by a stagehand. After the third time, it’s kind of like watching some weird inversion in which the baby keeps giving Grampa back his rattle just to see it thrown to the ground yet again. You feel for the kid, but a job’s a job; you’re really embarrassed for Grampa.

A lot of this music has gone from Raging Against the Machine to Oiling and Tending the Machine so we can use it again next year. Some of this is commerce, some of it is who we seem to be post-9/11.

Welcome to Kettle America. Please refrain from being an asshole.