Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Today, the kindness of friends and relatives reminded me of the many kindnesses I've received from strangers as well.

I just wish my car didn't have to break down for this to happen.

Today's car incident happened while travelling on Interstate 64 between my home in Morehead, KY and the city of Lexington. The car itself is in the shop waiting to be diagnosed, but it looks like a belt broke. First, the car wasn't able to accelerate, then the belt sound that we'd been hearing for the last 8 months got louder, and the battery light came on.

Then finally, the power brakes went off as I was pulling the car off the road.

For awhile, I stood outside the car hoping a cop car would come by.

No such luck. Between the state police, city police, county sheriff, university police, and Daniel Boone National Forest police, Cave Run Lake Police, and other agencies, there are at least seven police agencies in the area for a town of 7,000 and I'm likely to be followed by a cop car on just about any trip.

Unfortunately, my abusive father was a cop for 6 years. So, I find being followed by cop cars to be extremely aggravating and anxiety-provoking and the cops owed to me to actually help me the one time I needed something from them.

But a half-hour of waiting found no cop cars in sight and the cops will have to pay me back another time. I did get a student paper graded though.

Fortunately, I went off the road close to an exit with two big convenience stores within a quarter of a mile and I started hoofing my way up toward the ramp.

That's when my nephew the carpenter's assistant and his boss the carpenter/contractor pulled up to offer a hand. They were on their way to a job but were glad to lend me a cell phone and wait while I called AAA.

My nephew even left his cell phone with me for when AAA called back. Not that the cell phone did me much good. It was too advanced for me and I couldn't figure out how to use it.

Back to tech school for me.

Some minutes later, a faculty friend from my university stopped by to offer assistance. Too bad I didn't have a flat. He could have helped me change it. Given that I was just waiting for the tow truck, I had to decline. Meanwhile another friend was calling my wife and offering assistance.

Everybody was being nice and somebody would have started a prayer chain for me if I didn't get off the road soon.

Of course, it's good to know that my family, friends, and colleagues are willing to lend assistance when I need it.

But it really isn't just them.

Last year, my car troubles started when another belt broke while I was driving in Lexington. Maybe I should think about driving to Lexington so much.

I was able to pull into a Thornton's convenience store next to the Woodhill Plaza where a couple people offered me phones to call AAA (I really need to carry my phone) and were quite willing to wait for 15-20 minutes to half an hour for me to work things out with the AAA people to have my car towed back to Morehead. I also needed to call my wife to come get me.

The people who worked at Thornton's were super-nice through the whole four or five hour semi-ordeal. They let me park, invited me inside, let me use their personal cell phones, and made small talk with me the whole time.

Six o'clock eventually turned to eleven. another shift of Thornton's employees came in, and another wave of customers getting ready for graveyard shifts came through. There were white people, African-Americans, and Mexicans. One of the Thornton's folks was married to a Mexican guy and she introduced me to her 2 year old.

Like most little kids, this one dismissed me as below her standards and started crying, but the human generosity from the mom was real.

And really affecting.

By the time I left Thornton's that night, I was probably the happiest person in Lexington ecause I knew that I had experienced something extraordinary in the unthinking, routine kindness that everybody had shown to me as a stranger.

It was great and I bored my wife with endless talk about Thornton's all the way home.

Except, it wasn't Thornton's

The next time I broke down in Lexington, I limped into a Speedway where a white guy at the counter guided me to a black guy at the door and asked him to point me in the direction of a motorcycle shop. My temperature light was super-high and I needed to figure out what was going on before making the 65 mile drive back to Morehead. The motorcycle guy turned out to be super-friendly and he gave me his full attention even though it was early in the morning and he had tons of stuff to do. After making a minor repair, he sheepishly asked me for $20 and I even more sheepishly gave him $20 when I really felt that I owed him $35 for going out of his way.

But there it is, more routine kindness from strangers when I was in need.

To me, that's one of the core values of a multi-cultural nation, kindness toward strangers, and I'm glad that I've so often received it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Conservative "Making America Poorer Project"

Paul Krugman proposes that the Republican deficit plan be called "Eat the Future."

If you didn’t understand that logic, you might be puzzled by many items in the House G.O.P. proposal. Why cut a billion dollars from a highly successful program that provides supplemental nutrition to pregnant mothers, infants, and young children? Why cut $648 million from nuclear nonproliferation activities? (One terrorist nuke, assembled from stray ex-Soviet fissile material, can ruin your whole day.) Why cut $578 million from the I.R.S. enforcement budget? (Letting tax cheats run wild doesn’t exactly serve the cause of deficit reduction.)

Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.

There's no reason to fault Krugman as an economist, but "Eat the Future" is too conceptual for a bumper sticker slogan.

Why not call it "The Making America Poorer Project."

That's short, catchy, and accurate.

Because the Republicans don't just want to rob from the future, they want to rob from the future in a way that makes most Americans poorer.

For example, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is proposing to roll back the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin state workers.
According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer "The proposal would effectively remove unions' right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt." He also says this plan is non-negotiable -- as in, he's cut off negotiations with prison guards, teachers and other state workers.
Losing their rights to negotiate means that Wisconsin prison guards, teachers, and other state workers are going to be poorer now, and that's the intent. Tea Party guys like Scott Walker don't believe that people like teachers, prison guards, and state workers should be living as well as they do now as a result of their union rights and they're determined to neutralize the unions as a way to bring down the living standards of union members.

Walker is exempting police officers and firefighters from his efforts to make public employees poorer, but there's no reason to think that he wouldn't have also included them if he thought it was politically feasible.

Making America Poorer--that's what the Republicans are all about.