Lizz Winstead: Political Windsurfing While Droning Your Neighbor

LizzWinsteadYou can’t windsurf, because that would be elitist. But, if you’re the American president, you can drive around your ranch in a golf cart shooting guns, because people can relate to that.  As comedian and writer Lizz Winstead explains it, sometimes there is no debate possible if we don’t agree on fundamental and proven facts.  Over the past few months Lizz has been promoting her book “Lizz Free or Die” and travelling around the United States to see what people are doing and what they think about politics or life in general. Having written for several memorable television programs which includes having co-created The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lizz can tell you thing or two about what is good and what is bad about politics and media in the United States.

By chance, I ran into her at a conference in Sweden earlier this month and spent a few afternoons having excellent discussions, such as this one featured in today’s podcast.

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This Jersey Shore

BoatIn the final and perhaps odd chapter of the middle east- north Africa journey, I ventured home to the state of my birth, to see my family, friends, and continue editing audio from the trip.  Naturally, being back in that part of the world only a few months since the massive storm turned many lives upside down, I went with my family to visit the Jersey shore and see what is happening in many of the communities there.

To begin with I have to mention what a strange juxtaposition it is, like so many tragedies in this world: while some live through terrible ordeals and struggle to satisfy basic needs, others in the exact state are living normal lives and of course- as it was the holiday season – exchanging gifts and enjoy themselves.  There is nothing new or alien about this idea, it is the way of the world, so why not- even in New Jersey  where many people still have no home and no idea how they will afford to rebuild their homes as a result of the storm.  It is the type of situation where I can even be a tourist who drives in from a part of the state where things are fine and in 30 minutes I can be standing between piles of rubble and vanished coast line.

But there they were- one after the other- as we drove along Ocean Av, the typical street name in most NJ shore towns- massive construction vehicles moving and creating piles of sand.  Pushing the soggy beige powder out towards the sea while also building tall hills that will serve as a line defense.  There is little to no sign of the old lines of defense. All there is is half-shells of former houses, a few miraculously untouched properties, empty space, and piles of wood where long stretches of previous boardwalk once stood.  The gigantic machines look like ants in comparison to the vastness and nearness of the ocean. Their work looks flimsy, like at any time it could be wiped away by one massive wave or another round of flooding.  But still they work, as do many homeowners and carpenters, stabilizing houses that are leaning one way or another, houses that might be missing their ground floor, or the kinds that are missing sections of their roofs.

Asbury ParkMany along the route look eager to rebuild.  Like the construction vehicles pushing sand, they’re counting on being ready for the all-important summer months, when the weather is beautiful, life feels relaxing and the tourist dollars flow.  Future hurricanes? Unlikely, their actions seem to say.  Several residents assure me that such storms only come around every few decades so its certainly worth rebuilding and getting back to life as usual .

Along the route we come upon my most favorite Jersey Shore town, Asbury Park – a city long plagued by economic depression, corruption, and a past marked by social conflicts.  Even when their was no storm the place that brought us Bruce Springsteen and the Jersey Shore sound looked like it was barely getting by.  But now even the weathered yet proud old structures that survived that re-development wrecking ball, looked critically wounded.  A series of fences and police guided detours lead the public away from the destroyed boardwalk, the centerpiece of the city that is supposed to be on its way back.

It may be a small story in the grand scheme of this world and all its acute problems.  Or maybe because it happened in the US, in a state where some people live very comfortably, it does not seem like it could possibly be that bad.  But even if people around the world are recognizing the scale of the tragedy that has struck this special place, what remains unclear to me is whether or not people in New Jersey see the big picture of what is to come. Driving through proud shore towns that have their traditions and ways of doing things, it was hard to tell if they will do anything different in an effort to deal with future challenges that may even be worse than this one.

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Today’s Commemoration, Tomorrow’s History

In an effort to save money and increase productivity, Portugal is getting rid of some holidays that people don’t really celebrate anymore.  Among the obsolete days of non-work, the day the nation dumped the monarchy and became a republic, October 5th, 1910.  More than 100 years since that significant moment in history, no one alive remembers it, and few are the voices that think its worth hanging on to as a holiday.

Here in the Netherlands, this past Friday was Remembrance day, which includes the 2 minutes of silence which takes place every May the 4th in memoriam of all the victims of WWII (though more recently it has been expanded to include victims of all military conflicts, its still more famous for WWII victims).  A friend’s grandfather, who lived through the occupation of the country and the war that caused so much pain and destruction, finds the 2 minutes of silence un-necessary – after all, he lived through it. But WWII is much more recent and much more significant in the lives of present day people in the Netherlands that the establishment of the republic is for today’s Portuguese. The reasons probably seem obvious.

But it occurs to me that 100 years from now, WWII remembrance day may also get put aside for economic or social purposes.  At some point enough time passes that these significant moments that some lived through and others know all-to-well from stories and history books, even these seemingly vital rituals will not be seen the same way.  This is not to say it is a good or bad development, these moments in history and the holidays dedicated to them, can fade over time.  It is, if anything, just an odd characteristic of us as a species.  We may record history, but over time, to some degree, it becomes natural to forget.

Imagine that. The era will come where WWII is referred to in the same far-off spirit as today we look at the war of 1812 or the wars during Roman times. September 11th will no longer be remembered as it is today, nothing special will take place at the sight of the World Trade Center, life – like time – just keep moving along.

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Incapable

New Brunswick, NJ by dan.orso on flickr

The images from my home state of New Jersey the days following hurricane Irene featured flooding like few had ever seen before. The images also showed one re-occurring theme: Infrastructure collapse.  Chunks of highway collapsing, a struggling power grid, and rivers rising up and swallowing entire communities.  Things growing up in the suburbs of New York City, even to this day, many people never imagined could happen.  But this lack of imagination is no excuse for ignorance regarding a looming crisis. There is no shortage of research and reports, as well as examples over the past decade, all of which point to the fact that all over the United States (theyre not alone of course) infrastructure is stretched and strained to its limits. The glorious promise of privatization leading to improved services has resulted in just the opposite. Lack of significant investment under a whole list of economic and social excuses has left millions of people on the edge of a crisis, many of whom don’t even know about it.  Or perhaps, they don’t want to know or will never understand.

There is a phenomenon that didn’t start with this generation or this era, but has very much been perfected in our time: the art of knowing but not wanting to know. That mobile phone we all carry can poison your body – but how could we be without our phones?  The computer we type on is made from toxic chemicals and will one day poison our soil – but how can we not have these essential machines? Cod Fish is on the verge of extinction – but it tastes so good! And of course on the macro scale – our global way of life is destroying the earth at a dangerous rate – but how can we not live the way we live?!

Eddie Izzard, the great comedian and life philosopher, used to do a bit about mass murderers and genocidal maniacs. He said something to the effect of “When you murder someone, we know what to do with you, we put you in prison… but over 10 or 20 people.. we can’t deal with that, we invent things like house arrest and hope no one ever goes in that house.”  Though he was joking I find a great deal of observational wisdom that I apply in present day situations like the crumbling of our infrastructure. Like having to deal with genocidal maniacs, we are once again in a situation that is too hard for many to process. You can present facts and even wait for terrible things to happen which confirm the problem, and still people find a way to ignore it. Perhaps it is simply a mass coping mechanism. Otherwise everyone would so into either a deep depression or a dangerous panic. That or, they might try finding solutions and taking action to better prepare for the future. Regardless of what the economists or the politicians say.

Meanwhile many keep telling themselves that its only a few roads and a few parts of the country that had problems. Keep repeating that line about how these events are rare. Whatever it takes, I suppose, for us to collectively cope and keep doing (or not doing) the same things we always have.

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