Driving in Philly, 10/3/2011

I was on my way to Northern Liberties, a neighborhood just north of old Philadelphia, when I got involved in some classic Philly driving.

Let me set the scene. I was headed north on 7th Stree, behind an enormous maroon Durango, one of those SUVs that are so big they look like some kind of prehistoric cow made of metal, the kind that’s so wide they almost take up a lane and a half.

I don’t know why people buy these things for city use. The cost of filling up the tank must be a fortune, and you can never get the vehicle up to speed simply due to the characteristics of urban driving. But there he was in front of me, leaving just enough room for traffic in the right lane to squeak by. We were at a stoplight just before passing under the entrace to I-95 when I heard the distinct shriek of a police siren, and saw the lights in my rearview. It must have been a real emergency, because that car was making a TON of noise.

So, like all the other drivers, I pulled over to the side to let the cop get by. Well, like ALMOST all the other drivers. The SUV didn’t move at all. It just sat there. The cop blared on his horn, flashed his lights, but nothing. Finally, I leaned on MY horn, and the driver’s head popped up. Realizing he was blocking the cop, he FINALLY pulled off to the left. The cop hit the gas and sped by.

As we continued up 7th, two more cop cars shot by, lights and sirens in full display, followed by ANOTHER car. Big times up the street to be sure, and as we crossed Spring Garden Street, the cops had amassed at the Edgar Allen Poe housing project. [and may I add here that, historical figure or not, the name “Edgar Allen Poe” conjures up images of horror and murder, why would you name a housing project after that?]

One car had blocked access to the cross street, Brown. Cops were heading north on foot, into the project. A federal homeland security van pulled up alongside us and parked. Meanwhile, a policeman was waving the line of traffic through.

Unfortunately, the maroon SUV had other ideas. Instead of moving along, the SUV just sat there taking up a lane and a half. People started honking, but the driver wouldn’t budge. There was no way to get around him without damaging the federal van.

But finally, very very sloooooowly, the SUV moved to the left, just enough so the rest of us could go on our way. He pulled up onto the curb, his ass-end blocking the cross-street like he was an unofficial deputy.

As I passed the behemoth, I saw that the driver and his wife were staring out the window, watching the activity up the street with their jaws dropped. Yes my friends, they had decided that traffic be damned, here was an actual crime investigation taking place, for once it wasn’t on the teevee, and by gum, they were gonna watch the fun.

I hate Philly drivers.


Booman Tribune is a self-described “progressive community”, but for me it’s that blog I love to hate. I think the guy who runs it is, personally, a nice guy, but our views on the country and the Administration have gone in utterly different directions, to the point that I’ve tried to stop reading it because I get angry, and that brings out the troll in me. And yet I can’t stop. I can’t help myself, so I’ve just cut down my reading. In Booman’s eyes, the left and progressives are largely to blame for the President’s current predicament, because we didn’t clap hands say yeah for half-measures and watered down legislation, and many of us have been bitterly disappointed by the president’s record on the economy, his ties to Wall Street, and his record on civil liberties. And to be sure, Booman is not entirely inaccurate when he points out the that Republicans have tied his hands by playing the ‘Party of No’, and the Democrats in both houses of Congress have been disunited and cowardly (someone like me will point out that the Dems are owned by the same moneyed interests that own the Republicans, but are embarrassed about it). You can imagine what his take on the Wall Street Protests is: they are incoherent, not working with the system, pointless. Not that Booman opposes progress, but he would prefer it a bit more orderly and well-behaved: we must take what victories we can, however incremental.

That said, nowhere on the web is there a more perfect example of how the Wall Street Occupation is being absorbed by political thinkers who represent the status quo.

September 26: “Wall Street Wankathon”:

I don’t understand why I am supposed to care about this whole #OccupyWallStreet protest. There is no platform, no legislative vehicle, no coherent call to action, no overriding message, and very little in the way of any point. While the enterprise is less nihilistic than the Rodney King riots or the recent unpleasantness in England, it is even less effectual. I am not sure they are even being successful in inconveniencing anyone. The best I can say for the whole effort is that at least they haven’t created a right-wing backlash. If you want to hurt Wall Street without hurting everyone else in the process, develop a legislative goal that sticks it to Wall Street without further tanking the economy. Walking around in circles in Lower Manhattan and chanting “This is what Democracy looks like” is little different from holing up in your apartment with a week’s worth of free porn. It’s nothing more than a Wank-a-Thon, and I find the whole thing boring and depressing.

Shorter: You damn kids get offa my lawn!

September 28: “What’s Eating the Left”:

despite efforts at campaign finance reform, the problem has grown much worse over the last decade. Anyone looking at the Democrats to solve this problem is going to be disappointed. Even where the Democrats are attempting to do the right thing (such as increasing marginal income tax rates on the wealthy) they are easily thwarted. So, I see the desire and the need for some kind of movement that doesn’t rely directly on politics. Neither political party is capable or really even willing to create a fairer system or to truly protect us from the excesses of global capitalism.

In any case, I understand the motive behind the #OccupyWallStreet drive, and I can see why people are seeking non-political avenues to express their discontent. But I’m bothered by the lack of specificity in the movement….

Is that really the point? Is Wall Street oozing corruption and criminality in a way that it was not last year or the year before that? Is it less accountable than it was before the Dodd-Frank bill passed? Or, is it more that people are sick of seeing how much these bastards pay themselves as they ship our jobs overseas and try to whittle away the safety net?

I suppose the answers to those questions will depend on whom you ask. But I get the feeling that people like Greenwald consider Wall Street investment firms and banks as criminal organizations by definition, rather than by circumstance. Or, to be more precise, there are many on the left who don’t believe in capitalism to begin with. They didn’t believe in it before the September 2008 crash, and they especially don’t believe in it now. And without getting into a defense of capitalism, I have to say that I’m not comfortable with a movement that has no more coherent message than ‘capitalism sucks.’ I don’t even like the name. You’ll occupy Wall Street until _____ happens?

Shorter: “Yes, things are fucked up, and neither party can be expected to change things. But these kids probably don’t even believe in capitalism, fucking COMMIES.”

October 2: “Abandoned, the President Needs to Pivot”:

Meanwhile, as the president tries to arouse the left in support of a modest, reasonable Jobs Bill, the left’s heart has left the building and is now focused on protests against corporate greed and mismanagement. …

This is a recipe for the failure of the Obama presidency and the emergence of a conservative revolution in this country unlike anything we’ve ever seen…

Yet, the eruption of protest on the left can help the president if he recognizes the opportunity. Unlike what Steven D has recommended, I do not think the administration should align itself with the protestors. What they should do is what FDR did with Huey Long. While the protesters call for Wall Street to “Share the Wealth” the president should tack to the left but maintain himself as the safer alternative. “If you don’t give me a win on this jobs bill, these protests will continue to grow and the pitchforks will really come out.” I don’t know how many of the protesters would agree with my advice, but I do think that at least part of what they’re trying to do is to change the political consensus in this country and yank the discourse out of the death-hold it seems to have become locked in…

The administration has to look at this as an opportunity, because if it doesn’t adapt to take advantage of it, his effort on jobs will die a pathetic death, and his presidency will likely follow.

Shorter: “Holy shit, these people are serious and actually have a point! If the administration can’t figure out who to use this to their advantage, they are FUCKED for 2012.”

To me, it’s like that scene in the old 1980s movie, “War Games”, where the nuclear weapons are about to be launched and the heroes are sitting around this computer muttering “learn, damn you.”