Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dead sparrows

In Dutch, there is a pair of similar expressions: "to make someone happy with a dead sparrow" and "to be happy with a dead sparrow." The first one translates approximately as "to get someone's hopes up," in the sense that you tell them that they're getting something cool and they get all excited and then it just turns out to have been nothing but a dead sparrow. The second one doesn't quite have an English equivalent, but it's the same idea without an antagonist, i.e. when someone gets all excited about something and everybody else who's watching kind of shakes their head because they can tell that the thing the person is excited about is really just a dead sparrow.

I've been trying to come up with instances where these expressions fit, mostly because it's hilarious to me to use directly-translated weird Dutch expressions (I mean, there's pretty much nothing funnier than a bunch of people overhearing someone saying something pedantic, pointing at the offending individual, and saying: "antfucker!!!"). And the best one I can come up with is U.S. Democrats. The Americans who thought Barack Obama was going to be their saviour in the darkness, see, they were "being happy with a dead sparrow," and the Democrats who promised them the moon, they were "making the country happy with a dead sparrow." Except the saddest part is that the dead sparrow isn't Obama himself and his administration, but the whole country, and the system they're stuck with, and the backwoods culture/thinking of far too many of their compatriots.

I mean, right now the U.S. has a Democratic president, and a Democratic Congress. But even so, the closest they can come to fixing their travesty of a health care system is a piece of legislation that seems tied together with bits of string and twigs. Even if they manage to pass it (by no means a sure thing, at this writing, but even if), what they will have is a piece of legislation that keeps the "insurance" system as it is, but expands it to about 15 million Americans. And it does this by forcing people to buy health insurance from currently-existing private insurance companies and compromising on things like abortion rights for people who buy that private insurance with their own money. Um, yay?

Even with a brilliant, charismatic Democratic president and a Congress that's as firmly behind him as any Congress is ever going to be behind a Democratic president, they've still got a country where a mild-mannered Canadian writer can be pulled over by border guards, injured by them in several different ways, and then arrested, tried, and found guilty, all for the crime of looking suspicious around jumpy people. They've still got a country in which even a minority Republican Congressional contingent holds up every piece of legislation that doesn't suit them with the threat of a filibuster. They've still got a country that has decided a corporation has equal rights with human beings--because for all practical purposes, it is a human being. They've still got to grow old in a country where health care is considered "insurance", as if human beings were vehicles, and administered by private companies that can take it away. They've still got a country where sex education programmes called "Abstinence Plus" get torpedoed because they're not "Abstinence Only." They've still got a country that holds prisoners without rights on foreign soil. And come on, if you can't see that that's a freaking dead sparrow, you've got blinders on the size of Texas.

When people here in Canada find out that I was originally American, a lot of them assume that I left the U.S. in the Bush years. I didn't--I left during the Clinton years. And yes, a lot of that had to do with the timing of my job search, but what got me wanting to leave in the first place was the bleakness that comes with having the Democrats in charge. At least when the Republicans are in charge, lefty Americans can delude themselves by thinking that everything would be okay if only the Democrats had the reins. But whenever the Democrats do grab the brass ring, the thinking American public is always eventually forced to admit that things can never really get any better there than a dead sparrow.

P.S. Before you guys get all "she's back! she's back!" in the comments, I have to tell you that still not really up to talking about Canadian politics. But I had to get this one off my chest, anyway.


West End Bob said...

Well, even though you may not be "back," IP, thanks for expressing what "drf" and I feel about today's health care "reform" vote.

What a sham, but it's exactly what we predicted would happen months ago. They'll approve the debacle, call it a "victory" and move on. Never mind that the real "victory" will probably be the insurance company's stock prices tomorrow once this crap passes the House.

dems and repugs: Not a dime's worth of difference between the two of 'em, but the sheeple haven't figured it out yet . . . .

Jae/Jennie said...


Yeah, after it passes (because I do think it will pass), I sure hope there is some more critical analysis of what this new health care legislation will really mean. There aren't nearly enough people who have thought about it.

And I don't blame Obama. I actually like Obama, as U.S. presidents go. It's the whole freaking country that's hopeless.

West End Bob said...

It's the whole freaking country that's hopeless.

Unfortunately, that statement is very accurate.

Hope you're doing well in your part of Canuckistan as we are in ours . . . .

fern hill said...

As another recovering American, I had such great hopes for healthcare reform. But as soon as abortion entered the 'debate' (sarcasm quotes), I knew it was toast. Merkins are quite literally insane over abortion.

You really nailed it about the bleakness of Democrats in charge. It's just depressing.

Unknown said...

I've pretty much written the US off, I just keep blogging occasionally from habit and some loyalty to my regulars.

This health care bill... well, as I said elsewhere, folks are going to get what they asked for, good and hard.

Idiots. Gutless idiots.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing again, IP!  I've been wondering whether you would be back before Harper come up for renewal.

The situation in the States has been going on for a long time, perhaps since their Revolutionary War.  What is happening now, with the Internet, is that people are finding out just how different the American reality actually is from the American propaganda, in near-realtime.  "We're #1!!!"  Apparently it doesn't matter what they are number one at.  #1 in the world for highest healthcare costs per person!  #1 in citizens of other countries killed!  These things do not make me proud to be a US citizen.  Canada is a much more sensible country.

West End Bob said...

As I thought: The insurance companies are not too worried 'bout the "reform" passed yesterday.

Cigna's stock up 1% and Aetna's up .78%.

Shakin' in their boots, eh ? ? ? ?

Tyrone said...

Private companies can't "take it away" any longer. That will be illegal under this bill. Prescription drug coverage is now a mandatory part of near-universal coverage. Meanwhile, 15 percent of Canadians lack drug coverage, and the issue barely mentions in the media.

But more importantly, you're looking at the current *state* of things, not in the direction things are moving. The US has poor social programs, but is starting to strengthen them. Canada used to have strong social programs, but has been weakening them and will probably continue to weaken them. Eventually the two will cross.

Jae/Jennie said...


This post isn't about Canada, and it's nonsensical to try to twist this discussion to make it about comparing the two countries. This post is about the situation in the U.S.

First of all, I'm not at all convinced that things are improving in the U.S. with respect to the social situation. I had a great, open, and honest sex ed course in school; my friends kids are lucky to have much of anything at all. The "corporation is a person" decision is new, and will only start to show its devastating effects in the future. And as for the health care bill, requiring people to purchase private insurance that they may or may not be able to afford or else face a fine doesn't sound like a step up to me. But all right, I'll pretend for a moment that I do think the health care bill, at least, is a small step forward.

In that case, though, I would like to see your evidence that this current healthcare reform is a basis for further progressive changes. What I see is the terribly unusual situation of a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress. This has happened only rarely throughout history, and judging from polling numbers, is very unlikely to happen again in the midterm election. Exactly when are the further changes going to happen? If THIS bill could barely pass a Congress that's in the terribly unusual situation of having way more Democrats than Republicans in it, how is a MORE progressive bill ever supposed to pass a future Congress that is likely to have MORE Republicans in it? I simply don't see any logic in that. This Congress, this President, this health care bill--they're as good as things get in the U.S., not a small step toward future glory.

Tyrone said...

You did mention leaving the US for Canada, so that's why I mentioned that. But even leaving that out, the basis of my optimism is simply the fact that the US elected this president and this Congress in the first place. As you said, that's rare.

And the last two times this happened (1992 and 1976) the president and Congress failed to pass anything even remotely consequential as this bill. In 1976, they didn't even make a serious attempt. And bills on climate change and immigration reform may yet be in the cards.

I am not claiming this bill gives the US a health care system the equal of Canada or even Switzerland. But at least the US political system pulled itself together and passed a bill that has eluded the Democratic president/congresses of 1992, 1976, 1960, 1948, 1932, and 1916. If it could pass this, it may yet pass others before the elections. And even if the Democrats' majority is lost, the Republicans won't be able to undo what they have accomplished.

I know of no other developed country that is expanding its social programs. The talk everywhere for 30 years has been how much to cut, and where.

You are probably right on the sex ed and campaign finance issues, but can I point out the issue of race? America has a black president. Immigrants, at least legal ones, are welcomed and treated as equals. Every other Western country regards nonwhites as at best a problem to be fixed, at worst an enemy within to be avoided or expelled. I cannot imagine anyone except the USA electing a nonwhite head of government.

Jae/Jennie said...


A few points:

1. Your claim that the U.S. is "expanding its social programs" in general on the basis of the creation of one social program is really farfetched, and the claim that the U.S. is the only democracy to be doing so is even more so. If I can point out that the current Dutch government created a new social programme to fight poverty in 40 problem areas, does that mean that country is generally increasing its social programmes? (It certainly doesn't mean that nobody else in the democratic world is doing it, because we now have two examples in a single comment thread...)

2. If it were simply a matter of this new legislation being "not good enough," I might actually be more sympathetic to it. But when it's still all about private insurance, the new difference being that people are now forced to buy it, my characterization has to be "not good" rather than "not good enough." I remain to be convinced that this legislation will help more people than it will hurt. And I can't praise the current government for an "accomplishment" that "eluded" other administrations when that's the case.

3. So very much beside the point, but: saying "but, but...he's not white!" really smacks of looking very hard for reasons to praise the U.S. based on something that happens to be relevant to you. As a queer woman, I suppose I could do the same: I could praise Germany for having a government that's led by a woman and a gay man, and point out that other countries aren't as far along. But doing that would seem silly to me when their policies are pretty darn regressive!

4. I am not saying that the Democrats aren't doing anything good. If they do pass sensible climate change and immigration bills, more power to them. The point of this post is not to say that Democrats are crap, it's to say that the U.S. is crap, because every shred of evidence history has presented to us suggests that what we see there right now is almost certainly the very pinnacle of how good it's ever going to be. And sure, if it floats your boat, you can pat the Democrts on the back about their government being momentarily on the good side of worldwide trends, but a) that's hardly surprising, if things are the best there that they're ever going to be, and b) that's hardly the point, when there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of getting beyond "better than they were a couple of years ago" and actually reaching "good."

West End Bob said...

Bottom Line:

Corporations - 1
US electorate - 0

Game over . . . .