It’s Not The Pope’s Fault (2013June30)


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Golly-gee, but we like to quibble, don’t we? Just as the gutting of the Voter Rights Act’s oversight-powers was explained with talking points, without any analysis of the true issue, i.e. racial bigotry, so also did the recent ruling in favor of LGBT marriage (and inclusion, by inference) fail to address the true issue—religion.

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We have, as a society, matured to the point of being less-than-serious about notions of hellfire, angels, effective prayer, and stoning (as a religious duty). While we remain polite and non-judgmental when confronted with fundamentalists who appear to be truly convinced of the reality of a God with whom all people are in daily contact—and are beholden to, in both deed and intention—we grow more and more to hear them as neurotics who are blind to a particular compulsion towards irrationality—like arachnophobics, you know?

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While Faith remains a serious subject, it is nonetheless a good working definition of psychosis—to believe without evidence, to imagine what is not palpable to any of our senses, such as imaginary friends—it is only by the ancient roots of the major faiths and the immediate parental influence to adopt these fantasies that keeps us from laughing at how truly bizarre their cosmologies are, when compared to scientific evidence.

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Let me stop here, now that I’ve used the word ‘science’. I can hear all the debating points racing through the heads of any evangelical who might read this. Let me just say that Science is not a religion, it is a tool. We use this tool for many things in our modern lives—we board jetliners; we get boob jobs; we use skin lotion and SPF protection; we make phone calls; we wear polyester blends. Some of us send robots to Mars, some of us dig up evidence of the Earth’s past, and even the evidence of people who lived before monotheism existed. You can quibble about biological points (like evolution) all you want; you can question the wisdom of using science (a far more attractive debate than the present debate—pitting faith and science against each other) but in the end, we use science because it works—and nothing can be done about that. It’s pitiful, really. With the medical advances made since Moses’ day, the infant mortality rate is way, way down—to the point where many of the zealots questioning Science would have died at birth, if not for the usefulness of modern science.

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And let me just clean up a few loose ends: yes, no one knows anything about the why and how of Creation—even the Big Bang theory doesn’t explain where ‘everything’ came from, to begin with. So, yes, there was a creator—whether it was a being or a piece of energy—nobody knows; why someone or something would choose to create a universe—nobody knows. But Science gives us a hint.

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In its discovery of the nature of our solar system, our cosmos, and all the billions of other galaxies and nebulae, Science shows that the God who supposedly spoke with Abraham, Moses, or Joshua didn’t know any more about Astronomy than those ancient people did. Thus we must entertain the idea that the God that spoke with such prophets was speaking from inside their brains. Science helps us here, as well—the perception of voices and visions is a natural part of the human condition—especially under duress, such as during a long fast, or the prolonged oxygen-deprivation of a smoke-house, or incense smoke.

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Thus we find—those of us prepared to be sensible about things—that the science indicates religion was born from one-part magical thinking and one-part manipulation of groups through claiming spiritual authority. That second part was addressed by Karl Marx in his Das Kapital, and produced the phrase ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’. It still works today for many church leaders and hypocritical power-brokers—they perpetuate the myth that there is some sort of reason why the few are wealthy and the rest of us have to live on their leavings, working for their benefit, until we die.

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By now, we’ve reached an even deeper level, where our society is a fragile, complex creation that must be lubed and fueled constantly—and any upset to the rich and powerful is seen, locally, as a ruined economy. In other words, we’ve created a civilization that can get by without cooperation from a few malcontents, that can get by while still firing millions of people, for years at a time—all as long as the cowed and silent keep worrying about their kids, about their elders’ medical care, and about keeping their homes.

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So, don’t be misled by my jocular tone—these problems are not simple, nor are their solutions clear. Our society’s weaknesses are as much a part of our lives as its strengths—that is why ‘violent overthrow’ never accomplishes anything better than before the old leaders toppled. We cannot say, “This is bad. That is bad. It must stop immediately!” Absolutism is a great way to draw the lines of battle, even if it does cover up the heart of the problem.

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We have to look for small incremental changes that trend towards a more perfect society. We have to bring our socio-political involvement up by an exponential rise—the bait-and-switch razzle-dazzle of the Media is trying to entertain us, not inform us—and certainly not educate us. We must take our political involvement away from mass media and network it as individuals, keeping open minds and searching for compromises that we can all live with.

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And such an enlightened constituency would be big trouble for the Powers That Be—hence the constant mass media razzle-dazzle. However, an ‘enlightened constituency’ never even pops up, as a subject for discussion—we are all too busy playing the Media game, taking our debating prompts from their sound-bites and photo-ops. They pick sides and we jump to do likewise, approaching each issue from the same perspective we bring to our professional sporting events—when most major issues are more complex than the media ever even hints at.

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The far-Right are disputing our society’s inclusion of the LGBT population as equally human, and they always boil down the reasons to Religion. Which is strange, when you think about it—I’ve read the bible—nobody gets stoned by Jesus because they went ‘against God and nature’. The only impetus for making this a religious issue is that homosexuality, as evil, has been in the cannons of the major faiths, put there by church ‘leaders’ with a bit of a self-identity problem. As children, anything of a sexual nature evinces the response ‘eew!’, whether hetero or homo, and these childish reactions have come to be established church dogma without, as I said, any direct instructions in either Bible on the evil of non-hetero impulses.

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It wasn’t until the 1960s that we began a conversation about what was okay to ‘talk about’ so, in a way, even heterosexuality was considered ‘evil’ up until that time. It couldn’t be mentioned at a party, it couldn’t be debated by politicians, and it couldn’t be covered in school. The 1960s were the first time Americans recognized that teaching children about the biological facts of reproduction, birth-control, family planning, and disease might be worthwhile. Before then, it was very little different from the 19th century’s Victorian-era hypocrisies and ignorance.

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At the same time, those rigid conventions disguised a society of misogyny, domestic child-abuse, racism, and an unstated, classist view of women, poor people, non-white people, non-Christian people, and the rich and powerful. So the LGBT community shouldn’t feel too badly towards their hetero brethren and sistren—we haven’t been out of the closet all that long, ourselves. Thus, that whole ‘spiritual purity’ business is somewhat be-smeared, and that was before all the priests got busted for buggery.

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Another problem between the gays and the far-Right is the whole ‘division of church and state’ issue. The Neo-Cons, the Tea Party, whatever you call these yahoos, have actual been bending this rule all along—and recognition of gays is a repair of that leak in our national ideals. The Evangelists don’t disapprove of LGBT citizens as dangerous, they disapprove of LGBT citizens as ‘against God and nature’.

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And I’d like to nip that ‘against nature’ business in the bud, right now. Naturalists and zoologists have documented many examples of homosexuality across the entire range of the class mammalia. As with tool-using and intoxication, our animal friends are similar to us in this way as well—so to describe it as ‘against nature’ is ‘against common-sense’.

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No, their objections are religious in origin. “It goes against God” is their problem—and an especially knotty one, since there are no ‘Thou shalt not’s in the New Testament specifically against LGBT lifestyles. On the contrary, Jesus, as portrayed in the bible, is all about inclusion, tolerance, and love—the only thing that seems to upset him is money-changers. I wonder why we don’t have long debates about money being evil?—Christ didn’t seem too keen on it—But not a word about persecuting Gay people. I wonder why?

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No, the ‘sin of homosexual behavior’ is dogma, not faith. It is something the CEOs of the churches included out of ignorance and fear. They could change their position on it. And they will. Acceptance of gay pastors and priests is already happening, and the new Roman Pope, Francis I, seems to see the writing on the wall, as well—and the Catholics could use all the good press they can manage, right now.

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But for the present, that land-that-time-forgot, below the Mason-Dixon line, is still trying to tell folks that both archeology and evolution are delusions of satanic origin, that Science can’t have everything its own way (although it can and does—even against the scientists’  preferences) and that heterosexual, missionary-position-only reproduction is the only acceptable sexual activity. Now, these are wacky positions to take on issues which the vast majority of human beings have already become comfortable with on a secular level.

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That vast majority is not atheists, either—it is the vast majority of modern day people who keep their religion for its benefits, not for its intellectual shackles. They believe in love, charity, forgiveness, and mercy—but they don’t believe in fairy tales. They believe that there probably is a life after death, but they don’t believe they will be judged by a St. Peter’s Basilica fresco that Michelangelo painted. They are, bluntly stated, the ones with some common sense.

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But our nation’s guarantee of Religious Freedom forbids any attack on the beliefs of the fundamentalists—and I would be the last person to attack them—I envy those simple enough to truly believe the whole story. They know a happiness that is out of reach for atheists like me. And don’t assume I see myself as smarter than the fundamentalists —I am only less credulous. They have obviously used a great deal of brain power to keep alive the tatters of old-time religion—and they shouldn’t be counted out yet, by any stretch. It wasn’t all that long ago that pagans like me were ostracized and persecuted nearly as bad as Jewish people.

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Ah, the good old days, when strangely dressed Arabs’ religions were beneath our contempt. Now a small group of them are a threat to world peace and unity. The extremist Muslim suicide-bomber is an iconic image in our current culture. Yet nobody characterizes the shootings of abortion clinic doctors as the acts of extremist Christians—nobody calls the DHS on those people.

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The Protestants had a good thing going here in the USA. For most of the last two centuries of our country, while we espoused religious freedom, we actually had persecution of Jews (and Atheists). And our legislation has a particularly Calvinist bent to it—as if Protestants’ religious convictions had somehow innocently crept into the halls of power and leadership. Imagine.

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But the civil rights of our LGBT citizens have brought into question a long-established, dogmatic rule—that homosexuality is a mental disease, a perversion of all that is good and sweet. There are still ‘clinics’ that offer a ‘cure’. Ha.

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No, the big shots have had their diversion tactics reduced by one—support of LGBT civil rights is nearly unanimous in this country which, in this age, cannot be said about almost anything else! They’ll get by—they still have plenty of paper tigers plastered all over the media—people are still a long way from recognizing how wholly, how boldly they’ve been played. What was that rule-of-thumb? The bigger the lie, the easier to believe—yeah, that’s the one. Hitler’s fav, I believe.

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There’s an old bumper sticker that read: Hire a teenager, while they still know everything!  —not so funny when you use ‘priest’ instead of ‘teenager’, though, is it? So, next time you’re tempted to watch MSNBC or FOX, or even CNN, when you think the story will support your ‘team’ in the politics-olympics, save yourself the agita, and read a book instead.

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(The illustrations for this essay were provided BY: Wikipedia.com and BY:

the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, from their collection of the works of Sir Anthony Van-Dyck (March 22 1599–December 11 1641))

NOTE: The Netherlands’ world-reknowned Rijksmuseum opened a new website, Rijksstudio, which allows downloading of hi-def images of the over 125,000 masterpieces in their museum’s collection–and provides software that allows art students to design their own projects using the museum’s digital-graphics resources. To join the fun, goto :  https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en

Improv – Applause (2013June28)


XperDunn plays Piano
June 28th, 2013

Improv – Applause
(At Sherryl Marshall’s annual Concert)

With many thanks to Sherryl and Harlan, the best next-door neighbors in the universe!

Improv – The Aeniad (2013June21)


XperDunn plays Piano
June 21st, 2013

Improv – Aeneid

(The Aeneid: a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil (circa 25 BC) that tells the legend of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy and became the prime ancestor of the Romans.)

The title card uses, as background, a portrait of Madame de Talleyrand, AKA Madame Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord (Noël Catherine Verlée, 1761–1835), later Princesse de Bénévent

The Painting can be seen on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and it was done by Baron François Gérard (French, Rome 1770–1837 Paris):
Gérard, a student of David, was first painter to the empress Joséphine while the sitter, born Catherine Verlée, was one of the celebrated beauties of her time. She seduced her first husband, George Francis Grand, in one of a series of liaisons that culminated in her becoming the wife of the statesman Talleyrand. However by the time this portrait was painted, about 1805, he had tired of her frivolity, and the couple had separated. Thus the picture not a pendant to either of the portraits of Talleyrand (by Gérard and by Prud’hon) that hang nearby.

Madame Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord (Noël Catherine Verlée, 1761–1835), later Princesse de Bénévent - Painted by Baron François Gérard  (French, Rome 1770–1837 Paris)

Madame Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord (Noël Catherine Verlée, 1761–1835), later Princesse de Bénévent – Painted by Baron François Gérard (French, Rome 1770–1837 Paris)

Irreducible Lag Time


Revery

Thursday, June 20, 2013             11:31 PM                    –I was just watching Brokaw being interviewed by Stewart’s summer stand-in, John Oliver, and they touched on the subject of ‘speed’. Speed has always been an important economic factor, used in business projections, rates of manufacture, etc. When I first saw an office, speed was measured in words-typed-per-minute on an IBM Selectric. The Selectric and the even more fantastic Selectric II, were thrumming Omphalos  in the city’s flow of memos, contracts, orders, invoices, et alia that were carried to and fro, up and down the town by an army of delivery-messengers.

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There is a period of time that must pass, as the spoken words of an executive, taken down by a secretary as dictation (using Gregg shorthand, mostly) to be typed (with carbon copy) and handed to a receptionist—where it was picked up by the afore-summoned messenger, walked across town, delivered to another’s receptionist, who then opens it and brings it in to the opposite executive of this trans-communication, whatever it may be. This period of time is often called lag time.

And life, back then, had plenty of lag time—at least, as compared with today. Take phone calls, for example—if I were expecting an important phone call (and this may seem counter-intuitive to our young ‘text’-zombies) I had to stay off of the phone. If someone else called during that time I had to say, “I’m waiting for an important call—I have to hang up—I’ll call you back later!” Plus, I had to remain in or near the room with ‘the phone’ in it. Two phones? Don’t be ridiculous—that would be like owning three TV sets!

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Anyhow, so there I’d be, stuck in that one room or area, hoping no one else called me while the ‘important caller’ was trying to reach me. But when it rang, I had to answer the phone to find out who was calling. And if I forgot to ask for the callback number, I would never again be able to reach that person—unless they called me again, later on. The other alternative was to look up the person in a gigantic book that listed everybody, alphabetically by last name! That was the world of telephones in the 1950s, -60s, & -70s.

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Star-six-nine finally allowed people to return missed phone calls, and now there are only blocked-numbers that can’t be gotten back to. But many people don’t pick up ‘blocked’ numbers—such callers are usually telemarketers and survey-takers, or worse yet, bill collectors—so, to a certain degree, the ball has been put in even their courts, when it comes to ‘reaching out’ to people.

But the telephone is just an example—messengers would be replaced by fax machines, which would be replaced (by and large) by the mighty email. The adding machine would become an antique practically overnight, as would pads of light green ‘ledger paper’, No.2 pencils, and even the poor, little newcomer, White-Out—a truly remarkable invention that allowed an IBM Selectric to be correctable—just a few years before the mighty Selectrics  themselves were consigned to history.

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Even in the 1980s & -90s there was lag-time in the minicomputers—they took their sweet time sorting files, displaying words on screen, and printing took forever. I could start a program running on one terminal and start a printing program on another, and I could sit back while they did these jobs at an unbelievably slow pace. I would wander into other people’s offices and see if anyone else was having a problem with the computer—which they frequently were. And I felt like I really had a handle on that whole ‘sys-admin’ thing. Then the PCs came, and by the late eighties, the screen displays were screamingly scrolling, faster than the eye could follow; the ink-jet printers were changing the printing game from characters-per-second to pages-per-minute; and the Intel Processors were sorting and querying in moments rather than hours.

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Suddenly, I had no free time, no lag-time, and no wait-time. The problem with that is people need to have a rhythm in their labors. They need to cycle through effort and relaxation, effort and relaxation. We didn’t need to be aware of it before because life was once a slower, more hands-on process. Optical cable makes business capable of being a literally light-speed process—and corporations, which have displayed an almost Cruella-DeVille-like, over-the-top misanthropy lately, seem to think that its employees should try to keep pace with the digital comms. This is patently madness.

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We share the blame—we have welcomed digital speed into our lifestyles in the areas of DVRs, VODs, sports broadcasting, news reporting, music downloads, weather and traffic updates, catalog-shopping (under its new name, e-commerce) and filing tax returns. We ask the car-voice what our GPS coordinates are every few minutes—imagine the hours spent in woods or the open sea, back when latitude and longitude were calculated by hand. And let us not overlook the Massively Multi-Player Online Gaming industry, and its many satellites.

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We talk about a ‘paperless’ office—but most of the paper has already been done away with. Before the Internet, a book was always required. If you knew nothing about a subject, you looked it up in the encyclopedia, or the dictionary. If you needed to navigate, you needed a chart and an almanac, a tide chart, trigonometry tables—you needed paper to do the things we do inside our PCs, I-phones, and GPS-es today. The aforementioned phone books were massive—and only updated once a year—but that was tons of paper every year, tons thrown out, and new tons printed—just like newspapers (remember newspapers?) If you worked in architecture or construction, you needed Moody’s Guide to materials and market prices to calculate a building bid. If you needed auto parts, you had to look them up in the auto parts handbook, which printed the part number of every part, for every year model, of every vehicle. No trade was without its own unique reference works—and the Reference section of a library was not-for-borrowing, because these histories and guides and tables and listings were vital to everyone—but only to look up something—which is why it was OK not to lend them out.

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So we feel the pull of the light-speed undertow (if you will) just as strongly as the corporations’ top-management—but only as far as the technology promotes obsessive-compulsive behavior. Corporations must begin to consider the necessity of humane treatment of employees, highest to lowest, one and all.

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Back in the day, the issue of coffee in the office was debatable—until someone publicized a study that showed an increase in productivity in office-workers who were allowed to drink coffee while they worked. From that day on, there were no limits to coffee, as far as top management was concerned. Years later, another study showed that the cost of providing free coffee to employees was much higher than any increase in productivity could ever pay for—and the party was over. Coffee remained permissible, but strictly BYOC. This period also saw the birth of a new industry—gourmet coffee-terias such as Starbucks, etc. This was where the top execs had their coffee fetched from—and such ‘coffee-havens’ eventually gathered a huge following of neurotic laptop-users, as their online access went from onboard-modem to bluetooth hot-spots, thus making any shop into an Internet-café.

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There have been a lot of very drastic, very sudden changes in the developed world—and the rest of the world. We’ve seen things change so completely that many people are feeling overwhelmed by it. The ability to remain consistently solvent requires a greater and greater struggle. The ability to fight back against the tides of corporate lobbying, fundamentalism, and economically-based social hierarchies is hard to summon up—particularly after a hard day of being screwed over by the Man, on unpaid overtime, no less.

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Suicides are way up in the armed services, I’m sad to say. Most Americans are raised to be civil, caring people in a modern-day world that encourages self-awareness and morality. You take that teenager, stick a rifle in his hands, and ship him (or her) halfway round the world to shoot at enemies who stand in the midst of their innocent civilians—which gets pretty darn tricky, as if old school War wasn’t bad enough—and you’re going to see a lot of mental upset. By making our world a better society, we make war that much more offensive to the human consciences of our children. We set them up for Trauma—but what alternative is there, other than ending war?

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Suicides among teens are way up, too. But I know why this is. It’s because they see the same world that you and I see, but from the perspective of someone trapped in a low-income region, with low-income region-type schools and low-income region-type economic and artistic opportunities, i.e. none to speak of.

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So it seems we have paradoxical results—our modern world is trying to discover medical techniques that may make us eternal—while an increasing number of our children and young adults are choosing to shorten their time in this life. Business is ongoing in its quest for non-stop commerce—while their employees are being ground down by their miserly fear of spreading the wealth, even a little, itty, bit. And, under these conditions, they have the gall to ask for more speed, more intensity.

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You can’t ask a math student to solve a trigonometry problem when you haven’t bothered to make time for that student to be taught the six or seven years of preparatory math leading up to ‘trig’. Likewise, you can’t stress the hell out of a grown-up person, and expect that person to always be moving forward. If you don’t already know, let me inform you that an employee who sees him or her-self as moving forward is the best employee to have. They make a connection between their job and their career, perhaps even their dreams—they enjoy it more and they do the job with incredible focus.

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Resentful, bitter, anxious—these more common types of employee create faster turnover, they drag down the company’s goodwill, they can even be so sloppy as to cause the business a severe financial blow. And, yes, of course, you can fire them—but it’s really too late by then. These are the kinds of employees who make it their ‘job’ to do as little work as possible. These employees will not get along with each other—and gossip and office politics will consume 95% percent of their attention, eventually.

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So corporations might want to consider something they’ve never had to do before—treat their employees to some break-time, or an occasional activity (nothing too pricey, of course—these are corporations we’re talking about). But consider—when talking about job-creation, our leaders of government and industry are always talking about the need to transition to newer, hi-tech-ier jobs, so that people can fill the jobs that aren’t being filled because of lack of qualified applicants. Well, how about some education requirements for modern-day businesses? Oughtn’t they expand their HR departments to include ergonomics, daycare sourcing, and help with health-insurance paperwork? There are plenty of studies showing the cost of these ‘details’, in days of work missed and in decreased productivity, far exceed the cost of helping employees with these ‘tar-pits’ of the single-parent household, and of traditional families as well.

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Does America intend to continue on this way? We are ranked lowest in number of paid holidays of any nation, highest in average hours per week, and stingiest in terms of company benefits. The land of the free is now the land of the wage-slave. And, while I can’t help laughing at Groucho Marx’s line, in the Marx Brothers’ first feature, “The Cocoanuts” (1929), when his hotel staff are demanding their wages and he says, “You don’t want to be wage-slaves, do you?—Well, you know what makes a wage-slave, don’tcha—Wages!”, I nonetheless feel that it is a perfect term of description for the average American worker’s job. For 99% of us, ‘freedom is just a dream some of us had’—the conditions of a low-pay, no-benefit, full-time job, never mind more than one job, make impossible any chance to work on something on one’s own time. And that ensures an inability for self-improvement, whether career-wise, scholastic, artistic or what-have-you.

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My dad used to have a tool-bench in our cellar—in his leisure time he would make things, like the camping trailer he made for our annual summer camping trips. He had lots of free time—and he worked in an ad agency on Madison Avenue! Check out his modern-day counterpart ad exec—bet the guy or gal hasn’t even the time to answer any of their three cell phones. No one has time for that sort of thing anymore—and it is leaching the culture out of this country like bleach on a tie-dyed T.

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Liberal Arts programs are being erased from schools’ budgets like they were insubstantial frills, rather than the heart of our society. We are moving faster, we are de-funding anything that isn’t part of an engineering degree, or law school, or med school, we are working ourselves harder and longer, we are being paid less (if adjusted for COL index) and our bosses decided we weren’t worth the health insurance sometime a decade or two ago. It’s a harder, faster, money-centric, zero-sum game. Not only are we wasting our own lives with all this rushing around, but we are using the frantic pace to excuse the now total disconnect between humanity and capitalism.

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We have lost the sense of nonsense that should present when we say things like, “We can’t afford to make industries stop their polluting of the air and water.” And now we are expected to swallow this whopper: “Sometimes, even with both parents holding multiple jobs, they still can’t make ends meet.” Say what now? When will this madness end?

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“Angry” by Xper Dunn – June 19th, 2013


I asked Claire if it sounded ‘angry’–she laughed and said that if I wasn’t trying to sound angry in this poem, then I definitely am not in touch with my emotions.. I guess she’s right.