The Fundamental Truth   (2015Jul30)

Thursday, July 30, 2015                                           12:00 PM

I wasn’t always an atheist. I used to have the fervor of a potential priest—I’ve always taken life far more seriously than is good for me. I’m not very different—I get mad when I see bullying, I feel bad when someone else is hurting, I try not to be selfish—basic stuff.

Fundamentalists made me just as irritable then as they do now. Even as a child I could see the willfulness of it—trying to insist on certain magical things being literal without the need for any questions—or even the right to ask a question at all. That is so obviously the behavior of someone trying to be a bully—to strengthen their autocratic hand.

True religion is little different from true humanism—simplicity of purpose and purity of intention. If I were a religious leader today, I’d be declaring war on the fundamentalists, the creationists, the science-deniers, and the anti-evolutionists—these people seek to make a circus sideshow of a community’s core. Why does fundamentalism grow in a time of hyper-capitalism? Because they both work on the same properties—lust for personal power, increasing the client-base, and destroying the competition.

And fundamentalism suits the capitalist mind-set because they both pose a threat to humanism and true religion. The values of humans—security, safety, self-determination, and self-expression—have no place in either capitalism or fundamentalism. In fact, all those things (with the exception of self-determination) become marketable commodities under capitalism. Fundamentalism adds spice to self-expression by making parts of it ‘forbidden’ or immoral—making it more marketable—while offering imaginary safety and security that have nothing to do with the real thing.

Fundamentalism comes on strong right when capitalism needed it—until we began questioning simple statements of fact, business leaders were helpless in the face of scientific testimony. In the space age, only an idiot would question an accepted tenet of the scientific community—now, we do it all the time. And it’s no coincidence that petroleum magnates, like the Koch brothers, so willingly embrace the madness of fundamentalism—it is of a piece with their willingness to befoul the planet for profit. And they can only do this if they maintain that all the scientists are wrong.

Capitalism has jumped into the ‘fact’ fight with both feet. They regularly invest in laboratory studies that are intended to produce foregone conclusions to counter the real science being done elsewhere. How sick is that? And, of course, they have their legal cat-and-mouse game of hiding information under the guise of ‘intellectual property’—a very fancy way of saying ‘I ain’t tellin’. But the link to fundamentalism is the most cold-blooded aspect of modern capitalism—they are not satisfied with despoiling the planet and enslaving the 99%—they have to mess with our heads, too. Bastards.

“Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair…”   (2015May17)

Sunday, May 17, 2015                                              12:19 PM

In the ancient long ago, the gods were a part of our confusion. Our behavior comprised of animalistic reactions to threat, urge, curiosity and temptation. Monotheism, by simplifying and idealizing godhood, helped to idealize humanity, in that one god forced the idea of one people, of humanity as a unit—rather than focusing on our pecking order, or who was friend or foe, we apprehended ourselves as humankind. Under self-absorbed, squabbling gods, Civilization was a disconnected collection of gadgets and power struggles. Only the dawn of Christianity made possible a vision of people as a collective, as an interdependent society.

As a longtime atheist, my focus has been on the history of religion and on the process of progressivism as it relates to freedom of religion. But as a lapsed Catholic I’ve always kept an eye out for any serious information about the supernatural—or anything that might replace the unifying validation of the human species which religion provides. Short of a religious experience, I hold little optimism for personal enlightenment. But I’ve never entirely surrendered the hope that rational analysis of the human condition may yield something of equal solace to religion.

I feel the same way about the supernatural that I feel about the creator—yes, they are undeniable—but, no, the things we think we know about them are old campfire stories, modified over the millennia. The truth of the supernatural or the creator is outside the ken of people. Let’s face it—people didn’t even realize the immense size of existence until ten or fifteen years ago, after they fixed the Hubble and started seeing the universe without an atmosphere in the way. We haven’t even learned the street names in our neighborhood yet—how can we be so smug as to think we understand the city planner?

But in the meantime, the problem for me has become: How do I rationalize my life—how do I explain why I care? To be crude about it: Why don’t I just kill myself? Up until recently, my only answer has been that life is a ride and there’s no sense in not enjoying it—there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything more than the one. This is sufficient, but unsatisfying. It reduces life to a long, interactive action/comedy/romance/drama story with no real continuity or ultimate point, either to the story, or to participation in the first place.

Just now, however, it occurred to me that the core aspect of religion is the practical discovery of ourselves as a group. Animals act independently, individually, and their effects as a group are statistical, not intentional. Even herd animals act in concert through instinct—intention and awareness play no part in their tactics. People are no different—they act independently, randomly—until leadership enters the mind of one or more, and they begin to manipulate the group towards collective ends.

Ancient people could only form larger tribes and villages by using threats and rewards—leaders who found their practical control too limiting would add supernatural threats and rewards to enhance control. They would tie them in with campfire stories of creation, origins, ghosts and heroes—thus government-sanctioned religion was born.

Still, the individuals in these communities acted independently, taking into account the societal ‘sticks and carrots’, but leaving personal survival as the bottom line for individual behavior. Pharaoh Akhenaten took a stab at monotheism early on—after he died, not only was the old religion restored, but he was demonized in the recorded history of his successors. Jewish monotheism provides examples of both the enduring antipathy it generated in outsiders, and of the unshakeable strength of a community so tightly bound together by their beliefs.

Christianity is special because it was the first widely-popularized combination of the unifying strength of monotheism and the vision of the Golden Rule, or Love thy Neighbor, or whatever catch-phrase you were raised on. Unlike Judaism, early Christianity spread like wildfire—it was revolutionary in that it suggested a new perspective, a vision of humanity as a whole, bound together by love and caring. The interdependence and support of the old tribal ways were re-inserted into the modern, power-oriented outlook of a conquering empire’s people. Caring about one’s neighbor may have been thought country-bumpkin-ish by the citizens of the great Roman Empire—but Christianity revealed it to be Love, instead—an ancient wisdom to be reclaimed.

First, let me get the semantics of Love out of the way. Lovers who mate are a separate issue from the Golden Rule—passionate love has an element of possessiveness to it—that is part of the desire to protect and please one’s lover. But even in carnal love we must fight the natural impulse to confuse love with possession—people are not things, and to love someone is not to own them. Lust, jealousy, fidelity and infidelity confuse carnal affairs even further.

I’m talking about the other, more pedestrian, love that we have for others, be they family, friends, or strangers—we don’t want to bother them, we want to be friends, we want to help if we can. Conversely, we hope that they don’t want to bother us, that they want to be friends, that they’re willing to help us if they can. Whatever spirit it was that led us to invent politeness, before we learned to use politeness as a weapon—that’s the love I’m talking about.

Empathy is a tricky thing—like charity, it can be taken too far and thus rendered madness—but it is still a natural impulse. The question becomes whether empathy is an indulgence or an inspiration. While that question remains open, it should be noted that the Golden Rule does not endorse empathy any more than it endorses common sense.

On the other hand, the concept of unity should not be over-simplified into a goose-stepping regime, either. Early Communism saw the problem of a lack of human unity in the Capitalist paradigm, but it focused on the unity and overlooked the humanity. It’s not that simple—as was evident from the horrific regimes produced by those early efforts. The main problem is that the cohesion of society cannot stem from a government—it can only come from a society that has the will to be good to each other.

The phrase ‘do as you would be done by’ advocates unity, but not the military cohesiveness of a unity of power. The Golden Rule urges us to be a Family of Man, but to avoid using rationales to bar the pursuit of someone else’s happiness. We should be united, but still free to be ourselves. It’s complicated, which is one of the reasons why we aren’t even close to achieving it. Such an approach is also completely unrelated to the money-oriented outlook which blares from every media outlet and is sold from every political speaker’s dais.

Humanity, at the peak of its potential, has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and turned towards goals so trite and empty that it is shocking to think how fully we immerse ourselves in their fantasy. Add in their insistence that modern arms, pollution, and habitat destruction are all a normal part of modern civilization, and there seems little reason not to turn our backs on them and their agenda, as one person. But we are kept distracted and engaged in their diversions to the point where we don’t ever stop to question our baldly suicidal sprint towards toxifying the planet and enslaving the non-wealthy—sounds like a fun time to me. Just ‘cause it’s called civilization doesn’t mean it has to be civil—right?

But my point is this: we think of the Family of Man as a spiritual aspect, separate from the mundane aspects of food, shelter, money, etc. Yet the religions that reveal this unity are simply recognizing a truth that is not obvious—that we have two natures: one as individuals and one as members of a species. The whole idea of a society suggests a balancing act between these two—we must live our lives, but we must also be members of a society.

There was a recent debate over taxing small-business owners. The question was whether they had created their institutions in a vacuum, or whether they owed some thanks to the local roads they used, the local shops that fed them, and the local workers they employed—in short, the community that made their own achievements possible. Aside from the argument being semantic nonsense, it illustrates the problem with the wealthy—they prize ownership over reality.

Even when rejecting religion, we are still aware of this core vision—that humanity is a creature of its own, and each of us is a piece of it. In such a paradigm, personal survival becomes insignificant except in its effect on the whole. Thus altruism exists, even without traditional faith. We can each choose for ourselves how much we focus on ourselves and how much we focus on our involvement as part of the whole.

This idea is bedeviled by our divisions into seemingly discrete groups—nations, races, societies—which confuse our perception of ourselves as part of the species. But the global community being formed by the digital age makes such distinctions increasingly fatuous—revealed as the spurious, self-generated divisions of more narrow-minded times.

We don’t need to be a Family of Man—but there’s little point to civilization if our basic foundations remain strife and competition—and without that higher vision, we may as well have stayed animals. There’s no glory in a civilization whose ultimate goal is the despoiling of the planet and the subjugation of the masses. That’s pointless and stupid. Capitalism is a fever-dream that lives off our animal impulses, giving us flimsy rationales for ignoring its faults.

Automation and AI are well on their way to making human labor obsolete. What will Capitalism become in a world without jobs—slavery or ultimate freedom? What will money be worth in a world without salaries? And what will we do with our lives when we don’t have to do anything? Once the issue of personal survival is ‘solved’, what will we be left with, except our destiny as a species?

Iran Hawks   (2015Apr03)

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Friday, April 03, 2015                                                7:38 PM

Does anyone remember the big kerfuffle over the “open letter to Iran” that the GOP released last month? The thrust of the letter was that any agreement between the US and Iran would be subject to veto by the Congress—comments both unhelpful and unnecessary. Now suddenly we hear of an agreement between European and Iranian negotiators—as if the US, and John Kerry, much less Obama, weren’t even involved.

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Isn’t this issue complex enough without the media massaging reality before they open their mouths to report to us? I’m concerned by this—and even more concerned by the seeming enthusiasm among the right-wing to start a shooting war with Iran. It reminds me of Wilson’s Congress destroying his dream of a League of Nations, the failure of which led to World War II.

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I don’t know anything about Iran. This is standard practice for a country being vilified by conservative Americans. We knew nothing of Russia and Russians during the Cold War. The satirical film “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” was so effective because it surprised American audiences with lost Russian U-Boat sailors who behaved as typical people, rather than the one-dimensional monstrosities as which we’d been encouraged to view their entire populace.

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And it would be almost as dangerous to speak well of the Iranians in public, now, as it would have been to say something nice about the Russians during the McCarthy Era, or to speak against the War in Iraq while Dixie Chicks CDs were being burnt in public squares. For a country that prides itself on Free Speech, we can be real pussies whenever the principle experiences any pressure from the climate of the mob. Real ‘freedom of speech’ continues to elude the American culture as a whole.

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We made modern Iran by propping up our own oil-interests-friendly government there, which was so unbearable to the Iranians that they had a revolt in the seventies. It may have been the Carter Administration’s Hostage Crisis, during that revolution, that caused us to sanction Iran with embargoes, but it is mere pique that has kept those sanctions in place for—wait, let’s count up the decades that the Iranian economy has suffered from US-imposed embargoes—the eighties, the nineties, plus fifteen….hmm. And please note that I say the Iranian economy, not the Iranian government, which seems to have weathered those sanctions far better than the average Iranian family trying to keep food on the table.

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We don’t see any of those poor bastards on the news, do we? That’s because they’re too much like us, normal people being screwed over by the power-players of the globe. We might decide we’re on their side. We might even be right. We can’t have that.

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People talked about Watergate as the ‘end of authority’ in the United States. But it wasn’t the end, it was more of a ‘fair beginning’. A contemporaneous scandal, the New York Times’ publishing of the Ellsberg Papers, revealed that the US government had continued fighting a war they had long determined was unwinnable, out of sheer political embarrassment.

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In the years since we have seen the truth of World War II come to light, first in Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”, which outlined the interlocking corporations that armed, supplied and invested in the war, entirely outside of the battling governments of the world—and often at cross-purposes with them. Secondly, we learned of possibly the greatest single hero of World War II, Alan Turing, in a book that wasn’t published until decades after Turing’s death—and wasn’t made a popular film until this very year, over fifty years after the events.

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We learned that Catholic priests had a centuries-old ‘tradition’ of pederasty, kept purposely secret by the heads of the church. We learned that tobacco companies knew they were lying for the several decades of legal battles over the carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoking. We learned that the vast majority of hardline conservatives pushing for anti-gay legislation are themselves gay!

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Then things really start rolling with the establishment of a news service, Fox, which guarantees it will skew the news in a certain direction—an acid-trip of a programming idea if there ever was one. At the same time, we see the emergence of satirical news, with SNL’s “Weekend Update” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with John Stewart” and “The Colbert Report”. These programs were based on the expectation that there will be so much misbehavior and malfeasance that a daily round-up of jokes about them will have ample fuel for continuous operation. HBO’s John Oliver in “Last Week Tonight” reaches a pinnacle of this genre—he picks a particularly pernicious issue and finds enough stupidity, corruption, and inequity in its history and practice to fill an entire 30-minute program with sarcastic pokes at these false idols.

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Then there’s the Tea Party, a blend of racism, ignorance, and reactionary fury that I would compare to the behavior of a spoil brat, if it wasn’t so unfair to the spoiled brats of the world. The Republican Party in general, under the Tea Party’s influence, has become the party that has never heard the Aesop’s Fable in which a person cuts off their own nose to spite their face. They’ve gone so far past common sense that their conservatives have become anti-conservation climate-change-deniers—and they don’t even see the irony in that. But their extremes are simply a symptom of the influence of extreme wealth on the democratic process, which wasn’t so democratic in the first place.

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We see the same thing in the recent ties between South American drug smugglers and violent extremists in Africa—the enormous amounts of cash involved completely overrun any small African government’s attempts at humane governance, buying up their heads of state, their police forces, even their militaries. And while we’re on the subject of the War on Drugs, let’s remember that the effect of all those years of time and billions of dollars has been—nothing. If anything, drug use has escalated, in the USA and around the world—and the corruption by cash of the many would-be fighters in that war has the effect of institutionalizing the drug trade on both sides of the imagined border between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.

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So today we see Authority, that mirage of stability, has always been a con job. We see that they have lied to us about our past, that they are lying to us about our present, and that the future will be a very one-sided fight in which normal people like you and I try to live just and peaceful lives amidst criminals in all but name who have effective control of our government, our businesses, and our lives.

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Will these bastards allow a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue, or will they use it to start a war, sending our young people to the ends of the Earth to fight and die, instead? Call me a crabby, old misanthrope if you must, but these right-wingers have shown their colors time and again and only a fool would expect them to suddenly behave like rational folks.

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Only a very few people get into politics out of idealism—the vast majority are power-hungry egotists with all the fear and loathing of desperate, insecure men. Only the GOP is twisted enough to seek out women to publicly support their misogyny, or African-Americans to publicly support their racism, or Latino-Americans to publicly support their elitism and exclusion. There’s something very sick about all that—especially on top of their insistence that none of us can be financially secure unless the super-wealthy are super-secure, both in their right to hoard their ungodly treasure and their right to treat the rest of us as chattel.

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I’m going bald on top, scratching my head, trying to figure out how they get people to vote for them, when they’d all be far better off not just voting against them, but running against them. After all, both the super-wealthy and the Tea Party represent vanishingly small percentages of our nation’s population—even a dysfunctional democracy ought to be able to do something against these jerks.

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Well-Aged Capitalism   (2015Mar15)

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Sunday, March 15, 2015                         11:53 AM

When speaking of Capitalism we must be specific as to which Capitalism we mean. Fresh Capitalism is a wonderful ideal, but then so is Democracy, Communism or Socialism—as ideals, they’re all good. The question with any system is how does it age? Communism aged badly—the corruption and the power-struggling began before the ink was dry on new governing policy, and a police state (as we are learning) never helps matters much.

Socialism seems to be working well with parts of Europe, but xenophobia, greed, and lust for power have their ins into that system as well. Democracy holds off corruption the longest, because it makes power contingent on popularity, which curtails the worst, most open examples of tyranny and self-enrichment. But Democracy is like a business—easily managed when it’s young and small. Once a democracy becomes big and mature, complexity starts to mask some of the corruption, and makes it easier to confuse the electorate.

But Democracy, for a long time, was like a well-ballasted ship that would right itself no matter how hard we pitched to one side or the other. Freedom of speech got people talking whenever things didn’t smell right—and in a country where you can’t jail your opponents for criticism, it’s hard to be a real bad guy and keep your office. That this is no longer the case today has a lot to do with Capitalism, the worm in the apple.

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We always speak of the Industrial Revolution—but that era was about much more than inventions and assembly-lines. All business was privately owned, or a government franchise—and bookkeeping was art, performed in various styles, with various techniques, depending on the performer. But railroad tycoons wanted the riches of owning their railroads without the hassle of having to run the business themselves—which gave birth to the stock market. And business owners of constantly-growing businesses became frustrated by the elusiveness of valuation at any given time—which spawned the invention of double-entry accounting, the system we still use today to account for a business’s every penny spent and every penny earned.

So, the Industrial Revolution was dogged in its steps by the Business Revolution. Systems for trading in cash and in assets, systems for keeping precise track of it all, even new systems of business ownership, were all invented due to the increasing complexity of industry. Capitalism began to resemble the monarchies that Democracy was supposed to replace—and monopolies were a constant threat to the claim that Capitalism creates an even playing ground. Abusing the masses through draconian working conditions and meager wages was there, too—but people are strangely reluctant to complain about labor practices when starvation is still a significant cause of death.

Besides, monopolies are a rich person’s problem, and rich people had no problem getting the ear of government to urge that limits should be put on how unfair one rich guy could be to another rich guy. However, monopolies are also a rich person’s tool, so debate on how to limit it dragged on for decades—and continues today.

One area where pro-monopolists have always had more influence is that of communications and entertainment. Ironically, this is because a Democratic system places greater value on a microphone—or mass media, as we call it today—due to its potential to influence voters. The value of owning a TV station goes well beyond its monetary value—it grants editorial power over which news is reported, how it’s reported, and even in pure entertainment, ideas and messages supporting the interests of the owner can be promulgated without dissent.

This situation isn’t that important in an environment that contains many competing TV stations—when one station goes too far outside of observed reality, their competitors can capitalize on that cognitive dissonance by branding the offending station as untruthful. However, if all the TV stations are owned by one entity, dissent in public discourse is, at best, muddied, and at worst, completely squelched.

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This brings us to today, where in many states, the constituency is mostly encouraged not to bother voting, or to vote for a brain-dead, bought-and-paid-for criminal. And given that environment, it’s getting mighty hard to find a candidate who isn’t a brain-dead, bought-and-paid-for criminal. This doesn’t ‘break’ Capitalism, but it does break Democracy as we know it.

No, Capitalism is eating its own guts in different ways—suborning the government is just one of them. But it is key, in that it allows the other extremes—the failure to adequately tax the rich and the corporations, the failure to pay decent wages, and the failure to protect the vulnerable from the influence of the super-wealthy and from Wall Street’s predations. We’re starting to talk about income-inequality, but due to the monopoly on mass media, it comes out as ‘class warfare’. Yes, equality isn’t fairness to the poor—its ‘war’ on the rich. Sure, I’ll swallow that—I’m hungry and there’s nothing else to eat.

But seriously, what Capitalism’s big winners fail to realize is that destroying the government’s ability to govern has consequences beyond the immediate financial success they are enjoying at this moment. The GOP, money’s representative in Washington, have shut down the government repeatedly. They’ve stymied any significant legislation for almost a decade, not to mention the appointees they leave un-appointed—causing no end of government dysfunction.

And just recently, they put out a masterstroke of foreign policy obstruction—an open letter to Iran that has convinced most of the world, overnight, that the US is not to be trusted. That they revealed themselves to be seditious, ignorant troublemakers is beside the point, though it doesn’t help much, since they are our elected ‘leaders’, and the world has gone on quite oblivious to the fact that we’ve always had a pack of morons constituting our congress, until now.

Yet what bothers me most is that ‘honesty’ in media has become a punchline, where it was once considered of real value. Without truth as a touchstone, we are left with pure entertainment. But you can’t inform an electorate with entertainment. You can indoctrinate them, you can influence them—all good news for the fat cats trying to turn your head around, but not so good for real democracy. Democracy without information is just tyranny through convoluted means—and monopolizing the news to hide the truth is pretty convoluted. Luckily for the filthy rich, convoluted is confusing—and we are confused—too confused to call them out on their lies, too confused to take back our democracy—even too confused to vote for an honest candidate. Just don’t look to the mass media to straighten it all out—they were part of the solution, but now they’re part of the problem.

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Piggies   (2015Mar14)

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Saturday, March 14, 2015                                1:05 PM

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Happy Pi Day, everybody!

We are supposed to wander around begging for a job—if we don’t find a job, we go hungry and die. That’s our 21st century paradigm—and we are so married to it that Texan racists have been known to comment that black people were ‘better off’ as slaves. What they’re really saying (although their tiny brains don’t realize it) is that anyone who isn’t rich is better off in slavery—and they have a kind of a point. Let the employer go through all the hassle of finding housing and three meals a day and health care on the pittance that an employer is willing to pay for labor. Let the employer figure out how you’re going to earn your keep. After all, it’s bad enough that the wealthy get that way by underpaying their employees—it doesn’t seem fair that we get screwed by both the bad pay and the many inconveniences of trying to stay alive on subsistence wages.

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And what are the differences between today’s workaday workplace and slavery? Oh, they’re there—but when you think about it, you find that they’re rather subtle differences. Both situations take away a person’s self-determination and place them under the command of someone who isn’t interested in leadership, only in using you up and giving back as little as possible. Both situations infringe on the personal liberty of the victim, separating them from their families—sometimes to the point of destroying their families. And both give unwarranted power to some jackass who has no inherent intelligence or ability, only the power of financial life or death over the persecuted.

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Yes, slavery had the added drawback of giving the overseers the literal power of life or death over the persecuted—and that’s certainly important—but in most other ways, employment is self-imposed slavery. Conservatives will blow hard, insisting that a real man has to work to earn his way through life—but is that true? Do we have to work hard every day to survive? No, we don’t. Not in the 21st century. All we have to do to survive today is get a paycheck, an income, some revenue—it’s not hard work, per se, it’s just a matter of pleasing an employer. And employers have somehow worked it out in their heads that, even though the company is making them filthy rich, they still owe the people that make that happen nothing more than the legal minimum—and then they bitch about how there shouldn’t be a legal limit on how little they can pay a worker. Aren’t they sweet?

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It’s a good thing I don’t get out much. If I were to meet a rich person in person today, I’d be hard pressed not to just slap them right in the face—they disgust me. “Have you seen the little piggies rolling in the dirt?” sang the Beatles, once upon a time. Oh, we’ve seen them, alright. The natural shame that such people used to feel about being publicly piggish has evaporated—they bankroll political campaigns, lobbyists, hate groups, and fundamentalists—and they do it right on CNN, in front of the whole world, like they had nothing to be embarrassed about. Sorry, rich people—you do have something to be embarrassed about—but if you want to ignore that and just wait until there is such pressure from social inequality that it turns into an uprising, like they do in third-world countries, then go ahead. Just be advised that someone at some time is likely to decide you all deserve a bullet in the brain.

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I’m a gentle flower—I would never be able to do violence to anyone, no matter how deserving they are. But I’m well aware, and the fat cats should be likewise, that there are plenty of less-gentle people in the world. And after that first one or two billion, what’s the point, anyway? Why are you so greedy? What makes you such a pig? If I had too much money, I’d use it to get a degree, without having to go into debt. Why aren’t you idiots going to school? Are you so detached from the human race that you don’t want to know anything more than how to rip other people off? Have any of you ever noticed that non-rich people have friends, fun, happiness? You do know that no amount of money will get you those things, don’t you?

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Okay, now I’m in danger of making the mistake we always make—we pay too much attention to these scumbags. They are little in every way, other than their bank balance. They are stupid. They are greedy. They are blind. Yes, they have too much influence on our culture—but we should always be on guard against giving them any importance outside of the power of their money. They are sad, sorry creatures with no understanding of the world or of people. They only know about their filthy, worthless money. They’re like a disease in our society, creating imbalances and competitiveness where neither is needed, warping the purposes of both government and commerce. They are the bad apples at the bottom of our barrel and should be treated accordingly.

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Capitalism only works when it’s new-ish. But American Capitalism is old and settled now—laws and regulations by the thousands have worked their way into our legislation, making it nearly impossible for someone new to compete with existing businesses. Monopolies have fought against the anti-monopoly laws long enough that they no longer exist. Financiers have fought against regulation and oversight for so long that they now give orders to the government instead of the other way around—even when they screw up badly enough to throw us all into a Great Recession.

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Then, during that disaster, instead of being chased through the streets by angry mobs (like they should have been) they were busily foreclosing on every mortgage—even the paid-up ones. And their excuse for foreclosing on all their mortgages, regardless of their status—was that they had sold so many bad mortgages that they didn’t have the time or the manpower to carefully go through them all—like that’s our problem. You see, my problem isn’t with these people having so much money. My problem with the filthy rich is that somehow having a lot of money turns a person into a big pile of crap.

If only the drug companies would stop stacking up profits making boner pills, and tried to find a pill that would turn a rich person into a human being. Now, that would be ‘better living through chemistry’.

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Welcome to the Madhouse   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:32 PM

It’s like being trapped in a nightmare. I don’t want to steal stuff, but plenty of people in this world do. I don’t want to own a gun, but plenty of people in this world do—and some of them even want to use them. I don’t want to fight, but plenty others do. If I go into business with someone I wouldn’t feel right unless it was fifty-fifty. But there are plenty of people who think it’s okay to hire twenty people at minimum wage and keep all the money for themselves.

I think the unfairness of the world would make a lot less sense if we were less accepting of the way things are—because the way things are is crazy. We don’t want to admit that—we don’t like to confront the fact that society is a madhouse—and by denial, we institutionalize the madness. The media reports on insanity with probity, as if the old men (and occasional woman) in charge gain dignity through wrinkled flesh. But those jerk-offs started out as egotistical little jerks, and they’re just older now, not all that much wiser. When they get on TV, I shudder at their mealy-mouthed evasions and mis-directions. They’re not fooling anyone but themselves, but the well-paid talking heads react as if they’re speaking plain English and using intelligence. What a load.

Someone shoots an unarmed person and we debate whether to throw the killer’s ass in jail, because he gets paid to carry a gun. Shouldn’t those people be held to a higher standard, not a lower one? If I kill someone, you can bet it’s because I was being an asshole—but if a cop kills someone unarmed, they’re being unprofessional. Don’t take the job if you can’t control yourself. End of fricking debate, unless you have some cleverly veiled racism to interject?

We’re going to look a grown woman straight in the eye and tell her that we, not she, are going to decide whether she has a baby or not? What jesus-freak planet does that logic come from? But, wait, since we’re discussing insanity, I’d better steer clear of Christianity—I don’t want to still be typing when the sun comes up.

I’m just sick of money and violence and the stupidity that incites it, excuses it, rationalizes it, and perpetuates it. Did you know that 75% of ISIS’s arms are made in the USA? Well, now you can add that to the insanity you’ve already accepted, like the scientists who are paid by the wealthy industrialists to deny the reality of climate change. You just sat there and took it, didn’t you? Even though we both know that our children’s middle-age will be a sci-fi-apocalypse nightmare—and it’ll be our fault. Just like it was our fault when all the yahoos started burning Dixie Chick CDs—and all us reasonable folk just sat back and watched while hundreds of thousands of young Americans were sent to turn Iraq into an incubator for terrorism, based on lies told to us by our leaders—and thousands of young Americans didn’t come back.

Bertrand Russell once complained to the effect that educated people were never sure they were right, but ignorant, crazy people were always positive. I have an addition to that postulate—ignorant, crazy people are more activist than reasonable people. Paradoxically, if we want the world to be less crazy, or at least slow down the expressway to crazy, we have to get a little crazy ourselves. We have to do the unthinkable—we have to get involved with politics. We have to get so involved that there are just as many reasonable people in politics as there are crazies—and I know that’s asking a lot, but I can’t change the facts of the matter.

When someone like that butt-head senator from Texas opens his yap, he should hear a room full of people laughing in his ignorant face. But he doesn’t—because he’s surrounded by butt-head senators. We’ve had democracy for a long time, but we only recently started voting for people as stupid as ourselves, instead of people we knew were smarter. I think it was Reagan who turned the presidency into a popularity contest–he was certainly the first openly stupid modern-day president we ever had, and the first movie star. (Beiber in 2036, anyone?) Sure, we’ve always resented intelligent people, but it used to include the grudging respect that intelligence deserves. Where did that kind of common sense go? When did we turn into children?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the past was any great shakes either. We had women virtually chained to kitchen stoves, and Jim Crow was not confined to the Deep South—we had corruption, fundamentalism, and elitism like you wouldn’t believe. The changes were good there, for a while. But then we all seemed to decide to get amnesia and re-examine debates that were settled in the 1950s. We started sliding backwards in our social progress, in the quality of our education, and in our perception as voters. Suddenly, only rich people were seeing things get better—the rest of us watched us go to war over a lie, lose our homes to the banks that lost us our jobs, and watched our government turn into a undisciplined kindergarten classroom.

The rich get upset over anything that smacks of humanity. They’ll tell you it’s too expensive. They’ll tell you it infringes on their rights. They’ll tell you it will bring ISIS to our shores. They’ll say anything—and they’ll say it a lot, through every media outlet they own, which is all of them. Those bastards are in charge and they want it all—the only thing they don’t want is change. Informed, self-determining people are so hard to push around. Luckily for the fat-cats, such creatures seem to be an endangered American species. Where have you gone, Kurt Vonnegut?

Confederacy of Dunces   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:36 AM

The GOP’s cavalcade of stupidity marches on—and this time they’ve managed to embarrass us in front of the whole world. By airing their domestic dirty laundry in public with that open letter to Iran, they’ve demonstrated how incredibly provincial their thinking is. It never occurred to them that their obtuseness, without any coverage from their private propaganda outlet, FOXNews, is plain as day to the rest of the world. Foreigners were already nonplussed by their climate-change denials (sheer idiocy outside of our borders) but now they can see that the GOP is anti-American.

It must be heart-warming for America’s enemies to see our wealthiest and most powerful become so averse to the ideals which real Americans cherish. The Chinese must love their downplaying of human rights and their adoration of authority. The Iranians must love their dreams of theocratic rule. The Europeans must love it that the mantle of Enlightenment has returned to its birthplace. And Caribbeans must be overjoyed that our fat-cats are now pampered and waited upon by equally impoverished peons, right here at home!

A lot of us have jobs that we would quit, if it weren’t for our families or our preference for food and shelter—the biggest problem with America’s present failings is that many of them are supplying us with a steady wage. And let’s face it—the popular wisdom is ‘if your job is supporting your family but destroying the country—then fuck the country’. Once we accepted that money trumps ethics, our nation began its shockingly swift descent into the ‘bad joke’ version of America we live in today.

In the sixties, more Republicans than Democrats voted for the Voting Rights Act—but today, the GOP is trying to undo that legislative jewel in our crown—and not one of them showed up to commemorate Bloody Sunday on the bridge. They rant about reverse-racism or claim that racism doesn’t exist—they haven’t decided which is the stupider position yet—and stupidity appears to be their highest criterion for party loyalty.

But I don’t blame the GOP. They may not have the smarts required to tie their own shoes—but what does that make the people who elected them to run the country? And what does that make someone named Koch who spends billions to support them?

As Stupid Does   (2015Mar02)

Monday, March 02, 2015                                 4:36 PM

I showed my twenty-six-year-old son something I wrote yesterday—he told me he’s tired of reading criticisms of the GOP. Then it struck me—what a perfect tactic. Do something unbelievably stupid or say something unbelievably harsh every single day, and people will get tired of hearing all the outrage it engenders. It’s foolproof—which is lucky, since we’re talking about conservatives. The only problem I see is that they’re destroying the world and everyone in it. I don’t understand—why is that their goal? Are all their prejudices and fears really so valuable that the end of the world is their preferred alternative?

Oh, they’ll tell you that’s ridiculous, that they’re just trying to defend American values—but what right do they have to use words they clearly do not understand? Plus, they’re lying. How do I know? You know the answer—their lips are moving. Part of the new Stupid craze is believing you can lie your ass off—blatant, incredible, dangerous lies—and no one will notice. Plus, we can now pretend that science is a matter of opinion. Darwin, Einstein, Hawkings—all pretty smart people—where does a high-school drop-out get the cojones to stand up on his or her hind legs and howl their ignorance in the face of true intelligence? Sheer stupidity, that’s where.

We live in an age of wonders. Idiots have stumbled on a way to discredit intelligence and deny knowledge. What a through-the-looking-glass concept! And I think I know the reason for its sudden appearance in society—computers. Before computers, pencil-necked geeks were just pencil-necked geeks. The stupid jocks who beat them up got little satisfaction from it—they remained stupid and the geeks were still getting straight A’s. But once digital tech began to make geeks into super-stars and millionaires, the stupid majority had to put its foot down—intelligence has no value—it can’t and it never will, they cried. Thus, climate-change-deniers, evolution-deniers, holocaust-deniers—people by the thousands with their heads neatly tucked up their asses—but happy that way.

And we see a resurgence of fundamentalism—the world champion of stupidity. We see it in Europe, with the return of anti-Semitism. (How many times do we have to go over this, Europe? Any vague memories of last time? What the hell?) We see it in the third world, with the rise of Derf, or IS, or “book-no” haram. (It’s just my opinion, but I think you’d all prefer food, schools, and medicine—and think of all the fatigue of sledge-hammering our ancient history into oblivion. Is that really helpful?) And we see it here at home, where we’d rather have our kids mown down by lawfully-purchased firearms than let them catch a glimpse of two men kissing on TV. Men kissing? What a nightmare! “Get yer guns, boys—these sickos need to be dead.

My current theory is that money makes people stupid—and guess which political party is preferred by the rich? We all know how many people are super wealthy in the USA—one percent of us. So how does the party of the rich get support from fifty percent of the population? Masochism? Self-loathing? Or is it sheer stupidity? In the majority of cases, these people don’t have two dimes, but they American Dream that someday, they will—which makes them just as stupid and selfish as actual rich people. Or more so, if you consider how willfully and willingly deluded they are.

Part of the problem is that people are too sensitive about their smarts—someone posted something incredibly stupid on Facebook the other day, and even though she’s a friend of mine, I called it by its true name. She was incensed that I called her stupid. She missed the point—I was calling her post stupid. But she didn’t even consider the pros and cons of her narrow-minded meme; she just got pissed off because someone called her stupid. I would have been more diplomatic about it, but stupid ideas, like her meme that day, are destructive and dangerous. To me, it was as if she shot someone and got mad for being called a murderer—it’s not the insult that takes priority. Or is it? Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it. But at least I don’t post racist, exclusionary, misogynistic, fundamentalist bullshit on Facebook.

And, more importantly, I will never post or say or rant about anything in a way that encourages other people to do violence or practice hate—and that doesn’t mean I’m against freedom of speech—I’m just against misuse of freedom of speech. ‘Freedom’ implies that the choice is left to the individual—it doesn’t mean that you should abandon your own good judgment and say whatever the hell springs to mind.

Speaking of Freedom of Speech, let’s talk the Koch boys—they’re so crazy about it they want to extend it to money as well as words. Fine—I’ll tell you what the Koch boys’ money is saying. It’s no complex frigging mystery. It’s saying they are greedy and selfish—just the same as anyone else who has a ridiculous amount of money and doesn’t feel any obligation to spread it around. Sure, they’re probably ‘philanthropists’, but that just means they’re spending their money to influence others and to take tax breaks in April—it’s not the same as giving it away, free and clear. To them, that would be madness. That’s how greedy and selfish they are.

So, should you vote for a Koch boys candidate? Not unless you’re greedy and selfish enough to have a few billion dollars in your own bank account. See? Their money doesn’t have to say a word—we can take it as read. And how should we interpret the Koch boys’ support of the GOP? Well, birds of a feather, of course.

The way I see it, money talks plenty loud enough as it is. Try dissing your boss—what? No freedom of Speech all of a sudden? How’d that happen? Is your paycheck talking to you? Well, we have to be practical—food on the table first, freedom second. But should we actively support politicians who champion the rich and powerful? Should we purposely go out and vote for more restrictions, even more influence than the rich already have? I can’t imagine why. Maybe I’m too stupid. Uh-oh, guess I got to join the Republicans.

The Republicans, however, are running into a little trouble with the Stupid Stratagem. It seems that stupidity can be obstructive to more than ones enemies. John Boehner, whom no one could accuse of being a nerd, is apparently not stupid enough to lead his party—they demand someone even more idiotic, like Scott Walker. I wonder if they can achieve a stupidity-singularity, wherein intelligence or information once again become relevant? Maybe that’s their plan. Genius!

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

This messing around with science, these subtle digs at advanced degrees and laboratory exactitude—its roots can be found in our refusal to accept that our world is truly as complicated as it is. When we hear of atrocities being committed, we want to avenge the victims—we want blood, and no effing around about it. When we hear of injustice, we want the laws changed, repealed, or made anew—and we want it yesterday, no matter how old the injustice, no matter how tricky the wording of new law may be, and regardless of all the hinky details that get in the way of simple ‘solutions’.

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We prefer public protest to private voting even though a well-planned campaign, successfully voted in, is a guarantee of change, whereas a protest movement is all sound, fury, and public opinion. We prefer to ‘kill our way out’ of violent foreign controversies (as the assistant secretary of state put it recently) rather than defer the satisfaction of our bloodlust long enough to implement real change, especially changes in attitude. The mob effect, that tendency we have to behave like children when we clump together, causes immense confusion in the heat of public debate, but it is our hatred of complexity that draws the lines of that debate before it even begins.

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If we look closely at most of the controversies in politics today, we see that opposing ideologies can almost always be described as one group, which wants to overlook one or more bothersome details, opposing another group that feels those details do have relevance. Not that such distinctions are unimportant—even in mathematics we recognize the concept of the last significant decimal point, that point of precision beneath which any variation becomes moot.

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Mathematically, if you have a million dollars, say, it doesn’t really matter if you have exactly one million and one dollars, or only $999,999.00—it’s still basically one million dollars. When we are talking about millions, we usually consider change significant when the difference is in the thousands of dollars—individual dollar bills are insignificant in such a context. Yet even in mathematics there is room for debate—some people are so tight-fisted that they care about spending a single dollar more or less, even when their wealth is excessive.

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Considering that even the simplicity and straightforwardness of math is open to controversy, it is no surprise that we differ on the significance of details when discussing more esoteric subjects, like the war on extremist violence. When the Dash, or IS, or Boko Haram torture and execute their captives, we want to respond so bad we can taste it—we’re even open to drone strikes on their leadership, in spite of the danger of collateral damage. But the Middle East is now populated by those who see nothing but our collateral damage—we aren’t exactly winning hearts and minds there.

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The abortion debate hinges on the same judgment over exactly how many days, or even hours, of gestation manifest a human life. The immigration debate hinges on exactly how long one must live and work in the USA before being considered a citizen of the USA. And these debates’ strengths differ based on who we are—a pregnant woman sees abortion differently than a senator, a migrant worker sees immigration differently than a governor or a judge.

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We once looked upon these arguments over details and their relative importance as mere by-products of human nature, which they are and have always been. It is our approach that has changed—we once sought out candidates who were known for their ability to forge compromises—now we are more inclined to seek representatives that draw a line in the sand over our preferred details, or ignore the details we wish to ignore. We have forgotten that compromise is the only way forward.

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Our News Media thrive on this stultified outlook—and encourage it every day with sensationalism that distracts, rather than informs. The Doubt Factory’s very existence is predicated on our willingness to niggle over details—using petty factoids and legal cheat-codes to protect corporate profits and obstruct the public welfare. And our politics have become indistinguishable from our pro sports—we pick a side and root our hearts out, the hell with compromise.

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Well, here’s an exercise in being a grown-up—pick an issue, any issue—then pick an acquaintance with opposing political leanings. Tell them you’re trying an experiment and you want to try to work out a compromise on a certain issue. While doing this experiment, try to tell yourself that not every single detail of your policy is essential. Try to tell yourself that not every aspect of your opponent’s policy would be the end of the world. Try to keep in mind that the point of the exercise is not to get everything you want, but to get just some of what you want—that you don’t need to exclude all of your opponent’s ideas, just the ones you find most objectionable. Try to imagine that achieving the compromise itself is more important than achieving your personal beliefs.

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Do you want to know something funny? In the past, when compromise was a major tool in the political toolbox, the two sides would sometimes reach a compromise, enact a solution, and learn, to their amazement, that both sides had it wrong—that a third possibility had presented itself through the effort to reach a compromise! This could happen to us, too. But first, we have to unlock ourselves from this childish battle of wills and return politics to the province of grown-ups. Modern life, though it may not seem it, is based on the assumption of cooperation, of checks and balances, and worst of all, on our assumption of mature judgment in our leadership—nothing could be more dangerous than for us to continue this immature stonewalling and willful blindness.

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But the super-wealthy only see dangers that don’t impinge on their profits. That’s why they fund these worse-than-useless news outlets and doubt factories; that’s why they encourage partisanship. To them, the only real danger is a danger to their big pile of money—let the rest burn, as far as they’re concerned. But we are the ‘rest’, we are the burning, overlooked details in their jaundiced outlook—and, strange as it may seem, the only way to fight them is to stop all this fighting amongst ourselves.

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Re-Thinking   (2015Feb18)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015                                11:36 AM

Okay, now I’m well and truly confused. You may remember I wrote a little post the other day, bitching about how no one gave my blog any ‘likes’ for a few days. But I looked at my ‘stats’ page and guess what? Over 10,000 people have viewed one or more of my blogposts. 29 people ‘follow’ my blog—which only means that my posts show up in their ‘readers’ (no guarantee they actually read the posts). Nonetheless, I get an average of 15 to 25 views a day—even today, before noon, when I haven’t posted anything for two days, I’ve gotten six views so far.

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Ordinarily, I have to assume, several people a day are looking at my blog posts, but no one is being impressed enough to click that ‘like’ button. It would seem that when I do get a handful of likes for a particular post, it is not a sign that a handful of people have read the post, but that the post in question was impressive enough to entail a response.

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In a way, it’s kind of creepy to imagine those 15 to 25 people lurking in silence, reading my thoughts without giving back squat. Even creepier is the question of ‘How did I trigger likes with one certain post and not the others?’ Am I resonating with their own thoughts on things? Or do people enjoy my posts more when I’m in obvious emotional distress? What is it?! And do I want to follow that ‘likeable’ thread, or avoid it? It would be so much easier for me if the likes corresponded to my own feelings about my posts—but many of what I consider good posts get zero likes, while some surprise me with the strength of their response. It’s confusing.

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Meanwhile, I’m getting tired of ‘the big picture’. The power of money has more influence than any other force, particularly any force for good. People such as myself can rant and rail until the cows come home—without money to force it down people’s throats, my opinions don’t mean squat. And the moneyed interests have lost any sense of shame or decency. A recent satirical piece by John Oliver on the shameless behavior of Philip Morris Inc. prompted that corporation to attack Oliver’s research as ‘misleading’—and they don’t see any irony in a tobacco company accusing someone else of being misleading or unfair. But what can you expect from a company that profits from killing its customers? With that as a starting point, the rest of their hi-jinks shouldn’t surprise anyone.

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The GOP, worthy of being renamed the Party of the Wealthy, has recently urged a cancellation of ACA (which would reverse our great increase in those covered) cancellation of history courses in high school (which would help keep us all in the dark about how un-American they are) and cancellation of the Dodd Frank bill (which would allow them to rip us all off in as unfettered a fashion as they did to bring about the Great Recession). Everything they do, everything the Republicans support, is unequivocally in favor of the rich over the rest of us. And how did they get elected? By spending so much money spreading lies and half-truths that they scare the less-educated into thinking they’re needed. Oh, we need them, all right—to screw us in the ass.

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The Koch boys have declared war on science ever since science found out that Koch oil profits are based on our suicidal addiction to petroleum energy. Even stupid, rich people like them have a sense of self-preservation, right? Wrong. These bitches have some kind of fundamentalism that tells them they’re supposed to end the world. Isn’t that special? (As Dana Carvey would say.)

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But what bothers me more than most things is the tendency of rich people to blather on about ‘hard work’. Yesterday I watched “Better Angels”, a beautifully-filmed re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood. Talk about ‘hard work’. Pre-industrial people had a job—staying alive—and that was hard work, morning ‘til night. To pretend that such conditions still obtain, now that we have remote controls, heavy machinery, appliances, and robots, is a convenient pretext for the rich. If there were any mathematical fairness in labor, we’d all be getting paid top dollar for working about three hours a week. But no, say the rich, good people work hard—only lazy people want money without slavery.

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Let me tell you what ‘hard’ is. Being a good parent—that’s hard. Being a good citizen—that’s hard as hell. Thinking things through, even when we don’t like the results—that’s hard work. Slaving through unpaid overtime, without benefits, for minimum wage—that’s not ‘hard’, that’s unjust—and it benefits only one group. Guess how hard they work.

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Will people ever be fair to each other? Will people ever stand up on their hind legs and say ‘enough’ to their bloated overseers? No, it’s not in our nature to be fair. We prefer to compete, to win. That’s some win. Our society has become a suicidal enslavement-scam run by capitalists—and, bottom line, when money can’t buy enough influence, it just buys guns instead. It’s exhausting to have our every inkling towards freedom and fairness trampled by these sons-of-bitches. I’m sick of it. I’ve gotten past the fact that we can’t beat these bastards—nowadays, I focus on my outrage that everyone around me accepts the status quo, which is understandable, but nonetheless insane.

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My disability allows me to stand outside of the rat-race and view it objectively as the farce it has become—but am I being more objective or more over-simplified? Ask yourself this—how many people work hard every day at a job that means something to them other than a paycheck? In America, I’d guess that lucky few comprise maybe five percent of all full-time employees. The rest are just doing whatever they’re told, to keep from starving in the street. Is that a job, or slavery?

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Read Somebody Else’s Blog (2015Feb15)

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Sunday, February 15, 2015                              4:53 PM

I’ve had no likes on my blog for a few days—in contrast to a less-recent spate of interest and a slight up-tick in numbers. My first thought was ‘What did I say to turn people against me?’ But then I realized that my problem was not what I’d said—it was that I’d stopped saying it. My recent posts have been music videos, poems and such—my favorite things to do, but not a favorite of whatever blog-readers I may have. I get bigger responses from my tirades against the powers that be—against corruption, ignorance, and apathy.

I don’t like those posts. They are a relief valve for my mind at its most frustrated and enraged. I’ve been enjoying my release from that compulsion over the past few days—and now I realize that I had the beginnings of net popularity at my finger-tips. Well, you can keep it. If, to have a successful blog, I have to whip myself into a curmudgeonly frenzy every day, I’m likely to end up being the left’s answer to that tea-party king-of-talk-radio—that overweight drug-addict guy with all the thoughtless opinions—I can never remember his name.

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I’m a delicate flower. You want a diatribe, go read somebody else—I’ve pretty much said what there is for me to say, generally. I’ll post more, though—it’s inevitable that I’ll get into another funk sooner or later—hopefully later—but don’t hold your breath. My blog went un-liked before—it can go back to that and I’ll be okay.

I’ve always been easily bruised. As a child, I watched TV coverage of the racial violence in the deep South—I was horrified. What horrified me the most was that I had the same skin color as the bad guys—I’ve been ashamed of being Caucasian-American ever since. When I saw the final scene in “The Butler”, where the old White House butler watches Obama’s first election results on TV, it brought tears to my eyes—the election of a black man to the presidency was as important to me as it was to African-Americans. Racism cuts both ways—it may have caused untold suffering among black people, but it also caused untold assholery among whites. Not that racism is over, more’s the pity.

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My own anger, justified though it may be by the likes of the Kochs, Cruz, Palin, Paul, and Scalia, is the greatest threat to my health and well-being. Railing against these stains on humanity is bad for me—something I’d overlook if I had an audience of more than a handful—but as it stands, I’m just giving a tiny number of people “The Autobiography Of A Stroke Victim”, and I ain’t going out like that.

The majority of people just want to live their lives. Only the rich and powerful have a reason to nudge us towards ever-greater impositions on our peace and freedom. While it is healthier for us to ignore these dirt-bags, it is also the best way to help them screw us over—resistance, despite Star Trek, is not futile. Take as an example the recent talk of a Pacific Trade agreement that will tie up the developed world in a bow and deliver it, forever enslaved, to the one percent. How any politician can support this with a straight face is completely beyond my comprehension. Why don’t we resurrect Hitler while we’re at it?

But what can I do to stop it? Devote my life to anti-Trade-Pact protests? If I thought the filthy rich would stop there, I’d be happy to take my place on the wall. But their money allows them to attack from a hundred different directions—state legislation action groups, corporate lobbyists, fundamentalist-backed obstructionism, Fox news, anti-women’s-rights skeezes who make excuses for rapists and blame victims, and the Doubt Factory—that now-famous collection of lawyers, publicists, and ‘scientists’ who obscure any issue of health, safety, or personal freedom—ostensibly for justice, but practically for a paycheck from whatever corporation can then continue to profit—even after proof of danger or wrong-doing comes to light.

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These are first-world criminals—people who commit atrocities secure in the knowledge that their society is too benign to shoot them in the head, as they deserve. And America is the worst—with our proud tradition of rugged individualism, these money-barons can even make the case that they are guaranteed the freedom to commit their crimes. Thus our highest ideal, freedom, when applied to money, becomes the greatest threat to our civilization. It’s complicated—no wonder it’s so easy for them to confuse us.

Making our education system a profit center fits very neatly into all of this—educated, informed voters are their only threat and restricting education to only their own offspring suits their purpose beautifully—plus they make a few bucks. Meanwhile, the old stand-by, voter restriction, is making a comeback. Civilization is the story of freedom and humanity—we are obviously at that part of the story where the hero is in a deadly spot—gee, I hope there’s a happy ending.

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I’m sure of only one thing. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t be able to give the money to charity fast enough. I’d rather tell people I was a convict or a sex-offender than to tell them I was wealthy. Wealthy people disgust me and I wouldn’t want anyone to think of me or my family as part of that group. And it’s a good thing they prefer to live behind walls—if people start to wise up, these tics on society will be spending all their time there, afraid to walk the streets in daylight.

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Have a Koch and Be Beguiled (2015Feb08)

Sunday, February 08, 2015                              6:37 PM

Koch Industries I could care less about. Considering the enormity of the Koch boys’ fortune, I’m sure there are many important gee-gaws that spill from their factory floors. I’ll bet they have lots of happy, willing workers, too—I wouldn’t be surprised if they even got decent wages. Like all business owners, while relying on their ‘labor pool’ (we might think of it as a population) they have nightmares about ever taking responsibility for the labor pool—they just pick and choose from it, as needed. The rest is not their business, or so they are desperate to believe. But let’s leave that alone, and just agree that we have little to complain about so far as the industrial entities themselves are concerned.

Neither will we explore the question of Capitalism, possession, and whether or not there is any decency in two geezers having so impossibly much while so many have so few. Capitalism is the American way, isn’t it? So let’s just further agree that the Koch boys have every right to lord it over the rest of us. I’m sure the people who meet them socially find them to be lovely folks—almost impossible to imagine spitting in their faces, regardless of how much indication there may be that they deserve such treatment. In person, in a social setting, I imagine they strongly resemble real people.

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No, there’s just one thing to which I take exception, one thing which I can’t overlook, and that is their inability to understand how treasonous their behavior is. They want their pile of money to represent ‘free speech’—fine, as long as they’ve brought enough to share with the whole class. When the Koch boys are ready to sponsor both sides of a debate, great—but money spent on only one side is influence, not speech. And they know this, or they wouldn’t be so clever about circumventing the old rules. They can’t be cunning and dumb at the same time, though they and their ilk make a grand show of just that paradox, and quite often.

There is an ongoing outcry among champions like Liz Warren, bemoaning the intractable nature of such corruption—but there is a simple solution, and it should have occurred to us a long time ago. Do not vote for anyone who takes Koch money—simple. And if the Koch boys manage to buy all the candidates in a particular race, vote for whoever you want—it won’t make a difference. There ought to be a mob of people running for office, local, state, and national, whose only campaign pledge is that they won’t be bought. At this point I don’t care about political platforms—I’d vote for anybody else, if it meant defeating the Koch boys’ attempted purchase of our heritage.

I shouldn’t have to add the following, but in the interests of clarity let me point out that changing to some other big backer is not an option. Politics is dirty enough without the addition of big bankrolls—it’s been a dirty business long before it was acceptable to campaign for office. Did you know that it was once considered so grasping to actively campaign for an office that to do so was considered good reason not to vote for such a candidate? It’s true. We once had sense enough to avoid office-holders who actively sought the power of their office. Ah, the halcyon days of America…

But the Koch boys aren’t running for office—so why am I so angry with them? Can’t I be reasonable? They’re just trying to support the ideas they agree with—just like anyone else with billions of dollars and no clue about democracy. We are Americans—we all admire wealthy people—we all aspire to become wealthy people. But if we had great wealth, how many of us would decide that the best use of it would be to destroy our country? Who among us dreams of becoming rich solely for the purpose of making a mockery of our elections?

But more importantly, why do we vote for these paid mouthpieces? People joke that politicians should wear patches to declare their various sponsors, like NASCAR drivers—but we don’t need the stickers, we know that all these people are bought and paid for. So why do we vote for them? Democrats ran from photo-ops with the President during the last election because being aligned with him was considered bad politics. How then is it possible that endorsement by the Koch boys isn’t the kiss of death for any candidate? What kind of half-assed thinking is that? We’re acting like a bunch of morons, and we’ll end up with the government we deserve—I’m warning you.

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Popular Science Sucks—I Have a Pie-Chart to Prove It (2015Feb07)

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

The world was once a garden. Before the industrial age, everything was organic—the houses, the roads, the toilets, the farms, the furniture. We were once all-natural. When I say ‘garden’, I’m not implying any Garden of Eden—like all gardens, there was plenty of manure and rotting organic matter. If you caught that old garden in the wrong breeze, it stunk to high heaven—but it was a non-toxic stink.

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Then the steam engine led to the combustion engine, which led to the jet engine, then the rocket engine. Edison had his time in the sun, as did Ford, Einstein, Turing, Gates, and Jobs. Now the garden is gone and what’s left is not so pretty.

To sustain our first-world population requires mining, cutting, energy production, chemical processing, and manufacturing—all in mind-blowing, humongous quantities. (Did you know the world uses billions of tons of steel, every day?) We know that Earths’ infinite abundance is an illusion—that its amazing powers of recuperation can only be pushed so far. But we ignore that. And we keep ourselves so very, very busy trying to scam each other and distract each other that it is easy to ignore even such obvious facts.

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Between our old people, who are too ignorant to turn on a computer, and our young people, who are too ignorant to understand how unimportant computers are to the big picture, it’s obvious that our world is changing too fast for our society to keep up with. Meanwhile computers become ever more ingrained in our everyday lives, while computer experts baldly admit (as they always have) that the Internet can never be totally secure from malware. It’s kind of like accepting Politics, even while knowing that a bad politician can be humanity’s greatest threat—oh, wait—we do that, too.

There was no nerd happier than I when the Digital Era elevated ‘smarts’ to a sexy asset. But just as Star Wars popularized science fiction, and ended up diluting it into something sub-intellectual, so now science, math, and logic have been popularized, with the attendant dilution of these virtues into weapons of commerce and gamesmanship.

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There is no more popular meme than a pie-chart—but how many of today’s pie-charts illustrate hard data, and how many are printed in USA Today in an attempt to manipulate the un-informed? Back when they were too boring for anyone but us nerds, no one would have bothered to make a pie-chart of bad data—what would be the point, miscommunication? Yes, as it turns out, that’s a very good use for a mathematical tool. Because people love, love, love the appearance of reason—it’s the methodical application of reason that leaves us cold.

And words. Aren’t we all a little bit tired of words? If words had true meanings, arguments would end. If words had justice, they’d refuse to issue themselves from the mouths of many of the people on the TV news. Every word is a two-bladed sword—without good intentions, words are nothing but cudgels and self-appointed crowns. I’m so sick of the neat little bundles of words that spew from the faces of cold-blooded opportunists and greedy bastards—pretending that a logical algorithm of honest-sounding terms can erase horrible injustices that even three-year-olds would know in their hearts. A good argument is no substitute for a good person—and you can talk all day without changing that.

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But let’s return for a moment to pie-charts. I witnessed the early days of computing and I can attest to the fact that spreadsheet software was a big player. Descartes’ invention of a chart using an x-axis and a y-axis proved so useful that it pervaded mathematics and remains a part of it today. Just so did business leaders find in the mighty spreadsheet a powerful tool for business analysis, sales, and forecasting. Breaking down business activity into rows and columns of numbers gives people great clarity—if you’re into that sort of thing. But we’re not all math geeks—some of us prefer a simpler challenge to the mind. Presto, bar-graphs, pie-charts, etc.—graphic representations of numerical values—so simple even a child could use (or misuse) it.

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And way back then, I had a problem with the whole GUI, WYSWIG, object-oriented, ‘visual’ dumbing down of computer science. It seemed to me that if you couldn’t understand computer code, it wouldn’t help having everything be point-and-click. But the world has long over-ruled me on this point, and it’s only getting worse. What is the point of having scientists conduct a study—and then have a government official decide whether the study should be released? What is the point of a laboratory that conducts studies at the behest of large industrial sponsors—don’t they know that such circumstances taint the report before it’s even issued? Who do they expect to believe them? What is the point of classifying proprietary data from pharmaceutical studies—are they afraid the competition will steal their dangerous, toxic drug ideas while they’re being sued by their ‘patients’?

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We like that the world is getting more confusing—or, at least, some of us do—it makes it easier to lie and cheat and steal. And just to super-charge the confusion, we have a mass-media machine that craves excitement and ignores substance, like a spoiled child. Somewhere between the ‘yellow journalism’ at the break of the last century, and this century’s Fox News, we used to enjoy a historical ‘sweet-spot’, where Journalism was respected and professional—they even got to the point where it was available as a major in college study. TV news started out as a mandatory, public-service requirement for public broadcasters! They still have Journalism majors in colleges—but the classes are usually titled something like “Communicating In Media”, or some other name that lets you know you’re not dealing with ‘reporting’ anymore, you’re ‘communicating’. More dilution of something great into something ‘meh’.

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And that’s where the whole world is heading. Where once was sweet air and crystal-clear water, flush with fish and game, free of toxins—we will now enjoy ‘meh’. Where once dumb people could remain comfortably dumb, and scientists were trusted to think, we will now enjoy a free-for-all of debate points and well-turned phrases made out of pure bullshit—until reality pulls the plug. I once had hope that we would control ourselves in some way—I was so stupid. I guess I was misled by my intense desire for us to survive as a species, maybe even live as good people. Ha. We all have to grow up sometime.

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Strangling Big Government   (2015Jan30)

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Friday, January 30, 2015                                            11:39 AM

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The Times says Mitt Romney’s decision today not to run for President in 2016 frees up contributors and volunteers for other center-right Republicans, such as Jeb Bush. MSNBC says those on the far-right are hoping that Senator Elizabeth Warren will challenge Hillary Clinton. I’m always struck by how the strategy and the spin become issues unto themselves—let’s not waste any time on the actual issues. Just another example of mass media digging for excitement rather than information.

But is it exciting? Not to me. The damned election is in November 2016. I’ll tell you what would be exciting—mass involvement. If politics became as popular as the Super Bowl, I’d sure sit up straight and pay attention. It is so paradoxical to live in a nation whose greatest fame is democracy, but less than a quarter of our citizens participate in the vote. It doesn’t even take money or effort, like a college degree or a long vacation—but voting is becoming less popular than going to prison.

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Protests have seen a recent resurgence in America—that seems like a lot more effort than an annual trip to the voting booth. How do we explain the preference for protests for change over actual change? How can the media justify its focus on the infighting, the corruption, and the personalities of our legislators over their legislation (the only thing that affects the rest of us)? Only media reporting about the media goes as far into the land of self-absorption.

The government shut-downs of the recent past are another example—how do legislators get confused enough to consider refusing-to-do-their-jobs as part of their jobs? By running on a ‘government is bad’ ticket—and being elected by people who don’t like government, that’s how. The Republicans claim to be against ‘Big Government’—but that’s BS—how could our federal government be small?

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Being against ‘Big Government’ can really only be interpreted as being against America—we can’t expect fifty separate states to function properly without some unification of purpose. These ‘anti-government’ GOP creeps still manage to pass laws—they even pass spending bills. So it would seem they aren’t entirely against Government, they’re just against ‘Government by the people, for the people’. They claim that Freedom is our only goal—that Social Justice is some interloper that drains our coffers and interferes with business.

But Social Justice is little different from legal justice. If someone punches you in the face, the Republicans are all for throwing the bastard in jail—legal justice—but if you don’t have enough health care to get your face stitched back together, the Republicans don’t see any reason for government to get involved. So where do they draw the line? Perhaps they see punishment of a criminal as important, but redress for a victim (especially a victim of circumstance) they see as too soft-hearted for real ’Muricans. When the GOP thinks of Justice, they imagine a hammer, not a cradle.

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The conservatives operate by the Philosophy of the Strong. If you’re poor, toughen up and make more money. If you’re sick, toughen up and walk it off. If you’re unemployed, you must be lazy. If you are disadvantaged, just do whatever you have to do to keep up with the rest of us. It’s a wonderful philosophy, as long as you’re rich, well-educated, and healthy. It’s also serviceable if you’re a misanthropic red-neck with resentment oozing from every pore.

But the rest of us have feelings. We recognize the dangers of runaway government, but we’re still willing to risk a portion of our budget on helping the helpless and protecting the young and the disenfranchised. Anyway, lots of studies indicate that the economics-of-charity are more profitable than the economics-of-austerity—so the ‘waste of money’ argument is a false premise to begin with.

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And then there’s always the issue of complexity—our modern lives involve air-traffic control, satellite weather-forecasting, financial derivatives, gene-splicing, tidal generators, and rush-hour traffic-flow, to name just a few strands of our very tangled web. Anyone who tells you it’s time for ‘small government’ is trying to sell you a bridge to Brooklyn. Besides, government is already ‘big’ in many troublesome ways—Corporate lobbying, PAC funds, the IRS, the DEA, Homeland Security, the CIA—it doesn’t make sense to avoid Big Government on positive issues, when it’s already a runaway train in terms of negative issues.

Once again, I find myself writing about things everyone already knows—but no one does anything about.

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Thank Goodness They’re That Bad (2015Jan26)

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Monday, January 26, 2015 10:07 AM

They’ve gone too far this time—and that’s a good thing. In their towering passion to oppose Obama, the Republican all-stars that made their bones sniping at him now find themselves objecting to and opposing everything, even each other. The same convoluted mind-set that found flaws in every action or aspect of our current President has gotten them into the habit of attacking anyone, even themselves, in the same way. After years of oblique responses, left-field criticisms, and denial, they can’t help but turn these awful weapons of unreason against each other.

 
Now that it is within their power to recreate the Dark Ages in the 21st-century, their well-sharpened debate reflexes have them arguing amongst themselves just how Dark the New Dark Ages should be. That’s good news. We have stood aghast as these new tricks learned by the powerful and the ignorant have stymied many of our government’s efforts to improve the lot of its citizens, and to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.

 

They oppose health care, particularly a women’s right to choose her own health-care options. They oppose homosexuality—statistically one in ten people, which seems to me enough people that ostracizing them becomes a threat against all our freedoms. They wish to establish the primacy of Christianity in a nation that prides itself on religious freedom. It seems pretty clear that they wish to retain their racism while debating racism’s existence. In a nation of immigrants they see new immigrants as our greatest threat. And in the wake of our nation’s greatest financial meltdown, their first priority is to undo the regulations that would prevent any future predatory banking and investment.

 

I’ll never understand how they got so many people to vote against their own interests in the last election. I knew that we, as a nation, pay more attention to TV commercials than we do to our teachers, but I never realized that such superficiality went ‘to the bone’, all the way to our decision-making process. The fact that many of their stratagems relied upon the success of bare-faced lying left me with a sense of overwhelming futility—not just that they would tell lies, but that we would be ignorant enough to be taken in by them. The changes wrought by the Citizens United ruling on our democratic process have brought me close to despair.

 

Our democracy, once a marketplace of ideas, has been downgraded to a mere marketplace. Money bought the offices won in the last election, not honest appraisal. It seems the voters have forgotten to look at their own lives as an indicator of whom they should vote for. Today, they are urged, and very convincingly, to vote based on the fictitious bugaboos of the GOP media machine. Dirt-poor voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that oppose financial regulation and government subsidies of the poor. Ignorant voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that prefer funding our military to funding our educational system. The unemployed were persuaded to vote for the super-wealthy’s candidates, who were unanimous in denying the income-inequality gap.

 

It was an election of madness. We chose our own self-destruction, and walked out of the polling booths proud of ourselves. And the only thing saving us now is the Republicans’ inability to switch gears from obstructionism to actual governing. Having opposed our government for so long, they seem at a loss as to how to become our new government—as if it were a crime to do the job they were elected for.

 

I know that people, as a group, are incapable of intelligent decision-making. I wasn’t born yesterday. But I’m so tired of Stupid. Aren’t we all pretty exhausted with Stupid? I’d like to kick those bastards out of congress, but Stupid is so damn popular. It must be all that money—even an ugly idiot is popular, when he’s filthy rich. Is it self-loathing? Why else would we millions with so little money be attracted to those few who have too much? Even that I find incomprehensible—what do we think, that the rich are going to share? Sorry, but Sharing is not in the Rich Guy’s Handbook. Wake up to yourself already.

 

I’m a fairly well-educated guy—but I don’t know everything there is to know about politics. Maybe, in the end, the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. I know that Obama is special—even if the rank and file of the Democratic Party are no better than the their GOP counterparts, Obama is the best they have to offer—and his own party chose, at various times, to support him or not support him, based on the passing whims of the poll-takers. Perhaps Obama’s bare-faced progressivism has given me a false sense that the Democrats can save us from the Republicans. It’s entirely possible that they are just as bad, as a group.

 

But if we look at the two parties’ platforms, we see a decided left-leaning in the Democrats, and a definite right-wing flavor to Republican goals. And the characteristics of progressivism and conservatism, while they may have represented nothing more than a difference in opinion in days past, have real-world consequences in the present. Conservatives are somehow against literal conservation. Progressives are concerned that an individual can make too much progress, to the detriment of others. It’s a hall of mirrors. Just add arguments over syntax, stir, and Voila!—perpetual chaos. I’m too old for this shit.

 

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State Of What Union? (2015Jan21)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015                        5:25 PM

20140205XD-Men__botm_left_detail_(smallversnOf_SK-C-402)Last night President Obama made his annual State of the Union address—I enjoyed it, especially when he talked about us still being the United States of America (i.e. capable of working towards good things for all citizens) and when he described our present-day politics, rife with obstructionist posturings, and pointed out that it doesn’t have to be that way. I also agreed with most of his other talking points—but that’s not what I want to talk about.

After the speech, every Republican supporter had the same thing to say. (When is that not the case?) They all said that ‘Obama’s initiatives’ were impossible pipe-dreams; that he was simply trying to antagonize the GOP by ignoring their agenda. They may be right—I’m not omniscient. But right or wrong, it certainly is convenient for the GOP that Obama made these proposals. It afforded them the ‘out’ of being anti-Obama, without all the fuss of having to explain why they oppose the specifics of Obama’s proposals.

With his accrued layers (visible only to Tea-Party eyes) of demonic filth, Obama makes a handy punching bag—it’s certainly easier to explain opposing Obama than it is to explain their opposition to closing tax loop-holes for the super-wealthy, making community college tuition-free, or guaranteeing women equal pay. The few Republicans with still-functioning consciences squirmed in their seats, knowing they should join the Democrats in applauding Obama’s most humane, populist proposals—but they were all wearing invisible shields made of anti-Obama and all pleas for desirable legislation just bounced right off.

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But Obama isn’t the Second Coming, at least not entirely—he also lowered himself to threats of vetoes and bragging about what his administration has accomplished—O, feet of clay! But I forgave him the boasting because it was, by and large, factual—and we don’t elect our Presidents based on modesty. In fact, I thought it was a shameful display of sour grapes that the GOP couldn’t join in celebration of our resurrection from Recession and War, just because it would in some small way legitimize Obama’s presidency.

Now, about the vetoes. The Tea Party, for all their air-time and extremism, represent a tiny fraction of backward-thinking, fundamentalist-leaning business-leaders, and the hoi polloi who have need of the delusional matrix broadcast through Fox News and other media outlets (i.e., rednecks sober enough to make it to the polls once a year). The vast majority of adult Americans don’t want the XL pipeline, they want overall enhanced infrastructure and carbon-emissions reduction. The vast majority do not want to pay women less than men or ban gay marriage or ban abortion, they want to provide child-care to working families and defend the freedoms of every sex or sexual orientation. The vast majority of us do not care about protecting billionaires from paying their fair share of taxes, we want to narrow the income-inequality gap and protect the poor from living in fear and suffering, especially children being raised in poverty.

How does the GOP get away with championing big businesses to the detriment of working citizens? They call potentially helpful laws “Obama boondoggles” (which is far more personal and effective than the old scarecrow ‘socialism’). They characterize any effort to hold the super-wealthy, and corporations, to the same responsibilities (and taxes) as the middle class as ‘class-warfare’ or as an attack on ‘job creators’.

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Then they describe Obama’s veto threats as antagonistic—as if their agenda, to undo the last fifty years of progressivism, isn’t a direct attack on genuine American values. They focus their ire on Obama’s newest victories, especially the Affordable Care Act—but they are also trying to undo Roe v. Wade (from 1973), the Voting Rights Act (from 1965), and Social Security for seniors (from FDR’s New Deal). At their farthest extreme, they even seek to undo the separation of church and state, as they have succeeded in undoing any financial limits placed on campaign contributions. Shouldn’t the Republicans now more aptly be called the Regressionists? Has what once was a mere political party become a force, like Westernized ISIS, for returning us to the Dark Ages?

One might even make a connection to these threads of ‘Business Uber Alles’, ‘America as Iron Fist’, misogyny, and racism—and the proliferation of global terrorism. Muslims, as a group, are as diverse in their beliefs and lifestyles as Christians, or any other group—it is clear that the truly common denominator of all global terrorism is poverty, ignorance, and bad government.

The main difference is one of enlightenment. The GOP sees global terrorism as a welcome enemy, something on which the world’s most powerful military might sharpen its claws and test its new tech—whereas Obama, and other thinking people, see terrorism as a problem that needs to be solved—even if the solution doesn’t involve a glorious, bloody field of battle. The GOP tell themselves that ISIS just appeared out of thin air—that our focus should be on their extermination. Obama, and others, accept that ISIS was created by the global situation, that it may be impossible to ‘exterminate’ the problem without changing our own behavior.

But why do I waste my time? Those who agree with me already know all this—and those who disagree have long since disappeared up their own asses.

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Poor, Poor Jamie –or- ‘What’s That Smell?’ (2015Jan16)

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Friday, January 16, 2015                        12:50 PM

Two days ago, Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times reported that JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, ‘lashed out at regulators and analysts’, quoting Dimon as saying, “Banks are under assault”. As I looked at Dimon’s photograph next to the Popper article I understood for the first time just how much drama there is in investment banking. Dimon’s bland, style-less garb somehow managed to say, “We are very expensive clothes” without saying anything else; his pouty poker-face seems to proclaim ‘I’m better than anyone else in the room’ while his wooden body-language chimes in that ‘he’s not really so sure’.

I had my belly-full of these hand-tailored he-divas since their 90’s quest-to-become-‘Masters-of-the-Universe’ profiteering utterly destroyed our manufacturing base. Bankers’ exertions towards making the financial industry seem masculine and powerful have only gotten more extreme with the subsequent decades. Their attempts to make purchasing power, or high credit ratings, seem equivalent to bulging pecs or abs, are absolutely operatic. I see now that Dimon, rather than an able administrator of brokers and investors, is just the front-diva for an industry giant whose welfare relies almost wholly upon his projection of his company’s image as something it truly isn’t.

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Here’s a company that shares the blame, with all the other major investment banks, for the crash and Great Recession of 2008 (and the uncounted, unethical mortgage foreclosures they rushed through in its aftermath). Here’s a company that has recently been fined billions for unethical practices, a company that has just set aside another billion for further anticipated sanctions. Dimon even complains that new government insistence on greater capital holdings, which would make JPMorgan Chase a stronger element in our overall economy, would make the bank itself a weaker entity—as if that were a rational argument.

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Even non-government, industry-savvy analysts say the company would operate more efficiently and more profitably if it were broken up into several smaller companies—but Dimon insists his company’s bloated structure makes it a more effective bully or, as Mr. Popper put it, “argued that the bank’s size gave it many advantages against competitors — “the model works from a business standpoint,” Mr. Dimon said.”

Finally, to put the fear of God in all of us, Dimon suggests that regulating the ethical practices of American banks will allow some other country, mostly China—the boogeyman under our beds—to become the new world leader in banking. It’s pretty neat phrasing—he’s implying that unregulated, unethical American banking is vital to national security—but what security can such economic buggery truly offer us?

So I see now that Dimon is not actually the Chief Executive Officer of his bank, but of its public image. He knows that, like money itself, JPMorgan Chase’s value is only what others believe it to be. He seeks to match the recent monetization of politics with a politicization of money. While sticking his head up his own ass, he bids us follow him—to safety. Don’t go—it stinks in there.

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On Statesmen and Business Leaders (2015Jan15)

Thursday, January 15, 2015                             8:49 PM

Same stuff, different day: An improv, a few Beatles covers, and a cantankerous essay comprise your XperDunn blog-post for today:

 

 

 

 

On Statesmen and Business Leaders

The prior essay (“Do Your Worst”) unsettles me—I always want to take my temperature and blood pressure whenever I catch myself advocating anarchy and destruction. And I’ll cop to that—I’m a little ‘unstable’—I think is the fashionable term these days. But it’s also partially the fault of whoever’s in charge of our businesses and our government—they make it so that advocating anarchy is nothing more than a difference of degree to what we already endure. I’m not saying they suck—I’m saying they suck the big, hairy, hard one.

Neither am I talking about a mob—nor even a crowd. There are only one hundred senators and fifty state governors—and I doubt there are more than another 150 chairpersons of the kinds of bloated multi-national corporations that squat upon humanity and bring shit to everyone’s lives. So, say maybe three hundred and change, tops—that’s the number of people that keep the tens of millions of Americans from having decent, secure, dignified lives. That tiny army of power-mad mongrels does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us in misery. Just think—in the olden days, we’d need thousands upon thousands of these assholes to do the same job on so many people.

It’s impressive, too, when you consider that they all have to spend most of their time pretending to be the kind of person you’d invite into your home without worrying about the inviolability of your house-pets. These men, and a few women, too (let’s not be sexist about this) spend the whole day babbling vacuous PC-speak about values and concerns, initiatives and committees, convincing the gullible among us that they have some concern for the average citizen—yeah, right. It has become so accepted that their job-description precludes plain speaking that we have a special term for their lies—when someone is never comfortable with honesty, we call the noises they make with their mouths ‘spin’, which is a euphemism for BS, and plenty of it.

We have to call it ‘spin’. Can you imagine news-reports, otherwise? “This afternoon, the heads of the major investment banks told a bunch of lies. Five senators who head crucial senate sub-committees told even more lies. The CEO of America’s largest petroleum producer told a total of ten real whoppers that no one in their right mind would ever believe for a second. And now, the weather…”

And what do these people do when they are not busy ensuring our perpetual misery and lying through their asses about it? They spend a lot of money. They have to—there’s little else a soul-less, hollow shell of a human being can do to pass the time. They can’t have real relationships—that would involve emotional maturity—and while these people may be alpha dogs, strong and successful and loaded, the one thing they never have time or talent for is learning to know themselves, or to truly care for another. Outside of the rough and tumble schoolyard of corporate and political in-fighting, they remain the children that all business-leaders must be to devote so much energy and determination to something so trivial as being first amongst douchebags, the top of the shit heap.

So, while these idiots may enrage us, frustrate us, drive us to the very edge of sanity—we may nonetheless be thankful that, at least, we are not one of them. For while they may ultimately (and frightfully soon) bring the entire planet to death and ruin, and kill us all—they are already dead, insofar as the ability to truly live like a human being was never in their grasp.

But if you ask any of these psychos whether they, personally, are part of the group I’m addressing, they will, without pausing for breath, start explaining furiously how they could not possibly be one of the damnable damned—and you will then hear what we like to call ‘spin’.

Do Your Worst (2015Jan14)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015                        10:42 AM

In Politics, the news is full of stories about how the Dems did this, the GOPs did that, big business is lobbying and buying elections, legislation concerning health care, banking regulation, gay marriage, minimum wage, social security, ad infinitum—is being debated, blocked, criticized, snuck through, fought over, and stalemating the legislative process. Then elections happen, where all that stuff is ignored and the same old pols get re-elected. Occasionally (and this is new) the government shuts down in a fit of pique—politics as scorched-earth warfare—with the odd caveat that all that needs to happen to end the shut-down is for our elected officials to say so. This is what we call ‘representation’.

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In Money, the news is full of stories about how unemployment is slowly improving, but wages are not—even while big business seems to think that it’s in the middle of a burgeoning recovery. Energy and mining industries continue to destroy the environment in the name of the almighty dollar—and its latest poster-boy is Fracking—a method that permits America to supply its own petroleum, as long as we accept living with earthquakes and flammable tap-water. The overall thrust is that corporations are attacking mankind on two fronts—they attempt to enslave us all in various forms of draconian ‘employment’ while simultaneously buying government influence to pass laws that enforce their kill-or-be-killed economic paradigm. Meanwhile, ‘austerity’ programs ensure that none of the damage caused by all the unethical, inhumane corporate gamesmanship is balanced out by any government support of the disenfranchised.

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War and starvation are everywhere. The governments in such places are either unable or unwilling to end the suffering—and the larger, more powerful, neighboring countries pretend that their sovereign borders absolve them of any responsibility to help. That doesn’t stop them when it’s a matter of exerting their economic influence on trade partners—but when it concerns ‘just people’, the line is magically un-crossable.

Then there’s the arms industry. These folks are supplying the wherewithal for all war, terrorism, hand-gun deaths, and basically any violence more lethal than fisticuffs—yet they are never burdened with the responsibility, or the ethical onus, for any of this violence and suffering. Their profits are as ‘clean’ as a farmer’s, while their output continues to make a hell on earth. They are almost as repugnant as bankers.

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I won’t even get into the details of global terrorism, race-hatred, and misogyny—that’s just the icing on the shit sandwich that our civilization has become. Our ever-more-complex technology seems to spur chaos, rather than purposeful growth, organization, or cooperation between people, groups, states, or countries. And this is not happening on its own—it is being nurtured by a media industry that is controlled by psychopathic owners and aimed at sensationalism rather than elucidation. The crazier and more horrible a situation gets, the better they like it, and the louder and longer they shout about it. The more mature and civil an issue, the more they ignore it.

And these politicians, corporations, media outlets, and arms manufacturers do not operate in a vacuum. They’ve grown out of our responses—we watch their TV shows, buy their guns, vote for the pols, and go to work every day for these fat-cats. I won’t waste my breath suggesting that we stop watching TV, owning guns, voting for Republicans, or quit our jobs—but I have an idea.

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Corporate America, around the time of the great Japanese economic surge, got very frightened (or pretended to) and began adopting many Japanese business practices. Not the good ones, like guaranteed job security, but the ugly ones, like longer, unpaid hours, lower wages, and curtailed benefits. They sought not just to destroy the power of unions, but to deprive labor of any pride or self-worth—and they have succeeded.

Americans now consider themselves lucky to have a job, even a job with long hours, unlivable wages, and zero benefits—they just kill themselves holding two or three such jobs. So here’s my idea. We’ve all been treated like shit, so let’s all start doing a shitty job at work. Let’s do things wrong at work, like they do in life. Let’s lie about everything at work, like they do in life. Let’s make their profits evaporate, like they did ours. Let’s show them that, while they may at some future date replace us all with machines, that we are still human beings—and while we are, we are going to kick back when someone kicks us in the teeth. If they want to ignore our humanity, let’s rub it in their faces.

Do your worst at work. The people in charge have gotten used to taking advantage of their positions—let’s all start doing the same.

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Super Hero? I’d Settle For An Average One. (2015Jan03)

Saturday, January 03, 2015                    2:19 PMadven312

I saw a discussion of “The Secret History Of Wonder Woman” on some book-talk of CSPAN’s just the other day—and just now, before being interrupted, I was watching a PBS documentary about Comic Book Super Heroes. I love to see this celebration of my boyhood head-space, just as I enjoyed the explosion of Sci-Fi obsession that came with “Star Wars” and the invention of CGI-FX. Unlike the occasional, and temporary, popularization of classical music, or poetry, caused by a temporal confluence with a trending meme or personality, the popularization of Sci-Fi, and of Super-Heroes, is permanent, due to hyper-commercialization of these genres.

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Everyone recognizes that commercializing classical music or poetry is just another way of saying ‘ruin’ classical music or poetry. The genesis of our iconic hero-images, and our dreams of space exploration and new sciences, was equally, delicately human—but their beginnings as ‘pulps’, unchallenging works aimed at an audience of children and the simple-minded, caused them to be born with an ingrained ‘wow’ factor. So we learn that Superman was the brain-child of Jewish sons of immigrants during Hitler’s rise to power—but we also learn that they were paid something like $5 a page for their work, with the copyright for one of the most popular and enduring (and profitable) trademarks in history going to the owners of the comic franchise.

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While they dreamed of a Superman to arise and smite down Hitler’s Fascism and Anti-Semitism, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were ensconced in the comfortable slavery we call ‘employment’. The idea that one person can pay another to do work is fairly simple and straightforward—and I have no beef with that concept. The idea that such a relationship entitles the employer to ownership of a worker’s ideas, or creativity—someone is going to have to explain that one to me. Some people get confused about employment—an employer is buying the work, not the person—but not everyone is comfortable with that distinction—especially people that leech off of the brilliant and creative.

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Such abuse of ownership and employment has been popularized as a feature of the music and movie industries, but it is a standard feature of American Capitalism. First-time artists in publishing, games, theater, music, movies, and television are never allowed to retain the rights to their earliest (and sometimes greatest) creations—the owners claim it as a right due to a first-time investor in an unproven product. It is remarkable that only the truly successful artists get a say in the ownership and use of their productions—and in the movie business, where billions can rest on a single picture, even a mega-star will find himself or herself still subject to the whims of the ‘money people’.

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But Capitalism resists even so basic a human right for their employees as collective bargaining—so it is not surprising that it tramples on the rights of the lone, creative employee. Capitalism has, as one of its givens, a rule—that an employer is not responsible for paying employees what they need, only for the value of their work. This and many other sensible-seeming axioms are the rationales that Capitalism uses to explain away the suffering it causes and the unfairness it perpetuates. But in the case of an employee not being paid what is needed to survive, who is responsible? FDR, who was loathe to criticize Capitalism, felt that the government should step in, should help the underpaid and unemployed keep from starving or freezing to death. Truman went further, and determined that the government should see that poor people don’t die from treatable illnesses.

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All this time, as Capitalism grows stronger from paying people whatever pittance they deem them worthy of, Capitalism’s top players start to kick against the taxes they have to pay the government—apparently, they heard the government was keeping their employees from starving, like the little people are supposed to. Now, since 2008, things are back the way they should be, with austerity programs preventing even a little of the filthy rich’s money from going to the dirty wretches who work for them (or aren’t being hired by them).

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But let’s change the subject. One of America’s biggest problems today is obesity, particularly childhood obesity. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, runs a special program to fight this scourge that attacks our nation’s children. Now turn on the TV and watch during primetime—you’ll see a parade of commercials that are practically pornographic in their depiction of fast foods, tasty beverages, and sweet snacks lacking any known nutritional value, but containing the latest mystery chemical additive from their laboratory. How much harder this must make the fight for all those of us trying to control our diets. But we can’t interfere with the rights of Capitalism, can we? Those companies have a right to sell their product—they even have the right to schedule seductive, high-production-value food commercials for when people are at their weakest and most easily-influenced.

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This is no different than the petroleum industry’s penchant for destroying thousands of miles of beach habitat because they’re too cheap to build non-leaking tankers. These companies have a right to do business. But who are these people? Who makes the decision that it’s okay to dump poisonous industrial waste into the Hudson River, of all places? Who decides that employees, by virtue of being paid, lose their right to a safe and healthy work environment? What kind of person does that?

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When did it become the government’s problem to pick up the slack where Capitalism turns a blind eye to humanity? People will tell you that Money and Survival are the same thing—that no one can survive without money. But this is only true in the immediate sense. In the long term, with proper planning, we can easily transform the world into a place where money is not the only means of survival. It is only true now because Capitalism says it’s so. Capitalism insists that Commerce is a blood sport. However, the true roots of Commerce lie in exchange and cooperation—Capitalism has deformed that into a competition. And since Capitalism makes the rules, it’s winning the game. Unfortunately, it is no longer just Communism, but all of Humanity, that is losing.

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Do you remember being in high school, thinking about how you were just a few years from adulthood but were trapped in an environment that more closely resembled a Kindergarten? I always felt that, yes, we students were young, irresponsible, and unruly—but the faculty and administration were equally at fault for focusing on our failings and immaturity, instead of trying to bring out the burgeoning maturity of our years. And now, as my fifty-ninth birthday approaches, I find myself feeling a similar dissatisfaction with the global community. When will we stop running the world like a Kindergarten? Where can we find leadership that brings out our best and moves us forward? When will business leaders stop clowning around like children and adopt the responsible attitudes of adulthood?

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“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two – Chapter Six (2014Nov30)

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We have created a force, Capitalism, which deforms, by its nature, the culture that embraces it too closely. Where public education was once approved as a public good, it is now a profit-center—its students have become its customers. Where incarceration was once a sad necessity, it is now a profit-center—its prisoners have become its employees. Where political office was once a empowering of one citizen to oversee the public welfare, it is now a self-perpetuating fund-raising organization. Its office-holders have stopped formulating the greatest good for the greatest number and now calculate merely the best way to increase campaign revenue.

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What went wrong? Let’s step back a bit, and look at ourselves in the past. In the past we struggled against nature and against ourselves. In the past, being strong, even violent, often meant winning the day. But now we have technology that must be restrained, weaponry that ought never to be used, unspoiled habitats that still provide clean air, clean water, and biodiversity—which must be protected, now that their numbers are grown so few. It has become so easy to hurt and kill each other that to continue the violent ways of the past means certain slaughter—and we have ample evidence of this, and will continue to have more such.

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In the past, there was no mechanism for international coordination or compromise. The United Nations and the World Court have virtually no power in their present states, but their very creations were indicative of our awareness that both war and crime are evils without borders, and that the best way to combat them is to organize forces of good that recognize no borders. The fact that these institutions remain little more than place-keepers, bookmarks on good ideas, is due largely to our focus on Capitalism. Ceding sovereign power is too close to ceding ownership to sit well in the minds of the rich and powerful—not to mention the benefits that multinationals obtain from the ‘chinese walls’ between the laws of taxation and regulation in separate nations.

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In the past, we could rely on the large-ness of the globe and the chaotic nature of global humanity—secrets were easily kept and keeping the masses uninformed was child’s play. In large part, we colluded in our own ignorance by hewing to the concept that some things were too distasteful to discuss publicly. And we colluded in our tacit agreement that women and girls were somehow less than men and boys, that dark skins were somehow less than pale skins, that the rich were more worthy than the poor, etc. But these obsolete attitudes have given way to the clarity of holding our leaders accountable. They may still get away with corruption, collusion, obfuscation, and obstructionism—but they may no longer pull the strings of our traditional hatreds without a good-sized minority calling them out in the media for this kind of manipulation.

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America is particularly vulnerable to modern changes. We have, historically speaking, just reached the end of our growth as a country—we didn’t add our last two states until 1958. The ‘becoming’ of the fifty states was still alive with changes, construction, development, and growth until very recently. But now we have the many small towns being strangled out of existence by malls and superstores, which have themselves begun to see oblivion in the face of online shopping. We have fishing villages on every coastline that have withered under the onslaught of commercial fisheries. We have industry after industry disappearing behind the waves of robotics, computers, and the internet—millions of human jobs that need never be done again. Good news for the business owner, bad news for the worker—and the culture.

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We seem to have fully blossomed—the ripeness of American life during the last half of the last century appears to have been a peak—and we see signs everywhere that America is beginning to de-stabilize. Opportunity has always been the main engine behind American ascendance. The growing income-inequality, the stranglehold of big business lobbies on legislation, and many other post-modern symptoms of Capitalist excesses which encroach on the weaknesses in Democracy—these things bring the notion of one person striking out into business for themselves further and further from reality and closer to a nostalgic fantasy akin to the horse-drawn buggy.

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There is also an apparent willfulness to our current stagnation. In the past quarter century we’ve gone from first among nations in college graduates, to twelfth—yet we have no national (or state or local) race to renew and improve our public education system. We have not only ceased to expand our infrastructure with new roads, bridges, and power-grids, we’ve lost the will to maintain the infrastructure we had.

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We have always deluded ourselves into having faith in Capitalism, as if it were some branch of physics—a mathematical purity, self-correcting, self-policing, compelled by its nature to be of benefit to all mankind. Even today there are those who will enthusiastically explain how all our difficulties are caused by our refusal to let Capitalism have its head, so to speak. But economics has never been merely a branch of mathematics—it contains within it (recognized or not) the history of humankind’s struggle over ownership and possession.

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When we talk about double-entry accounting, computerized inventory databases, and how to calculate the 8.25% sales tax on your department store purchase—it’s easy to think of Capitalism as having the precision of a gram scale and the inherent fairness of a court of law. But consider, dear reader, the familiar figure of the business-owner—an entrepreneur starts up a business and hires employees to do the work. The business-owner pays the employees a salary. The business makes a profit (one hopes). The business-owner pays the salaries and keeps all the rest of the profit. This is normal.

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But does that paradigm have the elegance and inherent fairness of a mathematical equation? Is it right? What if the company makes millions of dollars for the business-owner, and the employees’ salaries are a tiny fraction of that? Capitalism states that a business-owner, by virtue of owning the business, is perfectly right to retain all the profits to him-or-herself. Further, it is perfectly right to pay employees’ salaries based on the cost of labor, not on the value of the product of the labor. I suspect, without having lived a lifetime of Capitalist culture, I might see something unjust in that set-up.

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If we look at the history of the popular music industry, we see examples of musical artists whose greatness resulted in mass sales of recordings and licenses—all profits of which went to business-owners whose only justification for this was a legal agreement of ownership of the musician’s creations as terms of employment. And we also see court cases where this glaring injustice has, more recently, resulted in rulings that award greater protection to the creators of original content. In spite of that, popular music (and the entertainment industry in general) is still rife with business practices that reward those with ownership over those that produce what is owned.

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Back when employees in many industries could plan on starting a business of their own, this inherently unfair system had a silver lining. The idea was you were a virtual slave of someone else until you could manage to own your own place—at which point you would become one of the slave-owners, and could forget about that whole mess. In many ways, it mimicked the old concept of parenting. But with giant corporations filling virtually every marketing and service niche available, even the new businesses that appear out of thin air (like programming ‘apps’) are ephemeral things, quickly consolidated into the workings of some electronics giant’s new division.

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The current reality for the 99% is employment—and even that modern enslavement is considered dream-worthy to the substantial percentage of chronically unemployed. The average law-abiding citizen is given working hours, corporate policies to adhere to, bosses they must obey—and as little as possible in the way of compensation or benefits. In the old days, some business-owners believed that profit-sharing programs would increase productivity and loyalty among workers—this old applesauce is roundly laughed at today, in spite of its still being true, even without it being practiced.

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And that is one example of what has changed about Capitalism—business-owners once looked for ‘win-win’-type solutions—our new killer-Capitalism insists that only the ‘Win’, singular, is of any relevance. Worse was the Dilbert-ification of the office environment. Cubicles introduced a blatant ‘cattle’ aspect to office work—the sameness, the lack of elbow room, the almost purposeful de-humanization of the work area. But to me the greatest over-reach was the appearance in employee-policy handbooks of the banning of personal items at workstations—suddenly, no one could put up a picture of their children, keep a potted plant, indulge in a tchotchke (or ten). While there was truth to the claim that some abused the privilege and created cluttered, unprofessional work areas—it still seemed an opportunity for guidelines and limits, rather than a total ban on personalization.

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But banning something humane fits right in with the mind-set of business-owners and their managerial goons. Give any human being the slightest whiff of authority and suddenly they’re not happy unless they’re telling everyone else what to do—it’s human nature.

While the dehumanizing of employees is certainly nothing new, it becomes an issue when civilization seems to measure progress by Capitalist sign-posts rather than the causes of humanity and justice. The arrow of human rights followed a seemingly direct course, right from the Enlightenment, through the American Revolution, right up to the defeats of Fascism and Communism. We continue to win victories in this battle with the legal end of segregation, the fights for feminism, rights for the disabled, and gay rights. But we also see Capitalism taking some of our self-evident human rights away from humanity as a whole (whether in their roles as employees or consumers) and for reasons that many deem justified (such is their submergence in the logic of money).

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Consider the air, dear reader. Is there any significance to the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, or the right to free speech—if we are denied the right to breathe—or to drink clean water? Much wailing has gone up, since Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and for all the decades after—and even now—over the fact that we can’t stop destroying the environment without destroying civilization. But I don’t see it that simply. We could curtail our destruction of the environment and still maintain the bulk of civilization—but we would have to destroy Capitalism to do it. We would have to end the primacy of ownership over justice and place humanity’s welfare above the posturings of nations and stockholders and financiers. Civilization could easily come out of it better off—but certain very powerful individuals would not. And that would mean war. And war always has the truth as its first casualty—so that’s not going to work.

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And don’t get me wrong—I’m well aware that people will always find some other way to use each other, and hurt each other, even without money as the nail to hang it all on. But Capitalism has grown into a globally-interlocking behemoth with a momentum even its One-Percenters can no longer control. It forces all of us, nay, hurries all of us towards the cliff of profit-without-consequence. It destroys ways-of-life for whole communities, corrupts the governance both local and national, and dehumanizes everything that can be turned to profit—which, in today’s Capitalism, means everything and everyone.

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While we continue to fight for human rights in our laws and in our government, we lose more ground than we gain due to the encroachments of business practices. Business leaders and their pawns (including many a congressperson and senator) will explain that homelessness, lack of health care, indecent wages, and the loss of clean air and water—are all things that must be looked at in terms of profit and loss. We must begin to ask, “Whose profit? Whose loss?” Is one person’s right of ownership greater than another’s right to survive? And if it is, why do we bother to talk about human rights? If the world’s economy can be held over our heads while plutocrats lord it over the needy millions, and trash the planet, and dissolve our way of life, is Capitalism our guiding light—or is it the train entering the far end of the tunnel?

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Like all evils, Capitalism is deceptively simple—with darkly complex underpinnings. Ideas of charity and sacrifice are excluded from the logic of business—but not from the business of being a human being. Ideas of conservation and renewable resources, that were so idealist-seeming, have become matters of species survival—and money-lovers are still trying to argue that fact away, because ownership and responsibility don’t align very well. The wealthy try to build high-rise apartments that overshadow Central Park—as if the substantiality of the building overrules the existence of the mere shadow. And this is the problem with Capitalism—it deals in the immediate and substantial and discounts the ephemeral, where true meaning is often found.

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Once, Americans could turn away from the harsh world of money, industry, and big cities—and find a haven in the more natural corners of the earth. Capitalism was a mosh-pit in which we could choose to participate or walk away. Civilization was once so small that this could be accomplished simply by climbing up into the mountains that surrounded a populous valley. But then it became a matter of going where people could barely survive, like the arctic circle, or the deserts. Now, of course, the world is full. We may not bother to grace the inhabitants with infrastructure, education, or even sufficient food and water—but we nevertheless ‘do business’ there, wherever ‘there’ is. We drill for oil, mine for diamonds or coal, chop down the forests and poach the wildlife (what’s left of it).

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We destroy, in the process, the old ways of life, the flora and fauna that once supported undeveloped cultures, we net all the fish, kill all the whales—we might as well shoot each and every one of those people in the head. And all because some multinational has so much money that they can pay the tin-pot dictators that have ‘sovereign rule’ over these victims. It was bad enough when we thought that only the third world was vulnerable to the moneyed interests—now we have the same kinds of people paying off our own politicians, running oil pipelines from one end of America to the other, spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing off all the bees with pesticides, and using untested GMO crops in place of healthy foods. We’re all going to die—and we are all unified in our support of our killer, Capitalism.

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Capitalism was a means to an end—prosperity. Now that prosperity for all mankind is a possibility, Capitalism has become the only thing keeping us from it. We crossed the finish line, but business-owners want us all to keep running our rat race, keep up productivity, keep those profits rolling in—it’s insane. But I don’t want to get rid of money—that’s just as crazy. No, we need something more nuanced—limits on money. We need limits on what money can buy, and limits on which places and things are considered outside of the rule of Capitalism, by virtue of their ethical or ecological qualities. And to start out with the most important change, we need separation of cash and state.

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The pilgrims, having left Europe because of religious persecution, found that they had brought religious strife with them—and saw separation of church and state as the only solution to their looming self-destruction. They did not think their religion was unimportant—quite the contrary. But they could see that religion empowered by law was a weapon that could cut everyone. Neither is Capitalism unimportant, but Money as the only Law is an equally dangerous blade, or more so—as it is poised to cut the entire world open.

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Political Arrangements! (2014Nov18)

What a day! I wrote a song, “Obama Went A-Courtin”; I played through two challenging piano arrangements, George Shearing’s take on “If I Give My Heart To You” and Bob Zurke’s version of “I’m Thru With Love”; and I threw in a couple of short improvs, just for fun…

 

“If I Give My Heart To You”
by Jimmie Crane, Al Jacobs, Jimmy Brewster
(c) 1953 Miller Music Corp.
Piano Interpretation by George Shearing:

 

“I’m Thru With Love”
words by Gus Kahn
Music by Matt Malneck, Fud Livingston
(c) 1931 MGM Inc.
Piano Solo Arranged by Bob Zurke:

 

My Turn To Talk (2014Oct24)

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Friday, October 24, 2014                     4:50 PM

I want to talk to these people. For starters, it isn’t fair that their personal stupidity gets so much exposure while the rest of us are stuck talking only to our small circle of friends and neighbors. I want to talk to Don Young, Chris Christie, Nan Hayworth, that bubble-brain on FOX news (Yeah, which one? I know.) and that 17-year-old walking pimple from Australia who likes ISIS, and killing people. I want to tell you all something.

You’re all assholes—stupid, sick, selfish, stuck-up, stupid assholes. Did you notice I used ‘Stupid’ twice? Yeah, that was on purpose. But don’t worry—you five are certainly not alone. There’s Rick Perry—Texas asshole. There’s Rand Paul—Kentucky asshole. There’s Vlad Putin—Russian asshole (bonus points—it’s not easy to make your ignorance stand out in Russia!) There’s Republicans as a whole—what a bunch of eyes-tight-shut assholes you people are. Nothing personal—you’re all just as stupid as mud, that’s all.

And a lot of you are evil motherfuckers, as well. Don’t get me wrong—you’re still unbelievably stupid—but evil, too. And in such a dazzling variety of ways—you’re selfish, you’re greedy, you’re xenophobic, you’re homophobic, you’re afraid of girls, you’re afraid of educated people—you’re even afraid of the thoughts in your own damn heads. How’s that for cowardice? What makes these lily-livered, piss-yellow cry-babies think that their fear-mongering is something the rest of us in the world have the slightest use for? Too scared to think straight, I guess.

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Koch brothers? Are you listening? Your mother should have strangled the both of you with your own umbilicals—you think being rich makes you right? Sorry—being rich just makes you bigger assholes. But stay rich, please—if that’s what it’s like, heaven protect the rest of us—you two are already beyond all hope—a  pair of scumbags with enough money to spread the fame of your idiocy far and wide. I guess I’m lucky—when I have something idiotic to say, at least I can’t afford a billboard to plaster it on.

So which makes me the most angry—you pack of morons, or the morons that feature you in the media, to the point of obscuring anything that really matters? It’s a tough call. Stupidity is generous to you all. But, no—it’s still you idiots. The people that have to make a living have at least some sort of excuse to do the stupid things they do—they’re not in charge of Stupid—that’s all on you, you self-important bags of excrement, you.

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All that being said, here’s a piano improvisation in the same, damn-the-torpedoes vein:

 

 

And just to keep everything civil, here’re some pleasanter words from far pleasanter people…

 

The Specialization of People (2014Jul03)

20140630XD-JuneDrowsesAway 019 The feudal system of the Middle Ages was a fairly simple system—there was little confusion. There may have been great wrong done, great good done, but it was not confusing. When one person makes all the rules, one person decides on the dreams, the goals, and the right and wrong of things—decisions become straightforward. I’m simplifying, certainly—the Middle Ages saw antagonism between the church and the monarchy, between the monarchy and the nobility, and between high-born and low-born. But the patriarchal, top-down pyramid of authority overlay all of those differences. Racism was total—but made little difference in a world where strangers from the neighboring town were remarkable—and the rare Moor or Oriental was more a novelty than a cultural concern. Feminism was non-existent—as were Gay Rights—and Liberty, for that matter. The Middle Ages were so authoritarian that no chorus of voices was ever raised in favor of changes of any kind. Indeed, keeping one’s mouth shut was a survival skill.

With the coming of the United States, democratic republics began to supplant the absolute rule of royalty—and this complicated matters greatly relative to the Middle Ages. Suddenly, different needs and goals became cause for debate—more than one man could have a say in the direction of our efforts and the following of our dreams. The Dutch had set an example for the American Colonies by foregoing their monarchy in exchange for a Republic—but the representatives in their ruling body were so numerous and contentious that their government was virtually paralyzed.

The newly-born USA had a more well-thought-out constitution, so we didn’t have that specific first-step problem. What we did have were separate states that were nominally willing to subsume their sovereignty under a united federation—what we now think of as the federal government. These thirteen states (and those to follow) all had different cultures, with different interests—and their struggle to compromise all these differences into a federal whole consisted mostly of issues concerning borders, trade, and transportation.

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But before the Civil War, the overlaying pattern remained that of Men having authority, whether over an entire state or a single family. Women had no legal claim to any rights or property outside those their husbands or their fathers chose to grant them. Africans were imported as slaves. Natives were dismissed as wild savages without any civil claim to their homelands. In this way, America became even more specific—White Men now had all authority—everyone else was considered subject to them, in one way or another. So, despite the growing number of states, each with their own character, one truth held sway over all—white men determined the goals and dreams of their cultures—and those needs had uniformity.

But now we have an American society which must address many different goals and needs. Women, minorities, children, the disabled, the mentally-challenged, the non-Christians, religious fundamentalists, the LGBT population, undocumented migrants, the poor, and the gifted—all these special groups of needs and dreams require different things, different laws—even different ideas.

That’s where the confusion comes in. The one thing human civilization never developed was a system that served multiple interests—monolithic authoritarianism has always protected us from this complexity—but no more. The plethora of problems we now face are in large part due to the plethora of freedoms we have been evolving. Authority, to some extent, is gone—and the complex culture its demise has engendered contains a tangle of many threads, many needs, many goals—and those threads are easily snarled.

 

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Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that these special ‘groups’ are not discrete groups—their members live next door to each other, even in the same family’s home—and every adjustment made for the benefit of one group impacts the adjustments required for all the other groups. This condition reminds me of Newton’s research—at one point, Newton wanted to know not only the rate-of-change in velocity, but the rate-of-change of the rate-of-change in acceleration, and so he invented a new mathematics called Calculus. What we need to do is to invent a ‘calculus’ of social justice—a process so complicated that we have never needed it before, and so never realized it’s importance.

People are well aware that our modern times are almost chaotically complex—and they’re aware of the need to change to meet these new challenges. But I suspect people are not aware of how deeply that change must cut into our usual expectations. For example, we mostly agree that habitat destruction, climate change, and toxic waste will render our home planet uninhabitable—yet we hardly know what to do beyond wringing our hands—the problem seems unsolvable. That may be because all of our previous problem-solving paradigms are too simple to tackle such an intricate dilemma.

And the one thing that retains authority, Money, makes a vice of change—we’ll never be able to start working on our ‘social calculus’ until the voices of money and power cease to manufacture the seeming paradoxes they throw at us, using over-simplified examinations of overly-complicated issues.

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If we don’t overcome their ‘enforced stupidity’, the job of analyzing ourselves as a ‘multi-body problem’ will only become more intransigent. I’m reminded of an Asimov essay about scientific specialization—he pointed out that at the beginning of the university system, being a ‘renaissance man’, i.e having an education in everything, was still possible—there were a limited number of books and a relatively small amount of written knowledge. But once the ball got rolling, mathematics (as an example) grew to contain the mathematics of astronomy, chemistry, engineering, etc.—and that these sub groups developed sub-sub groups and so on, until today we have to pick a small pocket of a sub-sub-sub specialization, if we want to really ‘know it all’.

The specialization of people is progressing in the same way—we once thought of the ‘women’ issue as ‘feminism’—a single topic. But now we have reproductive rights, sex slavery, genital mutilation, gender-role indoctrination, equal pay and opportunity, lesbian rights, et. al. Feminism is now a ‘group heading’. And these sub-issues are themselves potential ‘group headings’, as each issue reveals differences of culture or commerce or religion. To include ‘feminism’ in our new paradigm of societal calculus becomes a more complex question with every passing day—and this is true for all our new ‘components’ of ‘the will of the people’.

‘The will of the people’ once had a monochromatic undertone, as if the people all wanted one thing, or at most, one group of things. Now that we recognize that ‘the people’ represent a diversity of ‘will’s, we must recognize that our methods of obtaining that ‘will’ must have a matching complexity. And as complexity begets complexity, we need to have an ‘open architecture’ to our system that will allow for the inevitably greater specialization of people (and their will).

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So my heart rests easy, for the moment—I had despaired of a society with so infinite a number of problems—but now I recognize that our old ways of understanding the will of the governed need a quantum-leap of enhancement to match the explosion of authority into true individuality.

At first look, it seems impossible that there should ever come a day when we shake loose the shroud of pettifogging confusion that besets us through the courtesy of the mass media—and the super-rich cronies that manipulate it to our unending turmoil of talk, debate, and misrepresentation blaring from every LCD screen. The practice of displaying arguments between the ignorant and the learned as ‘controversy’, rather than the celebration of stupidity it truly is—this ‘teaching the controversy’ way of questioning that which is beyond the point of reasonable question—is a sad and twisted sophistry of education itself. Only those with the insight of higher education (but lacking the integrity of what we may call ‘wisdom’) could have conceived of this childish stratagem. Its internal logic holds steady, but its deepest predicates are flawed—and its results are specious rather than meticulous. Once having strayed into it, like barbed-wire, we seem to be quite stuck.

The idea that big money will loosen its control of the populace to the point of unfettered, ground-breaking social experimentation seems even more impossible than our extrication from mass media’s zombie-light. But the world was a very different place not so long ago—and there is no reason to think that we won’t see even greater change to come. There are some changes that I would personally love to witness.

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Salwa Bugaighis, prominent Libyan activist, was assassinated nine days ago—she was a selfless promoter of a better, more democratic Libya and so, of course, she was shot dead. Politicians rarely get assassinated—great people, great leaders, who may or may not be politicians, are the ones who get assassinated. I was traumatized somewhat, in my childhood, by the assassination of JFK. He was my hero, he was the President of the United States, and he was gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of the street. Boom. That sudden knowledge rearranged my perception of the world I lived in—it put a dark filter on what was until then a thoughtless, hazy assumption of ‘right in the world’.

Then my growing up was peppered by repeated examples: MLK, RFK, Malcolm X… and I learned that Gandhi had also died by an assassin’s gun. The women of the Middle East (and specifically of the Arab Spring) are continuing this proud (for them) but shameful (for us) tradition—the more humanitarian their goals, the faster they are gunned down– Salwa Bugaighis is the latest in such a long line that her death barely made the news.

My greatest living hero is Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who champions education, particularly for girls—she was shot in the face (and neck) by would-be assassins, but she was too tough for them, and survived. She continues her work today and is, IMHO, the brightest light on the face of the Earth today.

 

our Bee-Balms...

our Bee-Balms…

 

The sad truth, however, is that she was lucky—and that those animals will probably try again. Thus, I would like to see a world where our best and truest leaders are not gunned down the minute they show their heads. How we get there I couldn’t say—but I would like that very much.

Another change I’d like to see in the world is a new attitude towards money. I’d like to see people who have too much of it feel ashamed of themselves—and I’d like to see the rest of us treating them like the sociopaths they truly are. I’d like to see a proportional increase in our respect for those in want—and an embarrassment with ourselves whenever we fail to do all we can to make their lives as safe and comfortable as our own.

We can appreciate when a football star takes a big hit—we say, “Wow! Did you see that? What a guy!” We should be able to apply the same values to the needy. I mean, wow!, here are people sleeping outdoors in winter, going a whole day without food, having to walk wherever they need to go. Such people! I’m impressed—partly with their strength and courage, but partly because, as with watching the football star, we are much happier being impressed with their struggle than having to actually live through it ourselves, out on that field, taking those hits.

I’d like ‘world peace’ too—but that’s just silly.

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To close, I want to state that I am an atheist on permanent disability—there is no question that my needs and goals are specialized, differing greatly from the norm, as well as from the many other non-norms. I don’t wish to be granted anything at the expense of someone else’s need—I want to be counted as a part of a great whole, and given my portion. And I believe most people would not begrudge me my existence, so long as it doesn’t place an unfair disadvantage on their specialty-group. But such a desire is a question of epic complexity—well beyond the two-dimensional capabilities of our current system—and will require something that doesn’t presently exist—a science of balanced compromise within a diverse citizenry.

We come from competition—we evolved from a place in the food chain, after all—our legal process is adversarial, our political process is adversarial, our sports are adversarial—even our educational institutions are competitive in nature. This simple one-on-one process is an excellent way to settle simple yes/no types of questions. But the more complex social constructions we must develop will only seize up in the face of such simple-minded algorithms. We will have to become a ‘family of man’. We will have to change from competitors to cooperators, if only to allow for complexity.

But competitiveness is innate—many groups will continue to find that depriving another group of its rights is a victory for ‘their’ side. The competitive paradigm will beat back any attempts at cooperation—I can even now hear my more conservative acquaintances shouting, “Communism!” at any thought of a government system that allows for anything to trump personal freedom or economic might. And while I don’t advocate what has historically been named ‘communism’, I must insist that we do live in common with each other—we are a community. Just as we do, indeed, care about our society, in spite of our horror of becoming ‘socialists’. Cooperation, too, is a dirty word, when shortened to co-op. But the villainous character we ascribe to community action, social engineering, and cooperation in good will, is insane without the presumption that the people who live this way are the enemies of freedom.

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Thus, while I optimistically look forward to the betterment of our global condition, there is no guarantee that social calculus and community spirit will manifest itself out of thin air. It will have to straggle through the many attempts to use our present complexity as a rallying-cry for those who would solve the problem by reneging on the social progress we have so recently made. Our present society makes a tempting Gordian Knot—while we may wish to patiently tease out the many twists, more bellicose thinkers will do their damnedest to just slice the thing apart. Complexity may be solved with calculus, but it can just as easily be solved by simplifying things, i.e. ceasing to care about the rights and needs of some of us for the convenience of others.

But like Hitler’s ‘final solution’, that is a primitive urge masquerading as a modern concept—we must go forward with humanitarian aims, or there will be no point in going forward—except for the lucky(?) few.

 

Our little baby watermelon--coming along...

Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

 

Paradox for June 13th, 2014

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Happy Friday the Thirteenth everyone.

What am I going to do about this fungal infection behind my ear? Now that I can afford three meals a day, why does my stomach hurt so much? If my electricity is off how will I take a shower? If I leave my top pants-button unbuttoned behind my belt buckle, I don’t have to spend money on new clothes that fit.

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So there’s no great mystery to my affection for “The Princess Diaries”, or even “The Princess Diaries II: Royal Wedding”—nothing is more comforting than the problems of young, wealthy royalty when trying to escape from the problems of being less-than-young and less-then-wealthy. And I might as well face it—the only person more adorable than the young Anne Hathaway is the grande dame herself, Julie Andrews—and the pair of maids does the cutest step-n-fetchit two white girls ever managed.

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Does this mean my insides are just a big stew of hogs-wallow? Well, I suppose so—I’ve always been soft-centered—there’s nothing but goo in there, really. If I was a tough guy, I would have been built of sterner stuff. But I’m not, never have been, and the world has been going my way on many fronts since my earliest childhood—that was when the pressure against corporal punishment in schools led to arrests and firings of the worst offenders. My older brothers spoke of kids being jacked up against the wall, punched, slapped—but it was all a memory by the time I began to haunt the halls of academia.

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Tolerance grew in northeast America almost side-by-side with me—and my failings (as they would have been seen a few years earlier) became virtues as each year slipped by—my respect for women became acceptable, then somewhat mandatory. My inability to understand prejudice, instead of putting me on the wrong side of my culture, became more and more the public norm. The sixties and the seventies were a unique time when the good-hearted people became activists—ever since, and virtually ever before, the political activists have been the angry fringe. But the inertia of those days still creates a higher ground for those advocating increased inclusion and equality.

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LGBT activism has yielded a whole new world of secularists versus fundamentalists—the legislation and the courts favor inclusion of gays, but the fundamentalists can still be very damning of this segment of our population—one I know of even calls publicly for their execution! But the main effect is to push religion firmly into the camp of conservatives. Secularists get along fine with the more reform-oriented faiths—but even now it is difficult to say, “Well, the religious right will just have to suck it up.” Fundamentalists are a fiery lot, by and large, and they could easily become our own domestic ‘Al-Qaeda’, if they’re not handled delicately.

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Religious freedom suddenly becomes a contentious concept—a fundamentalist sees no problem with advocating that their religious beliefs be made into laws—which is the opposite of traditional religious freedom (and of literal religious freedom). They seem to think that being denied the freedom to remake our laws in the name of the Bible is a denial of their religious freedom—but religious freedom, while guaranteeing our freedom to worship as we please, also guarantees that no one can impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

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Outside of the bastions of fundamentalism—or, I should say, pockets of it—there is a large population of nominal Christians who ‘believe in God’ and even believe in the teachings of Christ (in that he taught us to love and forgive each other) but never go to church, or only go to church on Easter and Christmas. They are amenable to the LGBT community, to equality for women, and even to the use of Marijuana as medicine—they take the ‘love’ part seriously, but they don’t care much for millennia-old rules about diet and lovemaking.

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I won’t complicate the issue by trying to prove these people are non-religious, or even anti-religious. But these quasi-Christians are undeniably in favor of expanding our inclusion of all people, all genders—even all religions—and in that sense, they are anti-fundamentalists. Their love for their fellow person is so strong that they cannot deny the religion that legitimizes it—but it also forces them to deny the stringent judgments of fundamentalists.

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And as this social progress makes the world a friendlier place, there is an ironic counter-progress that empowers corporations and constrains individuals more and more each day. We will finally have a free-and-equal-spirited society—and it will arrive on the same day that our government has been manipulated into canceling freedom in the name of capitalism. If there were any hint of the liberality in most American’s hearts evident in the lobby-controlled, fundamentalist-friendly government’s workings, we would have a lot more alternative-energy and infrastructure-repair on the agenda—with its attendant jobs, not to mention a tax on the rich and the big companies—and a lowering of taxes for the less fortunate.

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So many economic clamps placed on the government’s efforts to help its citizens—such furious uproar when we talk about taxing the corporations and the rich—as if to say, “How dare you? We’re in charge here and you’re lucky to have what little you have now.” Democracy sounds like ‘majority rule’, but it has somehow eluded that and transformed into some kind of casino—run by shady owners who kowtow to the whales and bilk the rest. Yet people continue to strive towards their better selves—it’s a paradox, if you ask me.

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There are No Free Lunches—Unless You Own the Deli (2014Apr07)

Monday, April 07, 2014              2:28 PM

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It’s so simple. All we have to do is be fair with each other, to care about our community, and to refrain from judging each other. If we did that, we wouldn’t have income inequality—we’d have a generous support system that makes working an option rather than a necessity; we wouldn’t have a powerful group of organizations trying to perpetuate ecological destruction—we’d have a powerful Environmental Protection Agency with the authority to force businesses to curtail their air-and-water-and-ground pollutions, to go bankrupt, if necessary, to protect the global environment; we wouldn’t have underground currents of bigotry in our society—we’d have social norms that insisted on equality for women, non-whites, and the disabled.

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It would mean adding an entirely new level to our evaluation process—once a business was determined to be profitable, it would also have to be seen to be a sensible activity—one which doesn’t turn a blind eye to the ecological or humanitarian downsides that certain businesses might engender. Profit should not be at the top of our decision tree. Human survival should have that spot. And human decency should be in there ahead of profit, too. Damage is not being recognized as part of our evaluation process. Neither ecological nor humanitarian destruction is considered—only the figures on the balance sheets and the laws lobbied into existence to pre-empt any do-gooders that might sue them for such destruction.

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Corporations with no loyalty to humanity should not be given the latitude of legal ‘person-hood’—they are not our friends, they represent a cancer of morality that threatens our continued existence. Because a corporation cannot feel pain, it doesn’t include human suffering into its calculations—it has only one goal—revenue—and only one law—economize. A few decades ago, the people that ran corporations felt a moral compunction against ‘doing evil’—they had not yet separated, in their minds, their responsibility as people from their actions as managers of a corporation. Today, the only question that concerns them is whether their lawyers are good enough to shield them from whatever thoughtless, profit-making scheme they can come up with. They tell themselves that the world works that way—which it didn’t always, and which only works now because so many of the rich and powerful are shameless enough to hide behind it. They tell themselves that if they didn’t do their job, someone else would, and the only difference would be that their children had to go to public schools, and that the only work for an honest man these days pays minimum wage.

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But here’s the thing the rich folks don’t want to think about: people no longer have to work to survive. Let me back up a bit for this one. Ancient nomadic cultures disliked the idea of agriculture—it gave people a surplus of food, and that surplus went right back into feeding a standing army, which protected the grain and livestock from raiders and thieves. As agriculture grew, and civilization matured, these permanent emplacements became small cities—the work required for survival drops even lower, and an upper class appears—people who have the power to command others and excuse themselves from daily labors, even to the owning of slaves.

Thus began the standard equation—special people were in charge, and un-special people were expected to do what work remained obligatory. As time went on, the idea of retiring more people from the full time work force expressed itself as a middle class—those who did less work and had more discretionary time than the un-special in general. Had this continued, the middle-class would have experienced a growth, per capita, of middle-class people, and a decline in the number of ‘un-special’ people until they were no more.

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But the wealthy of our present day insist that only a person who works for the ruling class eight full hours a day should ‘deserve’ a subsistence living wage—and only a few, who are expected to work ten-or-twelve hours a day, should enjoy the relative ease of middle management. This is madness from at least two perspectives.

The first—the idea that our present-day global community requires 99% of us to work all day, every day, is ludicrous. Second—they include themselves in the ‘workforce’—as if deciding where to eat lunch was equivalent to the labors of road-pavers and electrical linemen.

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Factories made it possible to do the work of hundreds of craftspeople in a single day, with a handful of employees running the machinery. Today, factories are becoming roboticized to the point where only one or two people can do the work of thousands—or, to be more precise, one or two people can watch over the machines that do the work of thousands. But more importantly, this is also true of agriculture—huge tracts of farmland are tended by a small number of machine drivers, freeing the hundreds of man-hours farming just a few acres represented, up until a century ago. Armies, too, are doing more killing and destruction with better and better machines, and less and less soldiers.

And now, the latest development—our economy implodes, and when the economy finally climbs back out of the hole, it leaves the American work-force behind. Employment still lags, even while big business has an historic boom. The rich still insist that we peasants are too lazy to get a job—but they don’t have any jobs to offer. The economic straits of the 99% are worthy of at least as much effort as was exerted to alleviate the citizens that starved and froze during the Great Depression—but no, say the rich, you’re all just lazy.

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Having a good job isn’t the be-all it used to be—it is becoming a rarity, a luxury. There are a lot of jobs in one labor-marketplace—the minimum wage, part-time, ‘not enough to live on’, ‘not enough to raise a family on’-type jobs. This is the last straw. The rich suppose we should all work long and hard every day—even if we don’t get paid fairly. Meanwhile, the amount of work required to keep the wheels turning in our present society gets smaller and smaller.

I don’t have a job. I don’t have any prospects for finding a job. Does that make me unworthy of living? Should I just kill myself? Don’t answer that. I believe that our government should address this slow but steady change in our paradigm. Single mothers (and fathers) should be subsidized—whether they work outside of the home, away from their children, should be a choice, not a necessity. Young people should have their education-loan debts forgiven. Corporations should be taxed, and heavily, as should the super-rich citizens. You’d think corporations and the super-wealthy would want all these things, because they promote a healthy business environment.

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Perhaps they’re scared—after all, once you start giving money to poor people, it’s only a matter of time before you start taking money from the wealthy! Well, boo-hoo for them. Income inequality begins with the wealthy getting greedy, not from the poor getting lazy. Work ain’t what it used to be.

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The Dividing Line

Tuesday, March 18, 2014           2:52 AM

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Someday public schools will be civilized to a fare-thee-well, in keeping with the future’s streets, which will be safer than one’s own living room, and far more courteous than the sidewalks of the present. I suppose we could say that, as go the public thoroughfares, so goes the public schooling environment. After all, school prepares us to join society—not just any society but, specifically, the immediate area’s society.

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It’s odd (but I was rather precocious) that I sensed, as I neared the end of Central Boulevard Elementary School in Bethpage, Long Island, that I would not ‘get on well’ in the high school, or even the junior high. The stories my elder siblings related gave me a sense that those places were dangerous—and so they were, and most likely are so, today, for all I know. I’ll never know, having been moved to Katonah just in time for sixth grade at Katonah’s Elementary School.

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And I found them dangerous, as well, as were the John Jay Junior High and John Jay High School that ensued. In a different style?—maybe sometimes but not too much. As I’ve mentioned many times earlier, I didn’t view my family’s house as a paragon of warmth and comfort—although there were, I’m sure, glimmers of it here and there. And then school became a trial.

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There always seems to be at least one bully in every class group, in every outdoor recess, who gets by on the same demographic trend that keeps cable news channels and reality-TV shows on the air. They relieve boredom, if only for a while—and in an unpleasant-feeling manner. I was a perfect target—pre-traumatized, unsure of my community, and preferring a good book to most other things. Only once did I throw a punch—on the playground back in Bethpage. It horrified me. I don’t know if I like fighting or not, whether I’m good at it or not—all I know is that it feels bad hurting someone else.

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Usually when I call someone out as ignorant, I’m referring to the ignorance of this one, crystal-clear truth—hurting other people feels bad. If it doesn’t feel bad to you, if you enjoy it, I don’t know what to tell you. Get over it, because even if you aren’t bothered about it, other people are.

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If people witness a traumatic event, a fatal car-crash, or a gang-shooting—the horror that goes through all those witnesses’ minds at that second is immense. People are horrified just to see it happen, never mind actually assaulting someone or being assaulted.

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People tend to overlook this point. Survivor guilt is in the same category—watching others die, and living to tell about it, also horrifies the hell out of people. Our hearts do bleed for them. Military action veterans are not all incapacitated by PTSD, but they none of them come home unchanged.

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Some people still insist that hitting your kid is the only way to get them to mind. That may be true, but maybe kids aren’t necessarily required to listen to a parent’s every command—we raised our two kids without any violence of word or tone or deed. I admit, they have minds of their own—but I count that as a win, not a loss. The vice-principal of the Somers Middle School called the house one day—I picked up—he said, “Mr. Dunn, are you aware your daughter has blue hair?”

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I said, “Yeah. ..” (I wasn’t really—but it didn’t surprise me.)

He said, “Aren’t you concerned that your daughter might cause a disruption in class?”

I said, “What? For having blue hair?”

He said, “Yes. No one else in her grade has blue hair!”

I said, “We encourage her to express herself—I can’t exactly tell her not to dye her hair different colors. Besides, who does it hurt?”

By this point, the Vice Principal had the measure of me—‘one of those parents’—and with a few more gruff grunts he hung up. I stood there thinking—‘That guy wanted me to yell at my daughter for coloring her hair blue!’

Bear2007May 028

As Politics, being at its root all about selflessness, still attracts mostly egoists, power-graspers, and prima donnas—so too, does Teaching, being at its root all about nurturing the incipient excellence of every child, still attract people who despise children, or worse, simply enjoy being in loco parentis to a captive crowd of squirming children—and ‘learning’ comes later, if at all. There are other livelihoods that seem to attract those least invested in the root ideals of their jobs—and more interested in some self-gratification opportunity behind their masks of esprit de corp. One of humanity’s great mysteries, says I.

Bear2007May 027

However, if I may return to my original point, I think the theory that public schools reflect their environment could be applicable to more than the physical neighborhood, to include the local ethical baseline, as well.

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I can say this, having been a student in a poor area and in a wealthy area. The ethics of the wealthy can be pretty ugly—where they exist at all (‘But I kid the super-wealthy, they’re really very nice people…’ – Bill Maher). Cheating is shameless in wealthy communities’ schools—sometimes it’s a downright familytradition. Extortion is more prevalent in the leaner communities, as it is played out every day in areas where a buck is hard to come by, but bills they gotta lotta.

Bear2007May 018

Regardless, as schools are intended to prepare us for the future, we can’t expect them to do anything better than to prepare them for where they live. That sounds a lot more fascist than I intended—but if survival, or gainful employment, in one’s own neighborhood is not the goal of the school, what should it be? One thing most schools have in common is a pathway to advanced learning for gifted students—but let’s face it, not everyone is quote-unquote gifted. Still, wasted greatness is more likely in a depressed area than in, say, Beverly Hills.

Bear2007May 016

The biggest problem regarding depressed areas is that they have permanence—change is less welcome in places where security is hard to come by. Becoming poor, aside from being a tortuous hell-on-earth, is also an indoctrination, a training process in which we learn to suffer—and growing up poor is even more damaging to one’s self-image.

Bear2007May 015

Most of the ‘educational dispersal’ is used only by the rich kids. Upper-income families see their kids go to schools of higher learning in far-away places, and aren’t surprised when, after graduation, their kids then go to a random metro-area to try to ‘make it’. But for lower-income families, travel is rare—and travel is a rarity for many different reasons—some of the same reasons that didn’t allow their poor parents to go to every game or performance, every year—and didn’t give them much time to help their kids with their homework, etc., etc., and so on. But the vicious cycle which ensnares the impoverished is well-known for its interconnective stickiness. I won’t belabor the point any further.

Bear2007May 009

Finally, I think it’s plain to see that schools cannot be improved in a vacuum. Conversely, if the neighborhood gains access to good, steady jobs—that influx will be reflected not only in the public schools, but in every part of the neighborhood’s character.

Bear2007May 007

Business is the trouble. The higher the price-tag on a deal, the less said against it by good people or bad. We can exercise the generosity of the Buddha when it comes to tipping, or leaving pennies in the dish—but when we’re talkin’ thirty-five-mill, buddy—just keep your trap shut if you know what’s good for you.

Bear2007May 006

And there stands the dividing line.

Good people can’t be comfortable taking advantage of others, or endangering others, or lying about something important. And all top-executives (and most of middle management) know that those three things are required of a ‘business man’. Does this ad demean women? Only a little. Isn’t the mark-up a little high on this? It’s what the market will bear. What if some kid gets hurt? You’re creating problems that nobody needs right now….

Bear2007May 004

And this divides people because all the jobs that pay good money involve becoming a ‘business-person’. People think we need higher education for these jobs—that’s just a ‘maybe’—the only absolute requirement is that you pick a side and the hell with all the rules.

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There are other jobs. There are jobs where you get to talk to people, do some good, get something done that you’re proud of—yeah, we got those jobs. None of them pay more than minimum wage, some pay nothing at all—but they’re there.

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I suppose that’s what we ought to expect. If we want to get paid a lot more money than the average person, we have to do something special, something that separates us from the mob. It’s a shame that the price is somehow ‘letting go’ of what you wanted to believe in. And anyone with kids is an automatic blackmail victim—sure, stand on your principles—but your kids will lose the roof over their heads and a lot more. It’s a strange world—I hated it so much that I’m actually happier being a ‘useless vestige’ than to have to jump back in that cesspool of commerce.

Natural History Museum London

Natural History Museum London

I heard on the news that 40% of corporations have job openings going begging for lack of qualified applicants. So, does that mean these corporations have excessively high expectations, or does it mean that half the working population is not well-educated enough to do jobs which involve anything more complex than simple addition and subtraction?

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry

I little of both, I hope. Otherwise the USA may be heading economically downward simply for the lack of educated young people. What a wonderful plum that will be on the plates of the Conservative Right-wingers, huh? The country that invented public education will soon be the worst educated of the developed countries (if we aren’t already—you Google it, I can’t stand to look).

Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History

It’s difficult to gauge, but I think, overall in a historical sense, that Christian fundamentalists have done far more harm (and for far longer) than the Muslim fundamentalists. This is one of the many reasons I publicly announce my atheism whenever the chance pops up—it isn’t so much that I’m sure about the whole question of a God existing or not—I really don’t know. What I do know for sure is that all these old, established religions with their texts from BCE, are the result of civilization and human nature.

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Claiming to speak for God is a powerful gig, if you can pull it off. Once one attains such authority—one can even gainsay Kings and Presidents. We now have learned (those of us who didn’t experience it firsthand) that the priesthood was for centuries a haven for child-abusers and sadists—and they got more respect back then, when their ranks were rife with pederasty, than they do now that the Church is actively scraping this ancient scum out of their institutions. Others, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had their expiration date, AKA their ‘day of judgment’, their ‘end-times’, their ‘rapture’—come and go without even a tiny cloud forming overhead. How do you polish that turd?

New South Wales Art Gallery - night

New South Wales Art Gallery – night

The Muslim fundies’ pre-occupation with suicide bombing seems to have alienated quite a few Muslims who don’t see anything in their Quran about suicide-vests. And the Jews are ahead of the game, having split into orthodox and reform at the same time they founded their own nation—quite a while ago—plus they’re generally more sensible about interpreting the Bible than any of the ‘youngster’ religions Judaism spawned.

Still, heaven was originally overhead—an unreachable place. Well, too bad, we’ve gone and reached it, and ‘no heaven’ up there anywhere close to Earth orbit—what can you do? Hell is even worse—once imagined to be deeper (and hotter) than the lava that flows from the Earth’s depths. Trouble is they made up Hell before they realized we’re standing on a globe—so Hell is even less underneath than Heaven is overhead.

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And then there’s the archeological evidence of the evolution of religion from its primitive mythology to the modern rites and scriptures of today. And there’s archival proof of human editing of these holy writings to shape ‘what was holy’ to suit sometimes-unholy ends. Our centuries-held misogynous attitudes were a by-product of the early Christian proselytizers’ campaign against the healing-women and other important women’s roles in early Western Europe, naming them Witches and labelling their familiarity with herbs and healing practices as Witchcraft.

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Science, too, was repressed for centuries—chemical experiments were known as alchemy, i.e. black magic. The church’s problem with astronomy is well-known, even today—for it is a glaring example of religious leaders ignoring anything outside of their orthodoxy, at times to the detriment of common sense.

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Literacy was confined to the ruling class—a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so you can imagine what a lot of knowledge might lead to… And most of the nobility didn’t even bother to take advantage of their access to reading—back then the ethical slant was that their education was a luxury, almost a sin—not to be used, unless being trained  for clergy themselves. Even having learned Latin or Greek, a layman was not supposed to go reading through the Bible himself, he was supposed to listen to the words of the priests at Mass, and leave the comprehension to them. This is still true for many of the Islamic faith—reading the Quran is not recommended, its wisdom should be dispensed only by the Imam.

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So I see established religions as being a bigger detriment to civilization and enlightenment than any other obstacle on our path towards ‘world peace’. Money has become the new religion for many people—and a blind acceptance of Capitalism is not much different from these old religions. Simple things like ‘the Earth needs husbanding’ are suicidally left undone just because it would be bad for the Economy. And what good will this ‘Healthy Economy’ be to us when the Earth can no longer support human life?

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We are captives of A Healthy Economy—even the slightest wobble sends mobs of upset people into supermarkets and delis, clearing the shelves in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

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Thus I prefer not to rail at religions—they are on the ropes already—and the real problem with our society lies in Capitalism and its cancerous consumption of the Earth, of all our days, of all our efforts—not to mention Capitalism’s ugly sister, Poverty—and less than one person in a thousand gets to enjoy their lives, rich or poor.

Opnamedatum: 2010-03-01

Our scientific achievements have become proprietary assets rather than blessings from science. Our schools are veering away from a well-rounded education, towards a more technical-vocational-training kind of schooling—instead of producing fertile, active minds, we now want our schools to provide fodder for the workplace. Not quite the American Dream, these days…

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Capitalism used to work well. Endless growth was once a possibility. There was enough for everyone—there was room to grow. Again, business is the trouble—the higher the price-tag on a deal, the less said against it by good people or bad. And now economic inequality has pushed us back towards the times when rich people felt entitled and poor people felt helpless—war will be its result—the fight over shrinking resources, plus the ongoing toxification of the planet, together will create conditions that make today’s uproars in Syria, Crimea, and Afghanistan and the radiation in Japan, the islands of plastic waste in the oceans, and the drought in California seem like a walk in the park.

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Global instances of unprecedented coastal flooding are numerous—the sea-level is rising. There are reports that some popular fishing areas have become so overrun by jellyfish that they’ve not only eaten all the fish, but have become a menace to navigation. As are the aforementioned ‘floating islands’ of refuse that have appeared on the seas, mostly plastic junk but massive enough to create havoc in a busy sea lane.

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Weather extremes of heat and cold do not ‘put the lie’ to Global Warming, they have enlightened us that the correct term is ‘Global Climate Change’. The real danger is the amount of added energy our global combustion-exhaust gives to the global weather system. The recent Polar Vortex is an example of an ‘over-revved’ atmosphere that went spiraling down to freeze crops in California and Florida shows that weather phenomena are beginning to cause the kinds of disasters conservationists have been warning us about since the 1960s.

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The reason for (and the problem with) this is that the large corporations have a half-century of practice at mis-informing the public and lobbying the government. They will nay-say us all into destruction, all for the dirty green.

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The Finger On The Button (2014Feb20)

Thursday, February 20, 2014               12:52 AM

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The beauty of the world can be so sharp it cuts—the singer’s voice, the crystal etched, the colors of the paintings, the smell of weather outside the front door—it’s really quite painful when one fully opens oneself to it. So, with paradoxes like that, it seems lunatic to expect our society to make the least bit of sense. Michelangelo said that there is no beauty without some strangeness of proportion—and the Japanese craftspeople always add an imperfection to finish their works, as a concession to the Universe. We research scientific minutiae without the slightest regard for all the really big, completely unanswerable questions in life. We speak of differences of opinions and orthodoxies of faiths—we know nothing, we understand nothing—we care only for ourselves, except when love kills our sense of self-preservation.

I was just watching “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937) on the TV—its ending focused on Zola’s championing of Alfred Dreyfus, the French Officer falsely accused of treason and kept imprisoned on Devil’s Island even after the French War Dept. were informed of his innocence—just to save the Army Ministers from the public embarrassment. It is a damning portrayal of corrupt authority and the injustices it forces on all of the people they purportedly serve. Then, before I turned off the TV, CNN showed footage of the Kiev riots, in Ukraine.

Those Ukrainians were protesting their government’s choice to sign a trade agreement with Russia, rather than sign a trade agreement with the EU. Many people were killed and hundreds wounded as Kiev riot police clashed with huge mobs of protestors—I couldn’t say what the truth is, concerning the Trade Deals, but I do know that it is much easier to have a meeting with concerned groups’ leaders than to start a pitched battle in the streets of the capitol city.

There’s been a lot of news stories lately about legislation that is in the interest of banks and corporations, rather than the good of our country’s citizens. These, combined with recent rulings allowing unfettered financial support to political campaigns, are only two of the many unsettling changes we seem to face in 2014. Capitalism has evolved into a modern weapon, and the taking hostage of our government is its most threatening act. We were fine with using it against other countries, subsuming their living culture into our consuming culture, but now that it has turned on us we are at a loss. What can we do against the owners of everything, even those who own the right of self-expression, i.e. the media moguls? How do we fight an enemy that we use as a reference source? How come history is so full of stories about corrupt leadership and self-interest among authority, yet we still act as if our leaders are honorable folk?

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When I see a parade of legislators on TV, each making statements more ignorant than the one before, I always wonder why anyone takes these people seriously. Whenever they lobby to roll back some piece of modern progress I am stunned to hear them advocate racism, sexism, rejection of science, rejection of our social conscience, and the social services it compelled.

These are double-whammies in that a supposedly sane and educated person mouths these foul sentiments and that our media amplifies their ‘legitimacy’ by covering such things in lurid detail, leaving no even-stupider sentiment go unheard in the process. There should be a military base somewhere, with a guy whose finger is on the button, ready to call ‘bull-squat’ on any of these distracting idiots, and cut them off from all media notice with the touch of a red button. Now, that’s national defense. Call it Home-brain Defense—stupidity, psychos, and rank fiction will no longer be tolerated.

Trouble is we’d probably have to impeach every member of both houses, at least 48 governors, and who knows how many mayors.

Beautiful Weather We’re Having…

This Means War (2014Feb19)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014          12:21 AM

Whenever our ethics are discussed the conversation goes on and on—like philosophy, it’s all just a bunch of words we use to entertain ourselves. But whenever such issues become a question of income, we fold like cheap lawn-chairs. When it comes to supporting our loved ones, we will brook no risk to the family’s shelter and security. Having had personal experience of the question, I can’t argue the point—like all behavior based on our instincts; there is no rebuttal, no matter how intellectual or attractive the alternative view.

But foresight is part of our nature as well. Long-term threats allow us to break out from domestic security and go to war. And war is just as much a part of human nature as protecting ones family. Wars were much simpler back when the paradigm was one-leader-vs-another leader, one nation against another. But modern warfare is more about fairness in leadership—one country after another exploding into violent rebellion against the powers-that-be, who (let’s face it) are often more concerned for themselves than for the needs of their citizens.

We here in the USA are struggling to hang on to the image of ‘protectors of democracy’ while ignoring some of the more egregious retaliations against popular uprisings throughout the globe—and while becoming, through corruption, a bastion of Capitalism rather than a bastion of Constitutional laws and humane ideals.

Being public-spirited is no longer considered a serious part of one’s character. It’s okay to be a liberal activist or a tea-partier protestor, or an advocate for a specific cause; it’s okay to be angry and forceful and even unreasonable in support of one’s views. It is not okay to simply want to make a contribution to our communities’ maintenance and progress—today’s civic duty is to pick a side and fight like hell.

And so, we have fought amongst ourselves, goaded by extremists of every stripe who are, in turn, funded by more well-heeled extremists with a big stake in continued, unregulated Capitalism. Our global civilization’s growing complexity, coupled with its sudden ability to talk person-to-person with virtually everyone else in the world, has filled our media and our minds with struggles and debates and injustices and dangers. We have become used to this chaos teetering on the edge of our self-extinction, this roiling debate fueled by the urgency of a world grown more fragile with every technological miracle we dig up.

We are so inured to our ‘situation’ that we now accept ‘apocalyptic’ as a new entertainment genre. What worries me about all those movies and shows is that they describe the horrendous aftermath of just one thing going wrong. No one has yet shot a movie where everything goes wrong at once. But there are scores of issues that threaten our health, our happiness, our lifestyle, our rights, our freedom, and our equality. I’m guessing at some point we will all realize that discussing all this stuff is not enough.

We will eventually go to war against Capitalism. And our beloved USA will almost certainly be on the wrong side of that fight. What is today our strength will become the millstone ‘round the neck of our tomorrow. When rebels start agitating against big money—corporate or personal—they will find, I fear, the United States leading the fight against them. By destroying (or absorbing) all alternative socio-economic cultures, Capitalism has become a twisted exaggeration of the system that once allowed ethics and power to work hand in hand—by becoming the only game in town, Capitalism slowly but surely eclipsed every other ‘value’ we once valued.

Money has become power. Once, capital was mere wealth—a questionable luxury, as often responsible for unhappiness as is stark poverty. But now one can buy security teams, private jets, and multi-media opinion generators, etc.—things that promote a disconnection between the money-empowered and the money-enthralled.

But the skewed perspective imposed on us by Capitalism is not a scientific fact—it is a consensus. It is a collective choice. Once capital ceases to be the choice of the majority, its power will evaporate—but that can only happen in a world with a viable alternative—and what could that be? I wish I knew.

Keep On Keeping On (2014Feb05)

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014          5:40 PM

There was a kerfuffle in the news media not too long ago over the idea of Business Owners being taxed more—the conservative argument was that these titans of industry had created their empires by the sweat of their own brows, single-handedly; and the liberal rebuttal was that America, as a work environment, deserved some credit since it provided a friendly culture for the yeast of business owners’ phenomenal growth and profits.

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That is to say that having paved roads, well-regulated commercial practices, and well-funded customers—all had something to do with any single businesses’ success. The furor disappeared quickly—but on further thought, that may not have been the best outcome. One way in which businesses resemble their individual employees is that when they stop carping, they can seem to be reasonable—even wise.

No, having had a think, I’m thinking the conservatives didn’t suddenly become reasonable over a logical dispute. I’m thinking some one of them was clever enough to foresee the ultimate terminus of the debate—that the interaction and interdependence of businesses and government and the rich and the rest of us—is quite total.

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For my money (pardon the pun) whenever the high-muckety-mucks start to bitch about a government plan that means reductions in their profits, when the other side of the argument is perhaps sheer survival for millions of homeless, of the poor—and all their children, as well—I get angry! Who the hell do they think they are? I experience a profound wish that they were stuck on a street corner tonight with no money, and their kids there too. Maybe that would influence their ethics—or perhaps, by reflex, they will simply stop a passing stranger and take everything they own.

TCB, Money Talks, I Got Mine Jack, and other hillbillian hits through the years have always enforced the Prime Directive: money isn’t everything—it’s the only thing. But where do we start? How do we push back against this societal virus whose only claim to legitimacy is that —after having bested Fascism and Divine Unification—it has done better than Stalin’s purges and Mao’s purges? Capitalism hasn’t shown itself to be the more humane form of democratic government—it has only proved that it’s the lesser of five evils.

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Our faith in Cash is as willful and self-determined as our faith in our religious institutions—and both have proved, over and over, to be rather leaky vessels under the waves of real life. If one decides cash is worthless, it ceases to have worth—if a person won’t sell anything they own, or buy anything with money, they have effectively removed themselves from Capitalism. But that person has not removed his or her Society from Capitalism—so Capitalism’s power will still control that person’s fate. Indeed, if someone did it really well, capitalists would spring from the bushes, copy the basic concept, and start marketing it.

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One beachfront to be considered is this: changing the positive status-symbol of continuous acquisition of more wealth into a symbol of childishness—and create a status symbol out of divesting oneself of wealth and possessions—Wouldn’t it be funny if ‘poor’ people resented not having enough money to give any of it away? If they got annoyed by the persistent nagging of ‘..would you like a better apartment?; …would you like to eat at a great restaurant?; …does your family have enough blankets tonight?’ Imagine annoying people by trying to give them too much, instead of cancelling ‘milk for enfants’ (How any congressperson could allow that and still look at themselves in the mirror is beyond me).

20140205_midl_rght_detail_(smallversnOf_SK-A-3147-B)And I’m beginning to see the conservatives’ attraction to Christian Fundamentalism—it allows us to talk a good prayer, without actually taking responsibility for anything changing—whereas Ethical Humanism actually requires a person to take part in a humane society. If that got popular, Capitalism would start to see some real push-back. While I recognize the great comfort that billions are afforded by their respective religions, I cannot accept any premise based on pure faith. To me, faith is something we have in each other, regardless of our spiritual choices. Someday someone will figure out how to make it easier for us to have faith in each other, even though we can see each other’s faces (and we don’t even like some of them). We would lose the feeling of being entitled to let other people suffer needlessly. It would be very unglamorous, except perhaps for the result.

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So I keep dreaming up possible ways to make society less dysfunctional. I keep getting angry when I hear about rich people and big corporations that look down at us, coldly calculating the next advantage Capitalism will allow them to take of us. I keep feeling sorry for all the people whose world is too isolated to realize that their critics are the only ones who have anything to apologize for—that there is nothing wrong with their differences—that their differences are, in fact, a part of what makes them a whole, beautiful person. I keep worrying that America will not supersede itself, that we will allow some more regimented dominion to perpetuate the cycle of entitled carelessness by a chosen few—and suffering for the rest. And I keep on keeping on.

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Surprise, I Run This Hell-Hole!

dali1

 

Friday, January 31, 2014             8:59 PM

Unfortunately, my PC’s sound system is not up to drowning out “Undercover Boss”’s final reveal moment in the next room. The unctuous ‘boss’ is being patrician in stages, ticking off each of his encounters with the female employee and the ‘prizes’ that come with each so-called lesson he’s learned in ‘his time with her’ (a condescending angel in the lower muck of the masses, I guess) which I couldn’t hear clearly but were obviously greater and greater ‘gifts’, judging from the female employee’s greater and more tearful outbursts of thanks and disbelief with each new debt paid off, new car given, and all culminating in her promotion to some heavenly post within upper-middle management.

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I have two problems with this noise blaring through from the TV room. Firstly, it’s mostly men bosses and female employees—just as well since a female boss would not need to ‘learn’ that it matters how the staff are treated; that not everyone can charge off whatever comes along on the old Amex card; or that human nature creates office politics like air comes from trees.

Secondly, it seems to encourage an attitude of ‘classes’ of people—something that is never acceptable outside of the workplace. Most bosses take advantage, consciously or unconsciously, of the fact that employees aren’t actually answering a bosses questions so much as answering the question ‘Do you want to keep working here?’’ When the boss smiles, the employee smiles back—what in hell else is he or she supposed to do?

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And no acknowledgement is made of the fact that of the many millions of ‘employees’ (AKA people) who are not appearing on “Undercover Boss” this evening—that all the fairest and rightest things gone awry in their lives, find their only succor in daydreaming about being this poor working girl who is brought to tears by the idea of living without fear and want and injustice (or, at least, with less fear and want and injustice.)

Besides, all this ‘reality-TV’ stuff gets my goat—people, like Heisenberg’s sub-atomic particles, change their behavior as a function of being looked at—and these programs are the best evidence of this theory I’ve ever seen. Not so long ago, most citizens would back away from the idea of being on camera—it is only with the decades of reinforcement that TV equals money, that celebrity equals money—people nowadays are actually becoming sociopaths to achieve this new ‘goal’ which, only a generation or so ago, required professional people be well-paid to even consider doing. Comedians are laughed at in theaters and on TV, around the world, for a virtual eternity—how many of us are comfortable with that idea? Not to even mention paparazzi…

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Facts (or Competing Insanities) (2014Jan20)

Opnamedatum: 2012-08-31

Facts:

We are destroying our environment, and even now that we know how deadly that is, we’re still doing it.

We are killing each other and we won’t stop, even though killing someone never accomplishes anything.

We know that it is foolish to trust a banker, but we still give them our money to hang on to for us.

We know that throwing people in prison never makes them change, but we keep doing it.

We know that elected officials are usually corrupt, but we still vote them into office every Election Day.

These are all simple, indisputable facts—and a fair indication of how much we value common sense (i.e. really not much at all).

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No, I can’t write another poem—it’s not like there’s a button I push and bam, the poem comes into my head. I wish there was, of course, but too much poetry can rot your brain, so just be thankful you’re not getting any here, today.

I started to try to make a poem. I listed all the plain facts about us Americans that show how crazy, almost sociopathic, our culture is. Look at foreign ‘first-world’ countries like Sweden or Spain—they’ve broken step with our ‘march towards the future’. They’ve banned putting hormones into cows; they banned Genetically Modified grains such as those sold by Monsanto. They are pushing ahead with alternate-energy infrastructure and non-petroleum car fuels. The most advanced thing the USA has managed is a recent ban on making electric light bulbs exactly the way Thomas Edison made the first one—whew! —my head is spinning.

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Meanwhile, we gouge the planet for rare earths useful in electronic components and batteries—third world kids have day-jobs in China and India, just chipping these precious (and highly toxic) elements out of old motherboards and Intel processors. Taking these minerals out of the Earth seems no like big thing—but you’re forgetting the most important part of their name: ‘rare’. To get this stuff, they chew away entire mountains, forests, islands—wherever it is, it is far more valuable on the open market than the lives of the helpless people who used to live on top of these ‘earths’.

But today, I’m trying to stay away from rant-territory. I want to talk about how we see sanity and insanity. Everything is fractal these days, so a small crook gets a big punishment, and a big crook gets to take over his domain; small lies are despised, but really big lies form the bedrock of most political platforms; insanity in an individual gets you locked up, but refusing to accept society’s insanities is even more likely to get you locked up.

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These insane ‘givens’ are so important to us that we get angry, or at least annoyed, at anyone who wants to talk about them. We do this because we believe that insanities such as bigotry, pollution, etc. cannot be changed—we believe that talking about these ‘infra-problems’ is a waste of time.

We believe this mostly because these problems are only symptoms of the big problem—differing attitudes. Some people will take advantage of a good deal to the point where they get more than any one individual was supposed to get—leaving some less-pushy, less-advantaged people to go without. This happens with food, with shelter, and especially with money. It happens with everything, really.

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And the reasons can vary—some takers are selfish, but others feel ‘self-less’ because they’re taking all they can for their children. We all accept that insanity is part of being a parent. But we also laugh at comedies which exaggerate this trait in some characters, especially the mother-roles. This indicates that we recognize that parental drive, but we also recognize that society requires us to keep a grip on it and not get carried away beyond all fairness. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we all get it, just that it is there to see, if you’re looking.

Divisiveness comes in a million flavors: from benign loyalty for your local sports team to cabals of bigots trying to manipulate legislation. Competition is a good thing, in its place. But I think we need to decide where competition’s place is, and we need to keep it in its place. Competition is fun, when it’s just for jollies—but is competition a perfect way to choose a leader? Is competition a perfect way to drive our economy? Does competition have no limits in our society because we can’t change the rules, or because we don’t want to change the rules? The later, I think.

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It becomes ever clearer that we will need to supply base-minimum revenue to all citizens—computers and automation are shrinking the job market while our population grows. This can only end in disaster for the huge number of people who don’t have jobs—or have jobs that pay less-than-subsistence wages to easily-replaced employees. Workers’ strikes hold little punch when laborers in ‘emerging’ countries are already siphoning away all the unskilled-labor jobs. And it’s hard to form an effective global union—Europe is having enough trouble just trying to standardize their currency, and unions are a much harder row to plough.

The business owners that still say ‘An honest worker can always find a job, if the worker tries hard enough.’ are living in the 19th century. Back then, our whole world was work—no electricity, no appliances, no cars, no supermarkets —more work than you could shake a stick at. But here in 2014, things have changed—there are lots of jobs, but those jobs aren’t nearly enough to employ the full workforce available.

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Look at our ‘recovery’ from the Great Almost-Depression—stocks are up, profits are up, bonuses are up—but jobs, not so much. Between my camcorder and my PC, I can make an hour-long video in HD and Dolby sound, entirely by myself. Claire has software that does her taxes in April (and emails in the return). I correspond with people from all over the world, nearly every day, in e-print, audio mp3, or video uploads; I can post photos on my blog, share e-documents for my online-university professor to grade; I can even shop for virtually anything without leaving the house—and it will be on my doorstep the very next day.

Yes, yet another list of ‘the wonders of modern technology’—but that is not my purpose. I want you to imagine all the jobs that a person could have held in 1964, just 50 years ago, that would play a part in all these things—all the lighting and sound and film-development and film-delivery and editing people needed to create a TV video in 1964; all the accountants and mail carriers and bankers that were a part of annual tax-filing in 1964; how difficult, not to mention expensive, it would have been to send notes and photos and make telephone calls every day to people in Germany, South Africa, or Iran—hundreds of film-developers, color-film producers, switchboard operators, and telephone linemen.

Well, the telephone linemen are safe, for now, I guess—at least until optical-cable replaces phone-lines completely (and they’re still going to need someone to run those cables) so who knows. But my point, I think, still stands—millions of jobs are now mere memories of the quaint, pre-digital America. And the race to create new jobs is being undercut by the race to automate whatever can be automated (destroying jobs).

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And, no, the answer is not to stop automation. Repetitive or difficult work should be given to machines—it’s more efficient. But if progress is to maintain its position as a positive force, we will have to stop making people compete for jobs—this isn’t Thunderdome. FDR began the process when he called for support of those who couldn’t support themselves. Those people were then considered ‘excused’ from the competition to survive—partly because they were doomed to failure in that competition, and helping them seemed preferably to watching them starve in the streets.

Well, I think the time has come to at least start thinking in terms of the day when a miniscule job market dooms virtually everyone to fail in finding work. The day is coming soon when significant percentages (even majorities) of the population cannot possibly find work in a shrinking job market. What will we do? Don’t healthy, well-educated people deserve as much respect and comfort as senior citizens on Social Security or wounded veterans on Disability? How can we condemn someone for not working when there is no work to do?

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And the first thing, as usual, that needs to change is our point of view. I’m old enough that the idea, to me, of being unemployed is an embarrassing one—we are used to thinking of jobs as something we compete for, and not finding a job makes one a ‘loser’. But things don’t work like that anymore. We should get the ball rolling by granting revenues to the millions of long-term unemployed—the ones so long out-of-work that their length of joblessness makes them undesirable—and the ones who just gave up, after years of sweating the job market, chasing interviews, printing resumes—when the futility of it all finally beat them.

These are not lazy people. These are not shirkers. These are people like me and you, but without any revenue, or any hint of a possibility of a revenue-producing job. There are not enough jobs for these people—even with vocational training, the new jobs just aren’t there. I think it’s time we stopped waiting for that to end—I believe it’s only the beginning of a new paradigm. The future is a place where having a job is a status symbol, not a dire need. Without any change in this direction, we can just sit and watch while the USA tears itself apart—rich against poor, race against race, violence for its own sake.

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You know, all those crazy suicide bombers in the Mid-East—they didn’t start out that way—they weren’t born with a compulsion to lash out at the Powers-That-Be, they weren’t born with the desperation that devalues life itself. They become crazy because of the hopelessness and want and fear that they grow up in.

We have to start thinking about how much more gets done through cooperation than competition—we may need to find something else to compete about in our daily lives—I don’t know if people can be happy without competition. But we need to stop making survival a competition. If half the country is out of work and we still produce the same, let’s give revenues to the unemployed half—it’s better than letting them starve in the street, and it’s much nicer, which (in my view) is always a good thing.

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And don’t think I’m talking pure charity here—an economy can’t function if everyone is broke—and hungry, rioting mobs just ruin property values and insurance rates. We need to have everyone supported, even if we don’t all work for our revenue. Science fiction tales such as Star Trek are always positing a future where money is obsolete, where people only work at what suits them—well, believe it or not, it’s time to start planning how to really do that.

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Thomas Cahill on “Bill Moyers”

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Monday, December 30, 2013              1:44 AM

On Bill Moyers tonight a guy said, ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’ And I agree. When all detail is scraped away, a kind person will do what they can, and a cruel person will do what they can get away with. The main obstacle to that clarity is human history. We start focusing on debts, borderlines, dogmas, politics, and whose dad could beat the other guy’s dad. The cruel side uses all this ‘white-noise’ to tap-dance endlessly around the simple issue of ensuring that no one starves to death.

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My South African friend became quite exercised about we Americans always bringing up Apartheid. (On Bill Moyers they also talked about Mandela’s turning away from revenge or bitterness towards his oppressors—and how that was as rare a thing as a thing can be.) I think South Africans have a false sense of how easy it is to end bigotry—their miraculous, overnight switch from apartheid to equality, as an entire nation, could have gone in many different, less peaceful, directions after Mandela’s release from prison.

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But the funniest thing on TV today was mentioned on both Bill Moyers and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly—The new Pope, Francis, is throwing a huge monkey-wrench into the neo-con evangelists’ secularizing of Christianity. He reminds the world that ending poverty and hunger must be a Christian’s highest priority, Catholic or otherwise—this flies in the face of pious Republicans whose decidedly selfish narrative ‘explains’ cutting food stamps for poor families and refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy.

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The Roman Catholic Church, prior to Francis, was a major banking institution and the single biggest holder of real estate around the globe—an institution soaked in power and property—and was thus reliably on the side of big business and high finance. Pope Francis’s new thrust seems to be a sharp break with expectations. He wants Christians to live their faith: mercy, charity, and love—and he’s not inclined to spiral off into some distraction that allows the status to stay quo. Recently, the Pope even mentioned the existence of atheists like myself—and not as damned souls doomed to perdition, either!

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This pleases me more than I can say. I was happy enough to hear that the Catholic Church had finally seen the light, vis-à-vis pederasty and general corruption amongst the priesthood, and would no longer consider buggery an ‘old tradition’, but rather as the crime it was always (quietly) known to be. But now—O, to have a Pope stand up and tell the world that we don’t know what Christianity is. If Christians want to be worthy of their faith they have to act like Christians. They have to believe in mercy towards, charity for, and love of our fellow men and women.

 

You know, people talk about the Jews having to avoid the flesh of scavengers, like pigs and shellfish; or the Muslims having to pray four times a day (or is i

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t 5?). But Christians get a pass. To believe in Christ is to want to follow his teachings—which say plenty about the poor and the outcast, but nothing at all about mortgage derivatives or early foreclosures. There was a story about J. K. Rowling in the news this week—she was a billionaire, but now she’s given away so much to charities that she’s become a mere multi-millionaire. I was shaking my head at the thought that this was news—it was news because no one else had ever f*#king done the same.

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But between her, Bill and Melinda Gates, billions of US $s in foreign aid, and the Catholic Church, we still have starving kids and homeless victims of a global system that says, ‘not my problem.’ Just within the USA alone, we have erosion in our beautiful Capitalist sand-castle—Detroit declared bankruptcy a while ago—the whole city. Of course, rich people can move. But what does civil bankruptcy mean to the Detroit denizens that were already broke before the crisis? It means that what little support the poor were getting there will become no support at all. A major city in the USA!—O how the mighty have f*#ked up.

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And often we hear about the churches of all denominations being the major source of soup kitchens, charities and volunteer work. There’s only one problem with that—nobody goes to church much anymore. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger—but there are definitely a lot of people besides just me, all staying home from church—some just lazy, yeah, but a lot that just don’t have religion in their lives now. A lot of Catholics are staying away because of the betrayal of sexual misconduct committed by their once most-trusted and respected civic leaders, their local priests. And don’t even ask about the number of young men deciding to enter the priesthood–who in their right mind would jump into that abyss?

I don’t want to go into that cesspool of a subject, but my point is—the church is no longer the core of a town or a neighborhood. And without the collections funds, the charities have no cash to operate. It is time we stopped looking to church charities and began implementing something more secular. We could call it “The Centers For People We’ve Finally Stopped Pretending Weren’t Suffering” (“…and stuff”, as Derek Zoolander might say).

Well, I Googled, so now I know the guy on “Bill Moyers” was Thomas Cahill—and he was right: ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’

Take That

Take That (Election Night 2013)

Election Night! November 5th, 2013

Election Night!
November 5th, 2013

Bachmann’s Reich

I saw Michelle Bachmann interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN this morning. She didn’t answer any of his questions. He pressed and pressed for a simple yes or no on any of his several reasonable questions. She talked around him, over him, under him, throwing out Tea-Party talking points as she evaded the subject Wolf was trying to talk about. She contradicted him with a bunch of spurious poll numbers and misinformation to which Wolf could only respond, “Where are you getting this information?” (Which she claimed she had ‘back at her office’).

We have seen Bachmann and other Tea-Party stalwarts take their cues from Palin’s VP-run playbook whenever they are faced with serious disagreement. It is transparently the behavior of someone trying to evade the plain truth by becoming hysterical over left-field distractions and quoting patently imaginary facts and figures—they even rewrite history to push their ignorant (and obviously paid-for) agenda.

In the old days we described this behavior as ‘squirming’ and ‘bold-faced lying’. But today it is viewed by many people as ‘Tea-Party politics’—as if, when red-necks get up on their haunches and shout their frustration at a complicated and pluralist world, they are permitted to be completely nonsensical and wildly untruthful. I think it has something to do with their response to this, which is to charge that everyone else is lying. They even pose as martyrs to ‘gotcha’-journalism (translation: any reasonable questions posed in front of a camera).

But I’m not mad at these poor souls—they are deluded, misguided, and given far more attention and legitimacy than is healthy for the uneducated. I’m mad at us—how did we allow stupidity to become a valid political platform? When did we drop any minimum intelligence limit for people who have a national microphone before them?

President Obama made an address later on this afternoon, in which he pointed out that the House of Representatives has a solemn duty—political kamikaze tactics may be all the House GOP members are interested in, but they have actual responsibilities as well. That they ignore those responsibilities is just another maddening symptom of this new class of politician, the ‘stubborn simpleton’ (Yes, I’m referring to Ted Cruz). The fact that experienced, older GOP members are nearly as dismayed as the Democrats at the irrational and irresponsible behavior of the Tea-Partyers says a great deal about just how far from sanity these people have gone (and taken the rest of us with them).

I’m glad Obama has put his foot down—negotiating with such cretins does nothing to appease them—and nothing anyone else can say can convince them that they are in the wrong—about anything. That’s the surest sign of their mental imbalance—their refusal to face reality.

The only thing worse? That these troublemakers are expected to be re-elected by their constituencies! When seniors don’t get their Social Security allowance, when soldiers in the field don’t get a paycheck to send to their families, when no one can get a loan for the foreseeable future—will those people really re-affirm their faith in this group?  I would do more than merely vote for a Democrat—I’d have them charged with high treason.

They are threatening to break the world, to destroy the United States of America, to ruin everyone’s day for years to come—how can anyone see them as responsible office-holders and elected officials?

…And the Competition Is Over!

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The great engine behind capitalism and the free market is supposed to be competition. But I wonder what competition is still happening just now as we head towards the winter of 2013-2014. Small towns from coast to coast have lost their competitions with Wal-Mart and its ilk—towns where people once supported each other saw themselves put out of business as they put their neighbor out of business, both of them saving money by shopping at a big store chain, and both eventually left bankrupt, homeless, and worse.

Perhaps there is some friendly competition going on between the CEOs of those few giant corporations—not as interesting as a game of golf, perhaps, but something that keeps their egos pumping. But outside that, all the competing is over. Multi-billion-dollar, multi-national corporations—petroleum giants, pharmaceutical giants, entertainment media giants, etc.—may see themselves in competition with each other, at least in the minds of the top management and board-members. But today’s major players in our global marketplace are so beribboned with both vertical and horizontal diversification, so invested in the overall stability of the global economy, and required to have such cold-blooded, implacable ambition—those people expend their energies on office politics, influence peddling, and investment poaching to an extent that leaves most of the ‘competition’ in their own heads—and, more importantly, without any effect on the regular people.

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The regular people, the lower-income-to-high-middle-class income, the hoi polloi, the little people—call them what you will—they be us. We no longer compete in meaningful ways. Our children can study until they’re blue in the brain—there’s still a chance we won’t be able to foot the bill for Harvard or Princeton—and that our children may not be among the select few who win the scholarships that may or may not make an ivy-league degree affordable. So we no longer have any significant competition in scholarship—excepting those rare scholarships and grants. The vast majority, however, see college costs recede further and further from reality—and that’s only to get a bachelor’s degree—the post-graduate world is a maze of student loans, part-time jobs, and constant struggle to achieve what comes to the families-of-wealth’s kids as a gift.

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Want to start a coffee shop? Starbucks has you beat. A book store? Amazon’s already there. A hardware store? –Home Depot is already there. A restaurant? Well, they were never great investments to begin with—and all but the hoity-toity-est can’t compete with the prices at Outback, Red Lobster, or Appleby’s. Drug store chains make the town pharmacists redundant. And at this point, if any kind of small business isn’t doing business inside a mall or some other high-foot-traffic area, they will shrivel on the vine.

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Can boutique, community-conscious shops get by? Yes, but there had better be at least one necessity being sold there, or their solvency will fade with the novelty of their existence. And this is all beside the point that, if you were to come up with some tremendous new thing that drew crowds of shoppers, it would be imitated, mass-produced, and available at the mall within a single fiscal period.

When Europeans first began emigrating to the New World, competition was everywhere, businesses were fighting right and left in a world of disparate, mom-and-pop farms, shops, transport, communication and services. This rising of the dough of Capitalism had plenty of yeast, and the chaos of the free market made commerce an almost Brownian-motion pattern of new, starting, growing, dying, and expanding ventures. The passage of centuries has brought all that to a stagnant precipitate of big corporations and huge personal fortunes—the reaction has reached equilibrium.

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Obama says there are not enough ladders to prosperity anymore—and I agree with that—but I see it as the obvious end result of free-for-all capitalism, as it went from land invasion (or pioneering, as some call it) to industrial revolution, to urban-centric economies and the world of modern business. The land has been parceled out, competition in industry ended in one or two giants controlling the field or product, and chain stores and the internet have destroyed entrepreneurship as we once understood it.

Now that those currents of history and development and growth and consolidation have slowed to a molasses-like oozing that allows new business only sparingly—and with few of those making the grade. Even the once famously individualistic business of digital software has become a two-sided struggle between two giants which become less distinct from each other the longer they compete for the bigger half of the pie.

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Even businesses that have just been created, such as private space-based technology companies and genome-research firms are so complex and expensive that they hardly lend themselves to small business start-ups—they all come as off-shoots of one or more already-large-and-successful multinational corporations.

In short, ‘competition’ is disappearing just as quickly as our environmental stability. Even pro sports—the very embodiment of competition—have become as much businesses as teams-in-competition. And with the loss of that beating heart, the tension of competition, the thrill of the contest, Capitalism becomes just another word for Oligarchy—a set-in-stone society of the super-wealthy and their seven billion servants.

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America’s growth into the greatest super-power in history was possible partly due to the fact that we could start from a tabula-rasa continent. Our government wasn’t an amalgam of centuries of war and despotism—it was something we could design with an 18th century understanding of ourselves. Our societies didn’t have millennia of embedded classes, castes, lordship and slavery—we could invent a new society that had a more modern populism as its defining characteristic. And with the industrial revolution coming fast on the heels of our wars for independence and unity, we found it much easier to embrace the quickening tempo of a civilization on the cusp of modernity.

But now America’s arcane, baroque-filigreed legislation, our corporate culture become more a thing of inertia than healthy growth, and our fairly complete distribution over every square inch of habitable real estate—have all brought us to a situation wherein we see ourselves as we used to be, while the truth eludes us. America’s culture is still younger than Europe’s, but it is no longer ‘young’.

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Our best years may still lie ahead, as a nation, but our easy-going, whimsical days are over—from here on out, we must (like all the other nations) approach change slowly and with more forethought than Americans are generally comfortable with. And most importantly, we must reexamine Capitalism in the era of Corporate Consolidation, a Capitalism without significant Competition as its driving force.

We do have stress, of course. There is plenty of stress, everywhere you go. But stress is just fear of being fired, it isn’t true competition. Instead of struggling and working harder, we hunch into our cubicles and try not to think about being downsized, or being rendered obsolete by technology. Indeed, the worst symptom of our present culture’s dysfunction is the fact that working harder, working faster, making an effort of any kind, no longer has any relevance to our incomes, or to our success in the business world.

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No Headlines

Can it be true? Has it come to this? It was bad enough when ambitious, young entertainers could no longer dream of the day they’d be a guest on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”. Now the newspaper industry is dying—soon no one will be able to dream of someday being “in the headlines”! These social lynchpins connected us to each other, just as Sunday once brought communities together each week. People don’t ‘gather’ anymore. Well, sometimes they do, but it’s called “Occupy” Wall St., or wherever they happen to be gathering.

Summer campgrounds once gave us mini-communities, in which vacationing families would see each other as neighbors for the duration of the vacation—comments about how the kids have grown, or a new baby, or the latest Coleman camping accessory—even when we went away from our communities, we just formed new, temporary ones with whoever was at the same campground. No theme parks. No Hyatts. Just a bare patch of dirt in the woods, ready for tent-staking, and a lakeside beach for relaxing, while the kids ran themselves to exhaustion….

Where else have we stopped connecting with each other? Everywhere except the internet. But people give the Web too much credit—I bet a lot of people who are separated from each other find that ‘skyping’ is just as distant and unsatisfactory as a phone call used to be—communication, but no warmth, no flesh.

One of the things that contributes to culture shock when visiting some other countries is the total absence of internet access—and sometimes even electricity. It’s funny to think that in many communities around the world, people still are born, live their lives and die without ever using electricity. I suppose the Amish might understand, but I’d be at a total loss in such a place.

As time passes, I seem to focus more on the things that are leaving, or already gone, than the things that are new. Take ‘Skyping’ as an example—I have no desire to Skype somebody—but in my twenties, I would have lunged at that. Much of new technology guarantees two things:  (1) Something a bit more charmingly civilized will be lost. And (2) Our remove from our forebears (and from the present Third World cultures) gets wider and wider.

Think of this modern rash of ‘school shootings’—could we, back when we were students, have gotten away with anything like that? No, we were living in each other’s laps, compared to the way families live today. And obesity—that was a practical impossibility back in, say, the 1950’s—daily life simply required more movement and activity than is needed today.

That is not to say that all that communing was always a good thing—there were lynch mobs, riots, secret brotherhoods, lots of bad things—but a total lack of any ‘mingling’ in our daily lives is such a departure from our heritage. Is community activity a necessary part of a happy culture? Have we lost in Civilization what we gained in Progress?

I am, perhaps, more attuned to this, due to my shut-in-like lifestyle—most folks my age are still interacting with society a lot more than I do. But I can see in young people (including our own) a tendency towards solitary activity—even when communing with each other, they commune online. I think flash mobs are in some ways a result of the lack of actual connection between an online group of friends—they organize a brief meeting and an organized interaction, then all walk away like nothing happened. But, that may be the only time something actually happens in their lives, sans keyboard and mouse.

It worries me.

Are You Done?

Saturday, August 24, 2013                   6:13 PM

Are you the final result? Are you as good as you get? Have you decided your days of self-improvement are over? I ask myself such questions all the time. And I think about my community that way, and my country, and my children’s futures. I doubt any of us has set our goal towards giving our kids exactly what we were given, no more and no less. Most of us, nearly all of us, want to offer our children something more, something better.

And I doubt any of us are completely satisfied with the various modes of commuter transportation—or our taxes, or our laws—really nothing has been made perfect. None of us take what we are here, now, as the best thing we can be—and all of us are actively striving towards betterment, not just of ourselves, but of our town, our state, our nation, and our world.

We want enough food, we want enough shelter, electricity, heat, medicine, and internet access for everybody. And that’s not all—we want the food to be better, healthier, tastier, etc. We want better homes and gardens, smaller bills, more say, and less restriction. But we want more freedom, too. We want more money, more government services, better schools. We want, we want, we want.

We all want, in our different ways—when we could be getting a lot more by wanting together. If people were more organized, things would be more efficient—but organization doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Organization requires leadership and leadership has power and power corrupts. That is why every historical effort to become organized has devolved into a power struggle between the manifest will of the people and the whims of the corrupted powerful.

Our democracy has never been a perfect thing—far from it. Its ability to protect us from ourselves has eroded over centuries of legislative conjuring and barefaced lobbying by business leaders. The land of opportunity has become a land of liberty, at least in comparison with some other places—that is, the freedom is still there, but the opportunities have started drying up. The unsettled lands have shrunk to virtual zero; the untapped resources are no longer possible wherever one takes a pick-axe to the soil, or a saw to the forest. We aren’t building many new dams along rivers these days, and for many reasons… indeed, most changes to existing dams are meant to make them less of a boundary to spawning fish and other life cycles.

So our ‘democracy’, in its present form, has become a rigged game being run by the majority shareholders of the capitalist system—if we wish to defend ourselves, we will require an organization that sidesteps our election system and our legislature. We will have to find a way for democracy to survive in a ‘land without opportunities’. Organization will be required—but how to make an organization that isn’t as dangerous as the one we now have?

Perhaps that is the real meaning of the famous quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Perhaps Thomas Jefferson meant that Liberty is always at risk, that we must scrap our government, our legislation, our entire national organization every couple of decades. Perhaps Jefferson saw the inevitable creep that would begin to gnaw on the boundaries of our liberty from the first day of our new government.

And perhaps that is the true reason for the Second Amendment—we were supposed to use it long ago, to overthrow the government before our government became too strong for even armed state militias to resist. We missed our chance—now the second amendment is just an historical novelty, a tattered rationale to support the firearms industry.

The American Dream, just like the USA itself, was founded on a well-spring of opportunity and untapped riches. Our present government, like modern capitalism, are both the unsatisfactory results of those initiatives when continued on into a period of shrinking opportunities and riches. We must organize. We must find a way to crowd-source our own destinies, before Sony and Pfizer, et al., figure out how to crowd-source us into a shiny new, digital thralldom.

If, like me, you feel that you’re not quite done yet, consider the difference between struggling for your own interests as an individual and struggling for change as an organized group. If the idea of public-service-oriented crowd-sourcing doesn’t scare the pants off most of today’s politicians, it’s only because they haven’t the vision to see how powerful such an initiative may someday be.

There are many organizations—tennis players’ organizations, advertising industry organizations, chess clubs, and such—an infinity of affinities, if you will. There are many corporations—and as capitalism-based organizations (with the rights of a person, no less) they have a great deal of power and influence. We have political parties which are supposed to be organizations to represent the opinions and interests of the populace, but which have drifted farther and farther away from that role, and closer and closer to becoming a rubber stamp for the interests of the biggest check-writers.

Henrietta and Dwarf by Anthony van Dyck

Henrietta and Dwarf by Anthony van Dyck

But there is no organization in defense of ordinary people. Many organizations will tell you they are exactly that, but all will be wrong to the extent that nothing exists without the influence of money—and each of those organizations will have specific interests they are ‘for’ or ‘against’.

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

I’m talking about a ‘People’ lobby. Its mission would be to confront and conflict with the business lobbyists, the religious activists, and any raise in the cost of living. It would ceaselessly push for a higher minimum wage, no matter what that wage is. It would hunt down and prosecute any big corporation that is milking the government of billions of dollars as part of its daily operation—and the Humanity lobby would call for audits of every single government contract, investigate all hints of improper influence and the least sign of selling favors.

In short, it would be the most hated organization the world has ever seen. The Humanity lobby would refuse to recognize borders and work on behalf of all people, people living in all countries, and people working for all companies. It would fund its own news service, with an eye towards ecological risks, inhumane employment standards, slave wages, and corruption and influence across the globe. Only one catch—every twenty years we have to take the leaders of that organization out to the back wall and shoot’em.

The Real Mother Goose is one of the larger collections of rhymes for children. It has wonderful pen and watercolor illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright. This book was originaly published in 1916.

The Real Mother Goose is one of the larger collections of rhymes for children. It has wonderful pen and watercolor illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright. This book was originaly published in 1916.

Be Careful What You Wish

When I was a kid I wanted much more science-fiction movies! How should I know? I just watched “Oblivion”, with Tom Cruise as ‘Jack’. It was a so-so sci-fi short-short story, rendered visually with painstaking ‘realism’ by use of CGI, Green-screen, and whatever else those people do out there in Hollywood. Add to that (no small budget item, itself) the enormous additional cost of casting Tom and Morgan Freeman, et al. and shooting an ‘actual’ movie to splice into the CGI, or vice versa—however it goes.

And I appreciated the effort. Cinematically, it was sophisticated, fast-paced, and suspenseful—everything you want in a great movie. But I never got past this feeling I had while watching—I felt like I was being read to. To read this story in print would be a brief experience—probably less time than it took to watch the film.

But I would have supplied my own imagining of what the drones looked like, what the bubbleship looked like, and how they each sounded. The author would use words like gleaming, razor-edged, ‘a soft chime’, status: ‘green’, and so on—nothing like those full-spread-masterpieces of today’s leading graphics artists that one sees on the screen—more like suggestions. The words would hint at a form and my mind would imagine what that would look like—whether it was a character’s face, or a killer robot, or a moon-sized space station parked next to the remains of our Moon.

And, no, perhaps I wouldn’t have imagined anything quite so cool as the movie’s designers’ vision. But it would have existed in the center of my brain, where I can really feel it. You see, the trouble with movies is that we see and hear them—they’re all ‘front-loaded’—and watching them is a very conscious experience—even a social occasion. We read books when we are alone and relaxed—we use them to take us away from the moment, to enjoy a vicarious experience, to past the time quickly. We watch today’s movies as witnesses—yes, albeit a fictional sort, we are witnessing, watching and hearing, we stake out our audio and video monitoring surveillance sensors and we consume the movie.

We control the movie. We pause the DVD so that we can hit the head without missing the cool part. We adjust the volume. Even pinned to our seats by the sensory overload of a 3-D IMAX screening, we will have been previously encamped with a small, portable den’s-worth of provisions, settled in and waiting for previews to start. But a book—a book controls you. You don’t hear. You don’t see. You don’t notice the passing of time. You are inside the book, enchanted into a scene of which you are one of the players. They are two totally different experiences—as different in their effects as they are in their media.

And here’s the bad news—reading a book has not gone away. You will still need to read—and to understand as much as you possibly can about what you read. There are reasons why ‘dead’ languages haven’t died. There are reasons for teaching the ‘arts and letters’ that are just as important as the reasons to learn math and science. The reasons for the Arts are harder to explain because they are subtle—and being subtle is one of the very important things one learns by the studying of our arts as well as of our sciences. The ancients once saw science and art as part of a whole—they called it the search for understanding (‘philosophy’). And the only reason science and art seem so divided from one another, to us, is that we have distorted our natural world and have gone from trying to understand the world and our place in it, to trying to control the world and make ourselves ‘the deciders’ of whatever happens on it.

It’s a simple premise—business-people are developing every square inch of land, digging down miles and miles into the Earth, fishing the oceans until there are no fish left, cutting down most, but not all, of the trees. And their favorite industries involve a panoply of chemical toxins they blithely dump in the Hudson, or the local water supply near you, and onto the land. Did you know that many water sources in Iraq are contaminated by radiation from the spent-uranium-shells the US Army used? O yes—and will stay so for a century, at least.

You won’t see any businessperson start up a company that detects, collects, and disposes of all those spent-uranium-shell fragments scattered around their top-soil. You won’t see that because that business wouldn’t make any money. But I’ll bet, market forces allowing, that there’s still plenty of money to be made manufacturing more of those spent-uranium-shells. Get the picture?

The obvious solution is that we ignore all this karmic payback until the poop really hits fan—then we’ll find new ways to survive on our spoiled planet. We will probably get right back on that bicycle, too. Rich, powerful people telling everyone else to shut up and keep working. I think Edison and Einstein would be proud, don’t you? I mean, how else do you see this thing working out?

Do you really believe we can just ignore our problems until one day someone says, “O, it’s all over. It’s okay, we fixed it—all seven (maybe eight, by then) billion of us will be fine from now on”? …And we live happily ever after—just like Jon Lovitz (as ‘Tommy Flanagan’) used to say on SNL, “Oh, yeah? I wrote a book about rock and roll. Yeah, it was about the guy who invented rock and roll. Yeah, that’s it! In fact, it was.. it was an autobiography! Yeah!”

Sure, it could happen. But something has changed in my appreciation of Sci-Fi—it’s the ‘Neo’ meme—‘we only think we control our world and ourselves—but it’s really aliens plugging into our brains and making us live in a dream.’ Sci-Fi purists would probably call it the “Puppet Masters” meme, since Robert Heinlein’s Novel, “The Puppet Masters” (1951) pre-dates “The Body Snatchers” (1955), a novel by Jack Finney. So the ‘Neo’ meme is older than I am (born in ’56)—sorry, Keanu fans.

But the change is this—the more post-modern the Sci-Fi gets, the less upset I get about the idea of aliens taking over our planet or our lives—it’s kind of, like, ‘How much worse could they do?’, You know?

There is a small body of work, most notably Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”, which posits a forcefully beneficial type of alien that just overwhelms our tech and mandates a more communal, more cooperative, or more conservative culture over the entire globe. Some of those are fun to think about. My favorite, and I wish I could cite the book and author, is one story where suddenly, everyone on earth feels what they do to others. So, every time someone took a sock at a guy’s face, that attacker’s teeth would come flying out of his mouth. Of course, such a state would make surgery very difficult, but nothing’s perfect, right?

This Is The Dawning….

I remember listening on the radio to the Fifth Dimension singing “Aquarius (Let The Sun Shine)” as a boy—it was about astrology, of course, but in the middle of the ‘race to the moon’ aspect of the Cold War, I had no scruple against star-gazing of any type. I loved space, and still do—and I’ve read far more than my share of Science Fiction novels. In the category ‘hard’ sci-fi, I make bold to claim I’ve read it all, from 1965 to today. That may not be literally true, but it conveys my sense of it, anyhow.

And that song was so trippy, talking about ‘Ages’ and generations and people as a whole—as if we were a big tribe, which, in that sense, we were—and are. But now I also hear in those lyrics the inclinations towards excessive trust in, and faith in, anyone with a spiel—as long as it was outwardly non-conformist, people were ready to turn to anything new—even Jones of Jonestown, and Manson of California, and cults like the Branch Davidians in Waco and the ‘Moonies’, who spread their ‘fundraising’ from coast to coast.

With the tunes taken from “Hair”, the 1967 Broadway musical, the Fifth Dimension created a medley of two songs, and their recording of “Aquarius (Let The Sun Shine)” was a number one hit in the US in 1969 for six weeks—the same year I watched on TV as Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon. Between “Hair” and Hippies, LSD and pot, astrology and space exploration, 1969 gave me a satisfying sense that life was about reaching new frontiers, going higher and faster. And while I had my age as an excuse, there were many grown-up, so-called adults who had the same nebulous sense of go, go, go—which is why we cancelled the Apollo program as soon as we realized we had neglected to plan what we would do with the Moon, or on the Moon, once we had made it there.

 

And from there, the whole ‘go, go, go’ thing perverted its course, from actual achievement to mere business success, which pursuit has, ever since, bred the vipers now feeding so greedily at the breast of the good ol’ USA. There are no challenges greater than becoming fat with money, power, privilege, and influence—or so we, as a society, seem to perceive it. We see news items that speak of progress in the march towards ‘eternal health’—a way to live forever—without the slightest mention of how one would spend one’s eternity of days or justify one’s place in the breadline.

 

 

And this wasn’t done to us by the government. We did this to ourselves. Every time big corporations have shaved a piece off of our workplace quality of life, our importance to that business as the engine of its goals (and our right to form Unions), or our very rights to express ourselves as individuals and maintain the same privacy we are due as taxpayers—every time we let one of these go past, we have traded our dignity for mere job security. Well, we can see where all that job security went—away, that’s where it went. Now they can make whatever draconian workplace policies they like—and slash your salary, too—without a one of us not being too scared of being unemployed to say, ‘boo’ about it.

 

I’ve seen it happen many times—we all have. The company starts to post notices about some new policy, like ‘clocking in and out’ or some such. Now, you don’t much care for that—seems like you’ve been trusted up until now to give the company your hard work for your salary, without being ‘time checkpoint-ed’. It’s a little insulting, really. You don’t like it—you’re pretty put out about it. Plus, everyone knows that people ask their work friends to cover for them when they need to get around a time clock, anyhow—which turns what was a natural flexibility of the workplace into a criminal conspiracy. But no one else seems to think that it’s worth quitting over (of course, if everyone acted in concert, it would only be a ‘threat of quitting’—an entirely different thing that doesn’t guarantee being fired, like standing alone would).

So, I had to ask myself every time, ‘Do I want to go job-hunting and lose my steady paycheck, just for the principle of the thing—which no one else deems worthy of being championed?’ I didn’t always give in, but sometimes I did—it’s not my responsibility to be perfectly politic when no one else wants to bother. But the unwillingness of the others to go against the established authority, even when it exceeds its rightful scope, is definitely the majority opinion of the employed. Frustratingly, that is the opposite attitude from one that could prevent such fiat-creep.

And the worst of all are the self-righteous: ‘I have to take care of my children, wife, sick mother—Nothing is more important than that.’ But that rational only justifies effort, not complacency.  Putting our families first is a point of pride for us—I was not aware that it is also an acceptable excuse to be a rug for our employers to walk on.

Then they bring up the axiom, ‘never quit a job before you have a job’. That is a hard one to counter, I’ll grant you. But if one is serious about one’s dignity and self-worth—and that of others, especially one’s co-workers, as well—a way can be found to bring collective action against management. But people are too ‘sophisticated’ these days to act as a group—it’s all ‘I’ll do my thing, you do your thing’—I confess, it is a favorite of mine too. We have no defense against this war of attrition that has degraded the American workplace and the American worker.

But, now that the quality of the jobs available to Americans is little better than the quality of jobs illegal aliens hold, I expect there will be discord. It will be aimless, angry discord—and stands every chance of making things worse instead of better. But it’s only a matter of time before the number of people in the streets, cold, hungry, and desperate, will so outnumber the ten or twenty people who still live a comfortable life that those ‘one percent-ers’ will feel trapped in their own apartments. I exaggerate to illustrate my point, but you see it nonetheless, I trust.

Most people are happy being led—and those who are happy leading are only too happy to oblige. Neither group wants to hear any guff about fairness and dignity—business is business, right? Well, no, actually. ‘Business’ is a polite label for the chaos of capitalism. Nobody planned to create Microsoft. The guy who invented Google probably just woke up from a nap one day and decided to make an online search engine service available to everyone on the web. Most chemical discoveries, like x-ray photography and penicillin, were discovered by accident. Businesses use mathematics—but only when they want to—the rest of the time, they just argue among themselves. That’s what corporate lawyers and public exchanges are for—to facilitate the arguing.

These corporations appear to be made of people, but they are actually autonomous engines with greed-guidance systems that tear through the fabric of whatever humanity they come upon in their quest for the ownership of everything. The list of jobs that they are creating includes multimillion-dollar annual salaried jobs for top managers, slavery-like child labor jobs in underdeveloped countries, and humiliating, depersonalized, underpaid jobs to people who earned (and had to pay for) college degrees to prove they were smart enough to be trusted with a workstation cubicle.

And all the words spewed out of the modern media, out from our speaker systems into our ears—an unending caravan of trite, pompous, self-contradictory, spun, stretched, and sibilanced word salad as random as that heard in any psych ward, only perhaps crazier for being such a near-miss impersonation of measured wisdom.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize a con—just a little widening of the eyes will usually suffice. And I think that’s where Roosevelt’s ‘the only thing to fear is, fear itself’ comes into play. Our world has become so anarchic, so full of blind inertias, so destructive of old ways and old things—that most of us want to just keep our heads down and carry on. But that is the wrong way to fix our problems. The best way to fix a problem is to take a good, honest look at it—and at ourselves, while we’re at it.

 

Change Is Good?

SeuratJatte1884

Tuesday, July 16, 2013             10:47 PM

Feeling kind of strange tonight. It doesn’t help that I’ve just watched the PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery “Endeavour” episode with an early serial killer case. It’s even spookier that it’s set in the seventies, in and around Oxford, in England—I’m fairly certain that ‘Masterpiece Mystery’ is just the American product-label for some extremely fine BBC programming in ‘Criminal Procedurals’ that is worlds ahead of our L&O:SVU ghoulishness.

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Nor does it help that the Dragon Lady landed a few shots, much as I tried to appear as if I were laughing her off, and now I’m a tetch anxious—it is so easy to be wiped away from the Internet. Cancel my WordPress account and I lose an immeasurable amount of uploaded artistic expression—just because I’ve decorated them with various images that pop up in Google Image search—it’s not as if I try to sell anything, or even ‘build a following’ (which seems to be the current coin of the online-realm). And you won’t find my images altered to try and hide their source—if I was a real pirate, I could ‘wash’ all my downloads through various graphics programs I have and make them all indiscernible as to their original appearance—to human eyes, or to computer analysis.

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But I would be as likely to expect to be arrested for hanging a magazine illustration on my living room wall, as to be called to account for my sharing of images that I find on Google Image search. There are methods available to prevent unlicensed downloads—the museum sites and the art sites use them all the time. If the Dragon Lady wants to hang fire, allowing her graphics to show up in a public search (no doubt in hopes of trademark exposure and attention) without any safeguards against casual use, that’s her business decision. I shouldn’t worry—such as her will probably grate on the nerves of her WordPress contact as much as she grated on mine.

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But I’ve been clouding up recently—I’ve just completed reading the ‘Century Series’ (or is it ‘Trilogy’?) by Ken Follett, which begins at the turn of the 19th century and through the two World Wars—an epic involving Americans, British, Russians, and Germans—with interconnections of characters, generational sagas of ‘houses’,etc. and so forth. And I’ve just this very day finished re-reading Virginia Woolf’s “The Years”, a sweeping story centered on the English, but affected by the same historic changes and struggles. Add to those the watching of “Downton Abbey”, the newly-ressurected “Upstairs Downstairs”, and “Selfridges”… well, you can see that I’m just one more English-accented, historic dram-edy on VOD away from thinking myself more a member of the Bloomsbury Group than a suburban New Yorker of the 21st Century.

photo-shopped image of original scan

photo-shopped image of original scan

And here’s the most awful part. These people—Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Roger Fry, Selfridge—they are all antique subjects for the historian, yet their works speak of a sea change in the story of humanity (not including Selfridge, who was more an engine of that sea change). They decried the end of the placid, changeless life of pre-industrial times whilst giving in to all its modern temptations—democracy, socialism, the rise of wealth, the end of many jobs that were always done by the peasants, the lower class, whatever label they’ve had put upon them by the comfortably powerful.

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Steam-engine trains didn’t just change the world’s transportation, they destroyed every form of travel that had preceded them. They made a whole amalgam of Inns and Coaches and Retinues (and horses, lots and lots of horses!) obsolete. Everyone whose trade was involved in those earlier modes had to find something new, or starve. And choo-choos were just the very beginning—in a relatively short amount of time, steam was replaced by diesels, dynamos, and daredevil flyers—people who actually flew!

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Then, as all this industrial explosion is going on, weapons increased their killing range and power by orders of magnitude, the comfortable little wars that were a kind of habit to Europeans became WWI—an endless slaughter, as militarists came to terms with the obsolescence of valor, of honor, and of the reality of modern weapons as instruments of mass slaughter.

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So the society of the Old World is atomized, replaced with anarchy, socialism, communism, and capitalism—the myths and legends of old begin to pale in contrast to the reality of automobiles, manned flight, electricity, factories, nuclear power—the traditions of generations were swept aside with an almost violent speed—the rate-of-change in a hitherto changeless world. They thought they were going mad sometimes—and so they were. They were changing themselves into a civilized society of nominal justice and equality—a complete reversal of the previous millennia of mankind as the only-slightly more intelligent animal over all the other animals.

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Now, this line I’ve drawn between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is an arbitrary one, with respect to my point—mankind began to abandon its happiness with that first crop of domestic grain, the baby-steps of our evolution towards ‘us’. There is some evidence of a schism in those earliest times—some ‘tree-huggers’ of the early sapiens opposed the greedy, twisted practice of raising a crop, storing a crop, and (with all this food lying around) maintaining an army with the surplus of grain. The ‘conservative’ pro-nature group felt that this new invention, ‘cities’, was an evil thing—but the other side had the army, so….

Our first steps out of our hunter-gatherer forebears’ cycles of natural, wild life were also the origins of crime—for the first time we weren’t entirely absorbed in foraging—and we proceeded to think up ways of taking control of that surplus, those original ‘assets’, by hook, crook, or bull-puckey.

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And every step since that first one has been down the artificial, technology road, further and further away from the mindless bliss of wandering the fields and woods. But technology is a tough nut to crack—those first thirty-thousand years were a slow climb up to the cusp of industrialization. And when those early-twentieth century artists expressed their views of the world, they were by and large unanimous in perceiving it as a whirlwind of change, confusion, and the ugliness of human brutality once it had obtained steel industries and scientific laboratories to draw upon.

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So, naturally, I thought of how it parallels our own age—how we see lifestyles and employments evaporate as digital technology begins to replace our minds, just as industrial technology once replaced our muscles. And, like it or not, we should not be surprised to see societal changes that exceed our imaginations, to go with all these practical changes. When a human worker becomes an option, rather than a necessity, how can we be expected to stick to the traditional notions of a middle-class employee or small business owner? Even now, after less than a full decade of enforced idleness, my ego struggles to justify my integrity, my place in the community. Someday soon it will become ludicrous to think of doing some average job, staying employed and solvent for a lifetime—while the world becomes a laser-guided starship of machines and processors and AIs.

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We are removing our own necessity—the ultimate end of technological development is the automation of everything. We will need some new way to live as a community, as a nation, as people. We will have to see socialism as our friend, not our enemy. We will have to take that ‘I don’t take charity’ chip off our shoulders and start adjusting to a life without challenges other than those we set for ourselves. And we will somehow (don’t ask me!) have to end the competition of capitalism in favor of cooperationalism, if that’s a real word. Otherwise, the end of all our grand and mighty progress will just be a reset, back to primitivism—with one difference: our poisoned planet will not support us as it did when we were nearer to the other animals.

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A Capitalist Fourth (2013July04)

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A lot of people seem to think the American Dream is a success story. But I’ve never seen it that way. To me, the American Dream is not very different from Martin Luther King’s— “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” For me, it is important to note the difference between our nation’s spirit and its reality. There is hatred, fear, poverty, greed, and disillusion in our everyday lives—and my American Dream is that we fight these evils on a daily basis, pushing back against ignorance, defying bigotry, helping those who can’t help themselves, and always seeking a better life. Not a life full of cash and comfort and security, but a life full of care, understanding, and happiness.

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During the age of Alchemy it was both a precaution and a tradition to keep one’s knowledge a precious secret, not to be shared. But modern progress didn’t start until we began to see knowledge as a legacy that scientists leave to humanity. The free exchange of ideas was the highest ethical position for a long time—during the Cold War there were scientists on both sides who got into trouble with their governments because they felt an obligation to share scientific knowledge with the whole world. These people faced firing squads or worse because their ethics wouldn’t allow them to keep information and research secret from ‘the enemy’. They felt that freedom of speech implied the freedom to speak the truth, to share scientific knowledge with everyone.Image

But the stranglehold on information was never fully realized by National Security policies—it required Money to suppress researchers’ and experimenters’ scruples against secrecy—the dread NDA, the Non-Disclosure Agreement, placed a lien on one’s livelihood as hostage against their openness and honesty. Nowadays we see Corporate culture holding their cards so close to their chests that we are deprived of medical safety, nutritional data, and side-effects, both medical and industrial. The corporations want to be more than ‘people’—they want to be people who can sue their whistleblowers for informing the public of information we are morally entitled to. If someone tells on me, I can’t sue—then again, I don’t ask people to sign any agreements before becoming friends of theirs.

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Thus, I see in this instance another point at which Capitalism has encroached on human rights. Capitalism started out as freedom—doing business with anyone, for any product or service, regardless of their ‘station’ in society, was a guarantee to the middle class their trade could not be restricted. But centuries of lobbying and influence have carved out a ‘favored status’ for the biggest corporations that no individual American would ever dare to ask for. Capitalism has turned and bit the hand that fed it. And we all watch helplessly now as it begins gnawing on our collective elbow-joints on its way towards devouring our freedom and equality entirely.

So sadly I celebrate our day of independence from oppression by our former monarchial government—while asking myself how we can ever free ourselves from the oppression of the almighty Buck.

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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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Good Word of Mouth

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013                   8:52 PM

 

(paintings by Correggio)

adorati

 

I’ve been stumped for writings lately—maybe I’ve finally run dry of grumpy-old-man-op-ed essays—who knows? I’d actually like that, I think… I only write those things because I want to expel the bile that festers at my brain when I see intentional stupidity and intentional harm. I’m no cynic—the people that own everything are intentionally making our lives worse—intentionally widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

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What’s worse is, we help them do this—every time we take a paycheck to look away—supporting a family is no excuse, it only makes it worse, since we are destroying the society they will inherit, while we collaborate in the name of ‘supporting them’. What is the answer? When an entire town is centered around a military complex, what do we do with those townspeople when The Base gets abandoned due to budget cuts? Do we keep it open for the sake of the town? That only sounds correct to the townspeople, god bless’em. Does the government simply walk away, and leave the gutted town to turn ghost in their wake? That sounds wrong to everybody. So, we see at once that simple solutions are not to be had. What do we do?

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Do we go out and protest in public? To me, that always seemed like giving too much power to the opponent—telling them to act, instead of us acting on our own initiative—though I suppose the media attention (if you could catch it, and for as long as it lasts) would be valuable. We’d have to come off as the ‘good guys’ on camera, though—and pissed-off people rarely look like ‘good guys’, at first glance.

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Sensible people might point out an obvious solution—enact a program of decommissioning an entire ‘economic zone’, not just the Base it once supported. Find (or Found) businesses that are a good match with the town’s focal skill sets. In areas where closing the Base means total evacuation (say mid-desert, like) then enact a program to place the townspeople in other towns still operating as theirs once did. It would still be a breakup of the community, but it doesn’t have to be an economic disaster as well. Letting a whole town full of people go dead broke will cost a lot more, in the long run, than helping them transition to new homes and new jobs.

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But all you sensible people out there know the chances of that course of action—none to little. So let’s think about political solutions that approximate the sensible solution. The last two days in Oklahoma have seen recording-breaking tornados (in both size and wind-speed) that devastated communities in Tornado Alley. So we liberals may enjoy the very bleak comfort of saying ‘I told you so’ to the climate-change-deniers, but down in Okie country the praying has been non-stop—the people there have put their faith in the lord—and so cannot be harmed. That explains why they would choose live in an area called ‘Tornado Alley’.

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I just know we could be doing all of this stuff so much better if there were better people in politics—but I’m damned if I’m gonna spend time with those nut-jobs. That’s why we need young people in politics—we used to insist on old people because our elders tended to know more than the rest of us. I’m getting into ‘old guy’ territory myself these days—and I can assure you, the people my age and older are as likely to be swamped by the Future Shock Wave that is remaking the globe as they are to have depths of wisdom–which applied to an earlier, pre-internet age—and so may no longer have any relevance to our present times, anyhow!

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Only the young guys and gals can even appreciate these new fulcrums of power, and the consequences of blindly trying to do business in the past. Plus, younger men and women are less ‘free for the purchasing’ than old cronies whose lives have always been defined by business. Today’s global business is a threat to humanity—soon, a tiny group of uber-bankers will own the entire world—and us with it, since we’ll all need to make a living.

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In the old days, when America and Big Business were synonymous, the famously quoted ‘business of America—was Business’. But that is no longer true. The business of International Mega-Corporations is ‘Business’—the business of we Americans has become ‘fighting a rearguard action against global corporate culture in an attempt to resume control of our own government’. That’s the new business of America.

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I’m tired of being proud of my country—it’s that right-or-wrong business—there is so much wrong with our society, our industry, our quality of life, and our Freedom from Fear—and then up pops these Tea Party people-Doh! You know, if the Cold War was still ongoing, I’d be sure that the Tea Party was a fifth-column action to make a nonsense-of-shouting out of what were once the Founding Documents, to turn Freedom of Expression on its head by using it as a shield against those who accuse them of hate-speech—and using Freedom of Religion to suggest that it implies their particular faith is the Default Faith for the whole country.

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Their ignorance is epic—but that’s OK, cuz they don’t hold much stock in all the edjicashun nonsense, no how. They are a tremendous threat to our nation. They are the pawns of folks like the Koch Bros. and they even act against their own self-interest—when that runs counter to whatever mind-boink of a narrative cheerleaders like Sarah Palin are feeding them through the mass media they all despise so indignantly—it’s pure stupid, and hold the rest, out there in Tea Party land.

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So I’ll be happy to be proud of my country when we start taking it back from the private interests of the super wealthy. I think we should start by refusing to respond to any TV or internet advertising—let’s all agree that we’ll only vote for a candidate when someone we trust gives that candidate a good reference. We should all unite in refusing any electioneering from anyone we don’t know and respect. Word of mouth will be the only criteria that we will base our decision on. And we disqualify all of the incumbents just to make it a clean start. (If we lose a good congressperson, we’ll come to re-elect that person, in time—but we must sand the floor before we slap on the new paint.)

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A total re-boot of federal representation via word-of-mouth may result in something more democratic than the moneychangers we endure today—but even if it doesn’t work, they’ll do no less than the last decade of blockage -and- it’ll keep the crooks busy enough to slow their insatiable greed.

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Word of Mouth Only! Word of Mouth Only!

Chant it with me now—

 

Word of Mouth Only! Word of Mouth Only!

New Dole

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Nice little stormlet—nothing that carries a mortality rate—just school closings and slips on the ice (Nana’s still in a wrist-cast from a week or so ago). It keeps Claire home, though she’s still working in her office all day. I just feel better when she’s around—especially in dicey weather. I’m one of those unfortunate souls for whom the thought of the offspring strikes more bells of alarm than happiness. I love them both so much—but my love is constituted of more than a small percentage of worry and dread, plus all the more kindly affections. So my first thought is always, “Gee, I miss the boy—I hope those Binghamton winters haven’t put him in jeopardy”—so you see, before I even get to the thought of, “I should call him and say hello.”—I’m already worried that he’s in danger. He’s the worst example, because it includes the knowledge that he’s far too far away for me to come immediately to his aid. But daughter has her own special ‘dreading’s, i.e. life in the Big Apple, nighttime streets—her fiancé is always nearby, and she is no slouch when it comes to standing up for herself, either—but she’s so dainty—even in my reduced fitness I can easily lift her up.

So, I appreciate these storms especially—the TV is full of “Don’t leave home today if you can possibly avoid travel.” And the snow just sits because everyone knows it’ll be 50 degrees F for the next few days afterward. It’s a cozy storm. I thank the wheel for being protected from the cold and wind. (It just blew open the door I leave cracked to disperse my smoke—and made me do one of those cartoon-leaning-into-the-wind moves before I could get it closed!) I’m all too aware of how many people are without proper shelter or warm food and drink.

I had a thought while watching CSPAN. What if we created a New Dole, a stipend that worked out to the same net amount as someone making $30,000 per annum. Now, that’s a lot more comfortable than many of the livings being earned by people who are working three jobs and struggling to buy their kids’ school supplies—but it isn’t the life of Riley, either—it still demands a financial scrupling that most upper-middle-class would think of as being ‘poverty’. So it isn’t quite madness, but it is a great deal more generous than what we have now. What actions would follow?

Firstly, a lot of workers would walk quietly away from the slave-labor conditions of their present lifestyle. A large increase in families claiming relief would occur. The amount spent by the Fed to relieve these families would increase drastically. And so, for the moment, it would appear that it hurts, rather than helps us with reducing the Deficit. But what would follow almost immediately?

There would be a dearth of labor on the market—a lot of hard work will have been left deserted. The companies that paid them a slave wage (or part-time, no-benefits minimum wage, if you prefer) would still need their work to be done—but now they will be forced to pay someone a decent wage to do a respectable, full-time job. Outsourcing has its limits—just ask the new Dragon Lady in charge of Google about how much can and can’t be done ‘remotely’. Plus, manufacturing in America is enjoying a resurgence—so we merely have to ‘out-quality’ third-world-slave-labor’s production parameters, and we see an immense potential for employment.

Roosevelt was right about the ‘Fear itself’. Everyone in this economy who is enjoying a comfortable life-style (and that is a surprising majority of us) is scared to death of falling off their own perches. I know, because it is my great fear, too. But we have good reason to fear poverty so much—we treat poor people just a little better than we treat shelter pets. And we appear to have the same rubric in place, as well: ‘We try to save as many as we can, but we only have so much money’. That’s not good enough. That’s a Hell on Earth, and no wonder everyone is permanently panicked about being thrown onto that same trash-heap!

Our unemployment should be a negative value. It should indicate how much we would appreciate having a few more workers than are already busy as bees and happily employed. One thing we should not be doing is borrowing efficiency tips from regimes that put a lower value on human life, and dignity, than we do. We should continue the American tradition of surprising the world demonstrating how much more powerful humane principals are than the so-called ‘hard-nosed business’ perspective. We must take a step back from Fiscal Fascism and distribute our resources in ways that best serve the people. We fought for two decades over the question of foreign involvement—and we still stick ourselves in the middle of things, only citing a ‘War on Terror, rather than ‘Soviet Expansionism’.

Either way, we should recognize the similar threat presented by corporate lobbyists. We try to avoid ‘foreign entanglements’ with little success, but at least we recognize that as a problem. Industrial and financial lobbyists represent ‘foreign value-systems’ that attempt, piece by piece, to slide into place a ‘near enough’, removing the actual ethic for one more conducive to Business than Humanity. And they should be even more urgently avoided.

I hear proponents of Business shouting about how ‘money is the bottom line and you can’t operate in the real world without winning at the money contest’! I hear them, I do. Can’t argue the point, but it doesn’t work that simply. There is the question of how you aim your money-guns. Do we aim them at our competitors, play their game? Our do we try to be ‘American’ (as I’ve always thought it) and point the weapon at the ills of our society? We should beat our opponents by making them slobber with envy at what our nation’s quality of life has become while they were still Mesmerized by the money-changers. Just like we did to the Soviets.

Being rich would become passé. (How do you say ‘thank you’ to MS Word for automatically sticking that accent over the ‘e’ in passé? There, it just did it again! Sorry, what were we talking about?, O yeah…)

The new cool would become living without stress. A nice job, pleasant workplace environment, challenging work (but not overmuch, unless that was how you liked it.) and a nice place, with two bathrooms. We could replace ‘supply and demand’ with ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. I suggest that we reverse ‘planned obsolescence’ and ‘go green’ by making as many products as possible last a lifetime or more. Now, the sales department isn’t going to see much good in that—but I don’t see too much good in sales, so we’re even.

We could measure the value of these products as a function of point-of-purchase profit, but with added valuation for the lack of resources required to make new ones every year or two and the reduction in waste products that need composting or recycling. Eternally-rising corporate profits sound good to the owners and managers of the single company, but as a part of the entire economy—maybe not so much.

A great deal of our hi-tech civilization’s energy and resources are spent on inertial running-in-place—every single company has to keep growing or die. We should look at new business models that minimize idle-time costs and look towards products that are manufactured and maintained only occasionally. Tomorrow’s factories will not be predicated on maximum output, but on minimum down-time expense and custom-quality products.

Now, I’m sure this all sounds very Socialist. I am only reacting to the reality I think I’ve gleaned from the media and books and the people around me. I’m no researcher with a huge bibliography to back up my ideas. I’m not even a college graduate (but that didn’t prevent my kids from getting their degrees). I’m just saying—what we’re doing isn’t working. It is causing pain, fear, and stress—it is filthifying our ecosystem—it is using up resources that cannot be replaced once they’re gone—and it keeps even those of us who are snug and satisfied in our cozy, comfy houses living in a state of terror that has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I personally also feel guilty about all the people that are already in a place I’m petrified about being damned to.

Fear and guilt do not fit into my idea of the ‘pursuit of happiness’. People argue that government is too big or too small—that’s nothing—what are our goals? And how is the government helping us to reach our goals? It isn’t all about money. Well, it is—but only because of the way it’s set up. We can beat Money, we can tame it, and make it ‘user-transparent’ for all practical purposes.

Just as guns are great tools when used properly, but deadly when misused—money has the capacity to moderate our march towards happiness at the double-step, smoothing the knots of trading one thing for another. We must bend it to our will—not let it continue to make some people dictators and others starved and suffering—that is only what we have foolishly allowed it to become. Just as we try to moderate national arguments with the UN, we should implement a UM that seeks to keep everyone on earth reasonably housed, well-fed and educated (and, if its not too much trouble of course, free internet).

Just as the Hague has a World Court judging international or humanitarian crimes, we need a World Accountant that finds people with just way too much money, and takes half of it—with the promise to return some of it if the person can actually spend the remaining half in their own lifetime. Then the WA would contribute to the UM in its quest to end poverty everywhere on Earth.

And it all starts with our New Dole, a latter-day Emancipation Proclamation that allows everyone to live in relative security and comfort, thus forcing business owners to revalue the salary paid to a working soul. The business advocates don’t want Obama’s new minimum-wage-increase because it will hurt business? Well then, do my idea—it won’t hurt business at all—unless you call forcing them to treat their employees like human beings ‘hurting’ them. A new paradigm beckons us towards a new American Dream—our we could just stick with the seven-billion-man rat-knot that we’re already squirming in.

Absence of Justice

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I find it so difficult to accomplish goals nowadays—the fatigue, the distraction, the swiss-cheese of my memory…It’s kinda like Mississippi having only last month completed their official State ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery—only I’m in their league in neither lag time nor significance of mission. I guess you have to be a government to screw up to that high a degree.

How sad the waste time passed. It has finally come to me (these mills grind slowly…) that the entitled, the wealthy, and the powerful see their cardinal mission as the maintenance of status quo. What all the rest of us want (and our numbers grow, as the aforementioned 0.1% of ‘Dynasts’ shrinks to an even more measly few) is change, substantial change. The Dynasts are careful to couch these things in general terms such as ‘the economy will collapse’ or ‘our military defense will lose its primacy’ or ‘chronic mass unemployment’—but in truth that is only the background to the personal nightmare currently premiering in brains near them, nationwide—the loss of personal power, wealth, security, shelter, food, health, ending ultimately with themselves and their families being at the mercy of the same winds of capitalism, desperation, and pain that storm across the landscape of the rest of us ‘regular people’.

We want big change—they want no change—or, if absolutely necessary, a little, tiny change. They set the odds because they run the table—many of our problems are worsened by misguided argument in the media, which only moves the issue further away from its substance.

We talk about the unlimited sexual assaults by our fighting men and boys, against our fighting women and girls. And they want to talk about ‘under-reporting’, ‘counseling’, and ‘prosecutions’—when what should be the prime issue—why are these men being trained in boot camps and in exercises about how to fight, without covering the important topic of “Don’t rape anyone, but for god’s sake, if you have to, at least don’t rape your own!” Is this something the military is too bashful to talk about in public? Is it so very hard to include, along with say field-drills or gun-cleaning, a few words about how sick and disgusting and sad it is that women who dare to put their lives in the hands of their military leaders—to serve their country—end up being targeted for sexual assault by their own fellow soldiers?

What the hell?

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We want to know what the big deal is with increased taxes on people that make more than a million dollars a year—are you kidding me? We got tens of millions without jobs, homes, or even food—and these fat cats want to discuss how ‘business will be hurt’ if our heavy players have to part with more cash flow! I call BS on that one—total BS. It’s time to stop worrying about what would hurt business, and start worrying about what we can do to stop business from hurting people.

It’s time we saw some limits placed on industrial and financial lobbyists—it’s time we created more jobs by increasing the number of regulators watching over every bank, investment house, and trading market. If the derivatives are too complicated for anyone to understand them, then make them against the law—is that some big intuitive leap?

If the NRA lobby pushed through legislation to stop the CDC from recording or reporting any data on gun-related death and injury stats, then let’s take away their permission to be lobbyists—and overturn that bill and any other law that specifically suppresses significant research collection and publication—how is such a law not deemed unconstitutional in the first place? Doesn’t our freedom of speech include the right for our government institutions to freely collect and share health-related data?

Who are these bums on Capitol Hill? Someone please explain how the correct answer could be, “Let’em burn; we’ll start over from the ashes.” Not even in session, lazy bastards, and blaming the ‘advent of sequestration’ on the President. Five years now I’ve been waiting for these closet-red-necked pussies to give our president the respect he deserves—but they’re still trying suck the life out of our country, while pointing at Obama. As if it maybe might work, eventually. Not according to the polls, not for a while now—is it only the Republicans themselves who are convinced of something the whole danged rest of the country has seen through—and been wise to for some time?

Big movie coming out “A Place At The Table” about hunger in America—the tens of millions, largely children, of the greatest food-producing nation in the world that go without enough food to keep them alive. I give up. Starvation? For crying out loud—why isn’t starvation included in any of these political debates over the National Budget—are the Hungry a frickin’ side-issue? What are we?

Okay, enough out of me. The media will continue to emphasize the sensational, diverting attention from the actual substances of our problems—that way, we get to enjoy our empire’s decline on TV, instead of actually pushing back at the darkness that weighs so heavily on us all.

Just think, if we employed one person, and told them their job was to make sure this little girl got three squares a day—then we’d have one more unemployed with a new job, and one less starving child. There, that’s a recovery plan. It’d work great—so much to do, so many people busy, so many kids overeating for the first time in their lives—but you know those suits and talking-head-pundits and power-grabbers would tear it to shreds, and make the tearing to shreds of it last as long as possible. That way, they get us all busy arguing over what a stupid idea it is—you know, distracted—the way they like us.

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Info Wars

Bacchus

Bacchus (c. 1596)
-by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio [September 28th, 1571–July 18th, 1610]

An informed electorate is necessary to a functioning democracy. The freedoms of assembly, of speech, and of the press are included in our rights because we must have debate and a free exchange of ideas before we can make an informed choice of one candidate over all the others. And we need to know not only about the candidates but also about the conditions of our own nation, state, county and community.

We must be kept informed. When years ago the tobacco industry fought court battles over their liability for smoking victims—and against anti-smoking legislation, they hid internal memos and reports from the courts that had a bearing on all those cases. Once that information was made available to the public by tobacco industry whistle-blowers, the industry continued to fight for the suppression of that information. But information has power—the tobacco industry’s efforts to sequester that now-public information was short and sweet—where their original secret-keeping strategy stymied health and safety advocates for years, even decades.

Even more troubling is the issue of ‘Big-Pharma’ cherry-picking which drug studies are kept confidential and which are made public—there have even been instances where some studies’ key data were kept confidential while the otherwise positive study-results were made public! And we should remember that the same sort of hard-working chemists who invented children’s aspirin also invented the gas-canisters for Nazi death chambers—that is, just because they make medicines, that doesn’t make their corporations good for our health.

Car manufacturers have had scandals which publicly exposed their manipulation of data to obscure bad car parts and design flaws that would otherwise force them to issue very expensive recalls on well-respected car brands. And it is a fact that these corporations shamelessly make calculations based on the cost of liability lawsuits compared to the cost of the recall—and when car-buyers being injured or killed is the less expensive of the two, that is the course they will follow.

I hesitate to bring up HMOs and shoddy health insurance ethics—their depraved indifference to their customers has been fodder for many a thriller’s plotline, to the point where we are numb to their disgraceful lack of ethical conscience. However, in all such instances, keeping some data secret (or falsely representing data) plays a large role in allowing these corporate pirates to continue unimpeded and unpunished.

The Catholic Church is also guilty of keeping horrible secrets with regard to their nuns’ and priests’ behavior in their diocese. At times in our more recent history we have found the Office of the Executive also being less than forthcoming.

We hear of banks foreclosing on solvent mortgages in good standing—and, in a twist, we find that this is a problem due to their inability (or lack of interest) in going over the mountains of data represented by their thousands upon thousands of mortgage loans. No one could be bothered to read it all—the vast majority of them were bad credit (just the way they had sold them) so they just foreclosed on all of them, ignoring the lone few who had actually made an honest go of their home investment, and made their payments on time.

Equally mind-numbing tsunamis of printed data confront everyone who wishes to be kept informed of our legislative process—bill-proposals with page-counts requiring hand-trucks (that’s plural) to deliver a single copy are the norm. Even the legislators can’t make time to re-read their own ‘product’—they get synopses from legal aides who spend days poring over the verbiage, trying to whittle down these paper mountains into digestible spoonfuls.

Now we are told that NRA lobbyists have successfully blocked the CDC from including ‘gun violence data’ in their reports on health and safety. This is a new low—the lobbyists for the arms industry are actively legislating against free speech—shamelessly advocating the suppression of the truth from the electorate.

4:11 PM

I took a break and watched some TV. The entertainment industry is the worst when it comes to dishonesty—and I guess it is their stock-in-trade, after all. I have watched a documentary that Cablevision has listed as a documentary released in 2012. I come back here to say a few words about it and—what do-you-know!—iMDB says the documentary was actually released in 2008. I’ve also had this problem with printed fiction (novels, that is) when they slap a new cover on something 15 years old and sell it to me as if for the first time—until I start reading it, and then feeling a little too familiar with the story, and then checking my two-car library to see the same damn book, bought in 1995! But with science fiction, fifteen years is old (with a capital O)—and by the same token, a film documentary should have the correct date label, as if they were newspaper editions. What’s a documentary for if it isn’t giving us new information?

So anyway, I’ve just seen this 2008 documentary, “Kiran Bedi : Yes Madam, Sir” which chronicles the career of Kiran Bedi, who became India’s very first female Police Officer in 1972. She (and they have ‘stills’ of this) faced down a sword-wielding Delhi mob (from which the rest of her fellow officers were retreating) alone, with a police baton in her hand. As she continued to serve she ran into an unethical system. But she didn’t just refuse to participate in the endemic, well-entrenched corruption—she wouldn’t acquiesce to it, either.

Her superiors felt (and still felt comfortable, as of the documentary’s making in 2008, to repeat their unfounded allegations) that she was rocking the boat, and she was sent to be Inspector General of the Tihar Jail, a notorious pit of a prison, at that time, in which she was expected to fail completely. Bedi instantly implemented prison reforms that included mass meditations with no guards present. She started a daycare/school for the prisoners’ children, who lived in the prison with them until age six. She transformed a prison system into an Ashram, but she is hounded from the post, re-assigned as IG to a more rural region. After being dishonestly besmirched by her political and civil enemies, she is sent to run an infamous police training academy, which produced virtually untrained fodder for the existing chain of corruption—and which she also transforms into an Ashram.

Her well-trained, spiritually enlightened recruits began to cause friction with the ‘status quo’ police forces they joined upon graduation. Her enemies were determined to ruin her reputation and drove her from the training academy. Then she is awarded the Magsaysay Award, Asia’s ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ for idealism and integrity in public service, in 1994. She was chosen by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as UN Civilian Police Advisor in 2003. Since then she has seen her critics forced to withdraw all their false allegations and her government has officially recognized her humanitarian programs and reforms.

What a gal, as they used to say. What an incredible champion for truth and justice!

I saw another documentary a few days ago—“Pink Saris” (2010)—this Indian woman, Sampat Pal Devi, goes to the homes of mistreated girls and young women trapped in prostitution and publicly admonishes the men who are abusing these girls—whether their fathers or their husbands or their uncles—insisting that they be decent human beings in their treating with the females of either the family or the brothel; that they let their daughters go to school, that they stop practicing domestic sexual abuse against the women, which the police turn a blind eye to—and then this incredible lady excoriates the policemen who are standing around doing nothing, telling them they should arrest this husband or father or pimp.

She blatantly shames these losers—and the camera catches the truth in their faces—that they know they are doing wrong. The women she wrests away from the pimps are all given pink saris to wear– Sampat Pal Devi makes them all members of the Gulabi (‘Pink’) Gang.

But my most favorite is a Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, from the Swat valley. Responding to the recently-empowered Taliban’s forbidding education for girls in 2009, this little eleven-year-old, at the wish of her father, Ziauddin, became a public speaker for women’s literacy and an activist advocating women’s education. Her speaking out for women’s rights brought attention throughout her country, not only in the issue, but in her, personally. In October of 2012, Taliban would-be assassins hijacked her school bus, where one of them climbed aboard, looked for her, and shot her twice, in the head and neck. They ran off immediately and she was very close to a hospital at the time—a main reason for her survival—and she has since been flown to Great Britain for surgery. She is almost fully physically recovered now (one photo showed her sitting up in her hospital bed and reading) and I take great pleasure at the thought of the humiliation those Taliban bastards must feel.

And so, we see that we are in a global information war—but we aren’t just fighting for access or openness, we are fighting for the truth and we are fighting against the lies. We are fighting over the legends for the pie chart graphs, for the test results the drug company was very unhappy about, for the safety of our food, our medicine, our homes, cars, children—ourselves. And some people are employed by corporations—and their job is to front for the lies and spin the truth.

We see that our schools are the assembly line of our future, deserving of at least as much funding as our military—for without a future for America, what is it our military is defending? We see that lobbyists, business leaders, and politicians are often more interested in being left to their own devices, to generate revenue, than in being a positive part of our future. We learn that enough money can turn the truth to a lie and lies into facts. We understand that power-seekers are the worst possible candidates for positions of authority. And we stand in wonder at these fearless women—each one a self-contained fighting machine for truth and justice; a white tornado of change that no amoral power-machine can withstand.

Anyway, what I started out to say was that the gun lobby’s suppression of CDC data gathering is a public monstrosity—and a far more important factor of this issue than whatever Ted Nugent has on his beer-soaked mind.

S’always Somepin

two points, actually. One: The NRA is one sick-assed concept of an association; and Two: The House Republicans are a bunch of no-good sons-o-whatever.

Since the later would appear to have priority, let’s begin with the GOP Representatives—they include a hard-core, tea-bag-stifled bunch of tax-nothings (magical economics?), a large number of scared-to-admit-it moderates who think it might actually make sense to set our federal financial house in order (especially when that self-legislated implosion of non-decisions-from-the-past is about to go BOOM). Then there are the vanguards—those so enameled by media-coverage, and those ensorcelled by power into irrationality—that nothing they can say or do will result in anything but delay.

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I’ve been kept from my keyboard a couple of days since I started simmering over this, so I’ve retreated from the full boil I had going just before Xmas. But I still want to point out that these officials are elected to represent the will of their electors, the people. Only those forty tea-baggers have the excuse that they were elected by ignorant fools. The other three-hundred-something House members have only the tissue-thin armor of being Dems or Reps, Red or Blue—and at this point, that still doesn’t free them to defy stark reality, or to accept an avoidable wounding of those people who voted them into office.

But that vanguard—well, give me two days with flashes blinding me every time I walk to my car and people shouting at me, and I’ll lose touch with reality myself. The President can’t do anything to help these legislators—because he still feels obligated to produce sensible results as a part of holding his office. And he knows that his name will be attached to this time in history, whether the House GOPs destroy our economy or not. He has to do what he said he would, come hell or high water.

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Plus, there is some evidence that this whole, protracted nonsense over taxes really only amounts to a barely significant fraction of the total being addressed. This gives rise, in me at least, to conspiracy-theory-like paranoia. How do I reconcile my optimistic attitude towards our nation with clear evidence of civilization becoming some monstrous distortion of all our vague notions of freedom, equality, and patriotism. This distortion has but one root cause—ignorance, not just in the young products of public schooling, but in individuals with responsibility for how we run our government and our businesses.

I’m an educated guy. I ain’t no genius, but I can carry on a conversation, OK? So when I see shifty-eyed, mealy-mouthed scam artists behind podiums with a sign over them that says “POTUS” (Thank God that one’s over for now.) or the Pentagon, or the House Of Representatives, or the Senate, or Mayor of AnyCity, USA, or Governor—it makes me mad. It isn’t so much that they are clearly egotistical or of dubious character—I can live with some of that—but that they are ignorant boobs who have no right to be a part of an adult discussion on the issues.

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I’ve told myself not to lean too hard on the evangelical types—there are many quite-mundane morons whose ignorance side-steps religion altogether. The only real beef I have with the former, that isn’t shared by the later, is a willingness to believe in things like ‘the end of the world’ as an ‘appointment’-event, or that harm, in the present, is not as important as quality-of-‘afterlife’, whatever that is.

Still, the down-to-earth idiots are just as dangerous in their insistence on confusing value with worth. These guys (and gals) will see themselves Chair-persons of the most powerful banks and corporations on Earth, even if it takes the destruction of the human race, either before or after the destruction of our very Earth.

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But whatever your (or their) poison, stupidity-wise, there are none so dangerous as those whose job it is to write our laws. Elected ignorance is no joke—but what can we do when we have legitimized ignorance by voting it into office?

Which brings me nicely around to Point One: the NRA—they seem to think that controlling who can or can’t own a firearm is as bad as deciding who is smart enough to vote and who isn’t. I see their point—it is a fact that most of these tragedies end in suicide by bullet or bullets. They are first exposures of the lethal psychosis that these mass-murderers never give a doctor a chance to diagnose. And with the highest frequency psychotic breaks occurring in otherwise normal adolescents and young adults, or in recently-returned service-people, it is also a fact that no legislation against those already diagnosed as mentally ill or mentally challenged, owning a gun would have prevented even one of these horrific incidents.