One Step Progress, Two Steps Capitalism   (2016Mar16)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016                                            4:35 PM

As the number of people who need to support themselves becomes more and more disconnected from the needs of employers because of robotics, automation, digital innovations, and smart systems, we approach a point where the economy won’t need humans—with the single discrepancy that they’ll still need customers. Scholastic failings that were once only a limitation to avenues of employment now close off any possibility of an above-board job. The number of jobs falls while the skill-set requirements climb. This is a self-imposed evolutionary winnowing effect—except that, unlike natural selection, the losers are not prevented from multiplying—they are simply excluded from the paradise at the top of the pyramid, consigned to endless deprivation and insecurity, someplace where the rich don’t have to look at them.

I’ve often advocated experimenting in a government minimum allowance policy that would be paid for by business taxes—a way of forcing business to take responsibility for the whole worker pool, instead of cherry-picking the best and leaving the rest to rot. But after consideration, it’s occurred to me that such a program would only shift the problem onto government—that the only way to equally balance the riches of productivity with the needs of all the people is to replace Capitalism and the monetary system itself with something less cold-blooded. And, obviously, this would require global cooperation—something far more complex than a national legislative reform—which makes it even farther from the realm of possibility than socializing the USA—which was pretty far out there to begin with. Still, I figure if you want to fix something, fix it right—even if it’s only in your own head.

We once had neither the sophistication nor the organization to consider a socialized society—although socialized communities have had some notable successes—and failures. We all recognize the togetherness of an extended family—but for some reason, we don’t try to widen the circle—perhaps because families can be stifling sometimes, and we don’t want to have even more people in our business all the time—that’s understandable. But we naturally accept the strength and security of that group unity—unity makes people into super-people—the bigger the group, the more united, the more unstoppable they are. One reason people don’t consider a socialized global village is, maybe, because it blows your mind.

Imagine a world where job creation was focused on offering people satisfying lives—where the arms industry and the military-industrial complex died of starvation—where space exploration wasn’t a race, or a business, but a true frontier—where we made just the slightest effort to extend our social progress to meet our technological strides. We’re talking about another planet—another species—no wonder it seems so far-fetched. That’s not a place where real humans live—sad, but true.

We know that global productivity can handle feeding everybody—if feeding everybody was our goal. And the same is true for all the practical and medical needs of every person—we are able to support them—if supporting them were our goal. But this thought—a ‘better world for everybody’—was at the back of the minds of all the people who researched and experimented and crusaded, fought and died for our modern world of freedom and equality. In a perfect world, yes—but in a Capitalist world, ‘everyone’ becomes ‘everyone with money’—and that’s a problem. Our eyes are on one horizon, but the tracks our train is riding on head the other way.

Obama Put the Good Back in News   (2015Jul14)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015                                             10:04 AM

Granted, I don’t know much about global politics—although I suspect it’s an unpleasant subject full of unlikeable characters and tragic circumstances. Still, when President Obama took office, Iran’s people were suffering from a global economic blockade, Iran’s leaders were pushing ahead with nuclear weapons programs, and we still had no diplomatic relations with Cuba, our nearest non-contiguous neighboring sovereignty. We still had large troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here at home when President Obama took office, gays couldn’t get married—they couldn’t even admit they were gay, if they wanted to serve in the armed forces. Health insurance was a privilege of the well-to-do—and that privilege was limited to those without pre-existing conditions. The economy was in a nose-dive. Unemployment was headed for new lows.

Seven years later, we can get the impression from daily news reports that the world is as full of trouble as ever, and getting worse—but the truth is that a lot of good stuff has happened. After eight years of Bush W, the news got into a rhythm of reporting on an ever-darkening future—and they still adopt that narrative to a great degree. But Obama’s presidency has forced them to intersperse the tragedy with glimmers of good news—and the news shows, ever mindful of how trouble drives viewership, almost seem to trip over their prompters when announcing something as unabashedly good as the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage.

When Obama was first elected, the GOP was nakedly opposed to him, personally—as if to say, ‘the hell with public service—politics first’. They broke with our hallowed tradition of post-election conciliation and support of the people’s ultimate choice. Then, and since, many people felt, as I do, that this is a treasonous abandonment of our political maturity—all we’d need now is a few fist-fights on the floor of congress to match the inanity of some third-world parliament. Of course, they’re paying for it now—currently there are fifteen of these idiots convinced that their eight years of obstructionism against our president has prepared them to take his place—and as a bonus, they’ve got Trump in the mix, holding up a fun-house mirror to their inanity.

I suspect Trump is secretly pro-Democrat. He’s on record as a contributor to both Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. But more importantly, his GOP candidacy illustrates the conservative paradigm taken to its logical extreme—anger, close-minded-ness, lack of charity, and a willingness to overlook or oversimplify anything complex enough to require a high school education. Trump removes the double-talk from the neo-con position and presents it baldly as the jingoistic, moronic snit it really is. How this can fail to help Hillary get elected is beyond me.

Are the many blessings of these last few years proof of Obama’s greatness or were they ideas whose time had come, and Obama was just in office at the right time? I choose to believe that FDR had the answer—‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. Trying to push through the ACA legislation, giving the green light for Seal Team Six to take out Bin Laden, publicly supporting gay rights—these were all politically dangerous decisions that a pure politician would have wisely deferred. So I’d have to say Obama’s courage was the indispensable factor in many of the good things his presidency has wrought.

And when I look at the many important changes in our lives since 2008, I marvel at how much Obama has accomplished in the face of such stiff opposition—and I can’t help wondering how much more would have been done by our president if his congress had maintained the tradition of working in good faith with whoever was elected.

Currently, the big question is who will take Obama’s place—and if it were up to me, the answer would be a third term for Obama. Hillary Clinton, the favorite, is a competent, professional politician. But even she will be a pale substitute for our ass-kicking, name-taking, fearless leader. If any candidates from the GOP field are elected, it will signal (for me) that Americans will endure any level of abuse and incompetence, as long as they’ve had eight years off to get over the last time.

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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The Great Man (2015Feb05)

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Thursday, February 05, 2015                          9:36 AM

President Obama has endured a great struggle during his time in office. Over the last six years, I have often been disturbed by the bitter acrimony and the seething resentment of his many detractors. But now I see that these attacks have ultimately succeeded in only one thing—serving as a background against which his extraordinary compassion and leadership stands out in stark contrast. Ordinarily, we are taught in school to allocate greatness to this person or that. With our president, we have had the opportunity to witness greatness and recognize it for ourselves.

His humor, his warmth, his coolheaded-ness under fire—I was just watching a YouTube video entitled “Obama’s Coolest Moments” and I was overwhelmed by the preponderance of examples where crazed, reactionary, mindless criticism was belied by his calm, cool, and sensible responses to every difficulty that arises. Like all great Americans, he simply wants America to live up to its promise, to realize its wildest dreams of freedom and justice. He does not oppose his enemies, only what they stand for. During a period when the majority of his defamers have made personal attacks, his responses have always been on message—never descending into the personal squabbling so popular in Washington.

With many politicians, the bloom will eventually fade from the rose—but I find myself admiring President Obama more with every passing year. The President who sings like Al Green, the baby-whisperer President, the President who kicks ass at a game of P-I-G (or P-O-T-U-S, as he plays it)—his personal quirks are endearing—although some try to characterize it as a cult of personality. To me, that aspect of him is far less sinister. He is simply an admirable person, a man whom power (for once) failed to turn into an asshole.

But while I enjoy his humor and grace, I focus more on his leadership. He gets on TV whenever there’s a problem—and he’s usually saying, “Hey, there’s a problem, but we are not going to start immediately bombing people—we’re going to find out what’s really going on, first.” I like that in a ‘Leader of the Free World’—I really do. And it’s such a nice change from the last guy. When it comes to sticky domestic issues, like the unpopular LGBT-rights movement, he plumps for Love over Hate, calm over panic, and humanity over business. It’s really quite strange, rooting for an ‘underdog’ who’s also the President, hoping against hope that the most powerful man in the world won’t be stymied at every turn by the forces of evil.

I’ve learned a lot from Obama, too. The last election was a real eye-opener—I learned that politicians, while they may be problematical, are not the primary problem. We are. Worse than the number of people who didn’t vote Democrat was the number of people who just didn’t vote, period. Obama did some great things—but imagine what he could have done with an engaged constituency.

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O–and, while I’m posting stuff:

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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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)

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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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Your Choice (2014Dec14)

Well, I wish I’d posted this yesterday (It was Sequential Day, that is, the date was 12-13-14) But, I can only play when my aching back lets me, so today was the best I could do.

You have a choice with this post:  you can read my boring-ass essay -or- you can listen to my silly-ass music–either way, please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ or whatever.

 

 

 

 

“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two (Chap7)

Chapter Seven

Sounds easy—just place limits on money’s influence; allow it, where necessary, to be over-ruled by ecological or ethical considerations. But how? Much is made of the ‘revolving door’ of big-business executives and government regulators—doesn’t it invite corruption to have the same people flit between the leadership of these dangerous industries and the guardianship of the peoples’ interests, rights, and well-being vis-à-vis these industries? Certainly a conflict of interests is almost guaranteed by such intermingling. But what is the alternative? It doesn’t make much more sense to have all our potential regulatory chiefs be confined to those with no knowledge of the industry they monitor. Neither does it seem fair to ask a retiring federal regulator to find a job elsewhere than the industry in which he or she is a recognized expert.

And the power of Capitalism is likewise inherently bound up with the efficiency of our commerce—we can’t declare money invalid for one use and not another. If money has any purchasing power at all, it can ‘buy’ a person—or at least, their effort or their influence—which means that money can ‘buy’ exceptions to rules. The very versatility and anonymity that makes cash so useful also makes it impossible to confine to specific uses.

Worse yet, people are as much a part of the problem of Capitalism as its mechanisms. People, as has been mentioned above, are changed by both authority and submission to it—to be a boss affects one’s mind, as does being an employee. The office politics, the competition to climb the corporate ladder, the stress—all the unnecessary dramas produced by people under workplace conditions—are unavoidably caused by the nature of labor in business. This almost-biologically-mandated perversion of people in positions of authority has gotten much notice recently with regard to the police and their relationship to the communities they protect and serve. It would appear that any person given a gun to wear, and told to enforce the law, is in danger of becoming authoritarian, even violent towards those they ostensibly serve. But the same dynamics that obtain in that example are also true, to a certain extent, in any workplace where a manager is led astray by the urgings of power.

Because of this, it is safe to assume that, regardless of how many laws and regulations govern the workplace, it will always be an inherently unfair environment. Worse yet, this is only a statement of the influence of authority—it doesn’t even touch on the fact that people don’t necessarily arrive at a job with an intact, healthy psyche. People go through lots of stuff before they reach the legal age to get a job—and whatever traumas have formed their personalities are only exacerbated by ‘gainful employment’.

Indeed, this is true of people in general. Many are raised by less-than-perfect parents. Many are raised in religious fundamentalism, giving them a skewed perspective on reality. Many are raised in poverty, causing permanent fear and resentment towards those who live in comfort—and, conversely, being raised in wealth can lead many to become overbearing and dismissive towards the majority of the human race, particularly the poor.

The way we are raised, the conditions of our family and community life, the teachings of our spiritual leaders—all these things create a humanity that is far more disposed towards conflict than cooperation. The formation of an individual is so haphazard that a certain percentage of people can be expected to end up as murderers, rapists, thieves, and con-artists—and the rest of us are only relatively well-balanced. We are not perfect—we’re just good enough to stay out of prison, is all.

So when we speak of Civilization, of the Family of Man—or any such grand generalization—we are speaking in the aggregate of people who, as individuals, must each be considered potential time-bombs of anti-social behavior. And that behavior can take an infinite number of forms, from being crabby towards one’s own children, to being a cold-blooded dictator of an undeveloped nation. This clarifies the issue of ‘how can we be so self-destructive?” We can observe Humanity as a single entity, we can discuss Civilization as an overview of ourselves—but we have zero control over ourselves as a group.

Even when rules are so clear and exact as to describe a perfect situation, the troubles that live within each individual will eventually lead us to find ways to circumvent the spirit of the rules, to manipulate the letter of the rules, for selfish reasons. We have been in this race since Hammurabi’s Pillar, and even the lawyers find themselves working half the time in good faith with the law, and half the time working against it. When the rules get in the way of our dreams, we search for ways around the rules—it’s in our nature.

That’s us—nothing to be done about that. That was fine, back when the world was too enormous ever to be used up, back when God was in his Heaven, back before the Internet, when we weren’t on the cusp of quasi-AI and nanotech-enhanced, remote-presence medicine and self-contained, robotic Mars explorers. Now we don’t know whether to ban paraplegics from the Olympics because their hi-tech prostheses give an unfair advantage, or to baby-proof munitions factories so that single mothers can bring their kids to work.

In a recent broadcast, the discussion over e-share commerce brought out the point that Uber’s car service, while superior to existing urban transport, also circumvents a century’s worth of safety and regulatory legislation. This makes Uber both modern and primeval—they create a paradox by using modernity to circumvent civilization. (As of this writing, there is a news report that India has banned Uber due to a rape that occurred during a ride-share—an excellent example of the conflict between progress and human nature.)

Hacking has always been synonymous with coding—its only difference is in the suggestion of a rebel outlaw doing the coding. The term is important because software, like any tech, is open to both good and bad aims—but a hacker isn’t just a bad person who codes. Hacking can mean being a rebel, or a Robin Hood, who codes—possibly even a champion of human rights. Beyond that, the subject becomes one of syntax. But Hacking, as an activity, has also come to be synonymous with finding an easy way to solve or circumvent problems. So-called ‘life-hacks’ can be anything from the best way to refrigerate pineapple slices to the safest way to invest towards retirement. Hardly the acts of a criminal.

But Uber, and other e-share-oriented businesses, are busily pioneering the ‘corporate hack’, a digital backdoor that allows new forms of trade, free from the boundaries of written communication, brick-and-mortar competition, and civil oversight. These clever, new uses of the digital universe, however, create legislative loopholes faster than they generate new business models. The fly-by-night business, once confined to the mails, has now blanketed the globe via WyFy. A person without a physical location is not held back by the same constraints as a person who can be found behind the same counter on the day after you buy something unsatisfying from their shop. And when combined with computerized phone-answering, these businesses can even offer ‘customer service’ while still leaving the customer with no solid target for retaliation, or even complaint. Hence Yelp reviews, I guess.

So, complexity takes a quantum leap forward. Personal responsibility virtually evaporates. Global climate-change edges ever closer to global disaster. Population growth towers dizzyingly. Suddenly, our civilization is faced with an ultimatum—confine the term ‘civilization’ to mean only the one percent and consign the rest of us to savagery among ourselves -or- take a pick-axe to the existing paradigm through collective action. The first option is the most likely because it counts on the disorganized lack of action we can expect from ourselves as a group. The second option is far less likely, as it would require people, as a community, to act in their own best interest—something history tells us we have never, ever done before.

On the contrary, it seems that small, well-led groups of people are the only paradigm within which humanity can exert its greatest power. A team of dedicated people can be found at many of the central pivot-points of civilization’s history. Now, small groups empowered by technology, can accomplish incredible things—good and bad. Thus we witness the rise of SpaceX, a relatively new and tiny company that accomplishes things it once took a federal institution like NASA to orchestrate. And we see the birth of terrorist groups, without massive armies or host nations, capable of attacks on the world’s mightiest superpower. Even individuals have greater power than we ever dreamed—Snowden’s release of classified documents surprised us, in part, because it involved more pages of information than Edward, in an earlier age, could ever have moved without several large trucks—and he did it with a few clicks of a mouse, sending it all not just to one location, but virtually everywhere. That’s power—we all now have that power—any of us can send a mountain of information from one place to another, instantly.

Those of us old enough to appreciate the difference between then and now are hard pressed to encompass the meaning of such power as the digital age has conferred on us. Those young enough to take digital communication for granted have no idea how much the world will be changed by the growing inclusion of all seven billion of us into this information-empowerment. We tend to look at ‘progress’ as an ennobling evolution—that with great enough knowledge, surely wisdom must follow. But progress enables our fears as well, our greed and our bitterness—these things are provided with the same wings as our dreams.

So, at the end of all this trouble and woe, we find that improving ourselves and making things better for others is the most important progress of all.

But if truth is anything, it’s inconvenient. Take the Earth, for instance—looks flat, feels flat—and for hundreds of years, most people thought it was flat. Ancient Greeks who studied Philosophy (Science, before we called it that) knew that the world was round—some even calculated brilliant measurements that gave them a close approximation of the Earth’s diameter. Perhaps the Mayans, or the Chinese, maybe even the Atlanteans—knew similar stuff, but none of it mattered to Western Civilization during the Dark Ages. Most of ancient math and science would return to Europe during the Enlightenment via East, the caretakers of ancient knowledge during the chaos of post-Roman-Empire Europe—and, indeed, without that returning influx of science, Columbus may never have sailed.

These exceptions notwithstanding, the popular view was that the Earth was flat and arguing about it seemed a moot point. It was only after Columbus’s well-publicized return from the ‘New World’ that people began to see the globe, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a limitless expanse of unclaimed assets and resources. Now that there was land to be grabbed and money to be made, the world could be in the shape of a dodecahedron for all anyone cared. The truth of the world being round had ceased to be inconvenient.

But others remained. Now that we couldn’t avoid the image of all of us standing upright on the outside of a globe, gravitational force became another inconvenience. ‘Things fall down’ was no longer sufficient—because we now knew ‘down’ to be several different directions, and all of them inward, towards the center of the globe. Without Columbus’s voyages, there may not have been any cause for Newton to ponder the invisible force we call Gravity. But once his calculations produced the Laws of Motion, and the Calculus, it became possible to send a cannon-ball exactly where it would do the most damage. The truth of Gravity then went from inconvenient to useful—and physics was ‘born’. Between the chemists cooking up gunpowder and the mathematicians calculating parabolic arcs, the militant-minded leaders of early European states would forever-after find it convenient to shield the scientists from the witch-hunters and the clergy.

Science, however, would not confine itself to military uses. By the dawn of the twentieth century, we had begun to study ourselves. Archaeologists had studied our prehistoric past—and found it contained evidence of religion having evolved from primitive atavism to the modern churches. We discovered that God was a part of human lore, not of divine revelation—that God didn’t exist. This is the most inconvenient truth of all—and it has spawned a culture of debate, diversion, propaganda, indoctrination, and fundamentalist extremism. Half the world pines for the loss of innocence and simplicity—the other half is busy trying to undo science with suicide vests and beheadings.

I’ll always remain puzzled by this aversion to observable facts. We’ll trust science enough to take a ride across the globe in a multi-tonned, metal jet-airliner—but still hold it lightly enough that we pick and choose which science is convenient and which isn’t. Observable fact gets a bad rep—‘there’s more than meets the eye’; ‘all is not what it seems’; ‘the hand is quicker than the eye’—yes, observed fact can be misleading, but only because we feeble humans are doing the observing. Still, I consider the incompleteness of science to be a necessary characteristic of good science—observable fact may not be written in stone, but reproducible results are still of greater value than any other perspective has yet to offer mankind.

And the worst part is that we who believe in science are often so hard-pressed by theists that we shy away from the vital humanism that science lacks. It is, rather, all the more important to embrace what it means to be human in a world with no one to worship but ourselves. But we are too busy defending ourselves from people who would kill us in the name of their fairy tales.

“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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The Hook (2014Nov15)

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Saturday, November 15, 2014                       1:02 PM

 

Everything today is about the hook. I saw an online ad for Star-Trek spaceships (“Enterprises”, that is) for a low, low price—plus plenty of free extras—the only catch was that it was a subscription, and they would be sending me different spaceships, once a month, forever—and billing me for them, of course. I saw a newly released movie on my VOD menu. It was about a boy and girl who were far distant from each other but could see what each other thought and hear what each other said—it was a romance. I’ve seen the same premise, but only seeing through the other person’s eyes—it was a horror movie about a serial killer. Communication is so important.

The king of the hooks would have to be ‘The Heart Of Joy”, AKA the Hallmark Channel. Every year about this time (just before Thanksgiving) their schedule becomes one long expanse of Christmas-themed movies, most of them produced by Hallmark itself. I am shamelessly addicted—it’s worse than Law & Order re-runs. I just saw one where the young lady protagonist, who just happens to be named Krissy Kringle and just happens to live on Candy Cane Lane, receives a lot of mistakenly-delivered letters to Santa. One little girl sends a book, explaining that Santa had accidentally left his “Naughty or Nice List” when he visited her in the hospital.

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Hijinks ensue, of course, and of a very Christmassy flavor. In the end, people are healed, lessons are learned, and Santa gets his book back. It’s like heroin—I can marathon this stuff for days at a time. But it got me thinking. Hallmark is like the Manhattan Project of sentiment—all things treacly are massaged to a fair-thee-well and dutifully squished out like Play-Doh from a Play-Doh factory. Is it evil? It’s difficult to say with the rubber hose between my teeth, probing for a vein—but I have my suspicions. I mean, it makes perfect sense—here are these actors—and actors are paid to pretend—so they pretend that they, and basically all people, are earnest, conscience-stricken, and well-fed.

It’s the season, so it’s no fair calling them out on the ugly truths of domestic poverty, bad parenting, etc., etc.—thus the problems are manageable in these movies, unlike the real problems we face in the real world. But then they have to add in ‘the real Mrs. Claus’ masquerading as a nanny for a troubled single-parent family or an Elf who wants to see what’s outside of Santa’s Workshop (and in a masterpiece of fiction, doesn’t go sprinting back home in screaming hysterics) or an old homeless man who turns out to be someone’s long-lost father, just waiting for love to make him whole again.

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If, like me, you’ve seen news stories about some of the nightmares that pose as nannies for unsuspecting families—or rape statistics for elfin-shaped young ladies just moved to the big city—or the mental health obstacles that are so much of the problem when trying to undo homelessness, then you may find yourself strongly attracted to the Heroin, I mean Hallmark Channel. But is it healthy? I guess what I’m really wondering is—is it merely escapism, or is it as delusion-inducing as the Southboro Baptist Church? If we whip ourselves into a frenzy of Christmas-time love and faith, we may find ourselves hating The Un-Christmassy enough to kill somebody. It wouldn’t be the first time someone got upset about someone else killing the mood.

And what of the crash? When I switch off the TV and walk into the kitchen, I may find it difficult to handle the newspapers, visitors, and telephone calls I find there. Those other people may not have watched the same movie as me. They might not be quite brimming with the same surplus love of their fellow man—and punch me right in the nose, figuratively or literally. Watching the Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie Marathon may make it impossible for me to survive, away from my hi-def flat-screen.

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However, there are commercials. The TV commercials, even Hallmark’s own, have a different texture from the movies—the treacle is still there, but the main motif is altered to ‘you need this thing to be happy’ followed by ‘buy this thing’. And even a Hallmark movie can’t completely obliterate such unadulterated huckstering. So, to be fully dosed with Christmas syrup, I always make sure I have a book to read. Yes, a book! You wouldn’t believe how long the commercial breaks in these movies are. One can easily read three or four pages before the movie comes back on—and, of course, I’m a virtuoso of the mute button—so I go from movie to book and back to movie quite seamlessly. The tone of the book can be problematical—the otherwise phenomenal Stephen King, for instance, is not recommended for this particular purpose. But I find that science-fiction novels can be a wonderful counter to Hallmark, as they both believe in wild optimism—even wishful thinking—but in two very different settings. My current commercial-break reading material is “The Peripheral” by William Gibson. It’s excellent, so far (as Gibson always is) if you’re looking.

But let’s return to the movies. By the end of New Year’s, I’m actually relieved to turn to that channel and find “Little House” re-runs, or something equally repulsive. I turn to the more reality-based programming of the other channels and Christmas is over for me. So what is this extended trance that takes me hostage each year? Perhaps, for me, it supercharges the ambient ‘Christmas cheer’ that naturally occurs in our lives. Or perhaps it makes more visible the falseness of the Season, a specific time in which we are obligated to be better people, to think kinder thoughts. Is it the human condition that caring must have a start and end point, like a race? Maybe we have the Holiday Season because humanity cannot bear very much reality—and the reality of kindness and caring is just too much of an effort to be part of our ongoing, normal lives.

It could be that the season of giving, rather than being a false pretense of our ‘better selves’, is really just the best we can do—one month a year, we try to be good. We don’t necessarily succeed—but we try—and that’s more than we can be bothered to do the other eleven months of the year.

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Do Your Parents Need Regulation? (2014Sep09)

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Sunday, September 07, 2014                 9:17 PM

Some people seem to think that plain speaking is a sign of anger. This is incorrect—speaking plainly is a product of fatigue. Fatigue is far more accessible to us now that the Inter-Web has given us Social Media (in some digital environs, it could just as well be called Sociopathic Media). Once a Thread begins, particularly a cultural-socio-economic-politicized-cause-type thread, I see both the hard-minded-ness of their side and my own. I argue for the right and just, not because I want to prove myself right. And the casual, very personal vitriol is totally outside of whatever point is at hand, if there is one.

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There are a crowd of possible responses to any statement—the less concern for the point of a discussion, the wider the crowd. If I seek to understand the speaker, and to give a considered, reasonable response, my possible actions are at their least prolific, i.e. listening carefully, with an open mind, and thinking hard about what I’ve heard—being on the lookout for distractions such as my desire to win the argument or simple impatience masquerading as righteousness—and forming a response that respects the other person’s ideas while forwarding my own as clearly as possible.

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But if trolling threads is my favorite past-time because I get to cuss and dismiss and insult without consequence (or without the courage to look a person in the face and say such things) then I can say what I want. I don’t have to pay attention to other posters in any way other than to find key-words to hang my taunts on. ‘Kill yourself’ is a favorite among the trolls—and that outlines their thought process to a ‘T’. Only children (many of them overgrown) have the urge to titillate themselves by trolling the internet—grown-ups are far too busy with more real pursuits, online and off. Part of the thrill, I suppose, is the ability to jump into any formerly rational discussion thread and mess it up for everyone else—and no one knows who to blame. What finer mischief could be imagined?

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My favorite are the ‘parental’ trolls—they adopt a knowing and dismissive tone, usually managing to drop mention of their advanced degree in whatever the discussion is about, then spout off ‘correct solutions’ that only reveal that, yes, they have probably spent their lives in a classroom, and not out where reality has a nasty habit of intervening. We cannot write about anything without revealing our personality—indeed, those in the arts and in entertainment are well aware that we can’t create anything without imbuing it with our personality. Trolls, like all children who act out, and most of all, like bullies, only reveal through their derogations that they are mentally broken and emotionally hurt.

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But the world is full of people who are mentally broken and emotionally hurt. The young who suffer from poor self-approval are the trollers’ most vulnerable prey—they have neither the self-confidence nor the experience to understand all the hatred being fired at them online, just as they make easy prey for the bullies in school hallways.

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Before caller ID, the anonymous phone-call was the weapon of choice for those who had the same twisted drives as the trollers of our times. The same anonymity cloaked their ludicrously evil whispers through the phone-receiver and the same anger and frustration drove them to it. Technology changes our life-styles, but never our natures. The first time I asked a girl for a date was, like millions of others, on the telephone. Such sweet conversations people can have on the phone. Yet ways were found to use it to defraud, to threaten, and to hurt. When we make our lives easier, we make all of it easier, even the bad stuff.

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So every time we invent something that gives us greater ease and power, we inevitably follow up with regulations against using the new thing for bad purposes. But now we have the Internet—and regulating it will remove its chiefest good. Plus, we have seen regulation go from a public service to a protection for the big corporations against limitations on their profit-making activity, and against potential competition or lawsuits.

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Regulating the Internet goes without saying, to some people—to others, the idea of regulating it seems a defeat of its potential. I suggest that these two ideologies have non-internet related origins. The simple truth of computing is that any security protocols must be coded and implemented by people, imperfect people. Further, computer-systems security is based on mathematics—more specifically, cryptography—and will always be vulnerable to superior mathematicians. The fact that such people are rare as hens’ teeth doesn’t decrease my sense of insecurity one bit—especially with American education in such a pitiful state, compared to other countries.

 

Spencer  -born 1988

Spencer -born 1988

Articles were written as far back as the 1980s delineating the impossibility of total digital security on an open network. Having worked with computers, I was aware of their physical fragility and their reliance on disinterest as their chief deterrent to hacking. I doubt I was alone in my surprise at the willingness of security-sensitive industries like banking, air-traffic-control, and government agencies to convert themselves into digital entities so early on. Even when they found themselves looking down the barrel of the Y2K crisis, there was no thought of retreat. I guess there’s another simple truth—computerized organizations function exponentially better than a pure-paper office ever could.

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We regulate everything but what matters—people. It would be unthinkable to pass laws forcing expectant mothers to refrain from drugs and alcohol, or mandating that parents read to their children for at least one hour every day. Such regulations would violate our civil rights. And what is the punishment for bad parenting? Domestic child protection agencies already face this dilemma with regards to parents who commit felonies—separating a child from his or her parents is much more a punishment of the child than of the bad parent.

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We could try the crèche approach—take children away from parents and raise them using an institution with a professional staff. But negligent crèche-workers are no less likely than poor parents—and children still lose something without the focused love of the ‘traditional’ family. We could try monitoring—but that would be the biggest civil-rights infringement of all. We need our kids to be raised right—rich or poor, smart or dumb parents notwithstanding—but that need finds little support in a country that prides itself on personal freedom. Let’s face it—parenthood is the opposite of personal freedom, at least in terms of daily behavior. Good parenting is downright un-American.

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Wailing and Weeping (2014Aug26)

20140824XD-SkyPix (5)Tuesday, August 26, 2014            2:52 PM

 

Stardate 09 point ho-ho-dee-ho-dee-ho

Status renewal:

Pill count: 12 (morning) 2 (evening)

Sleep Cycle: way off of ‘daytime’ norm

Lungs in terrible pain: taking the cigarettes easy today—no weed!

Fatigue: still hovering at max.

Loneliness: very high

Frustration: barely under control

Drinking: None

Projects: None

Value: None

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Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s try something more coherent. Last week of August—my melancholy usually waits till the leaves start to turn, but this has been a very un-hot summer and it seems to be leaving without ever really arriving (Not one heat wave this year—where’s global warming when you need it?).

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I’ve been promised a full cure of my HCV—it won’t happen—I’ve been so sick for so long, I’d have to marinate my entire anatomy in ‘cure juice’ to get it all out. HepC will even leave outposts in my bone marrow to repopulate the blood stream and liver after they’ve been ‘completely cleared’. In my bone marrow! Jeez.

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I am on my own. That is to say, I’m not alone—there’s Spence here all the time, in his own building, but there—and Claire takes care of me in the morning and at night with meals and pills and hundreds of other things—and my friend, Sherryl, stops by nearly every day and we have a chat or a cuppa. But that gives me only the barest minimum of contact to humans—no hanging around or long talks or collaborations on interesting ideas, no physical contact to speak of, no intense interest in me or my doings—just maintenance of my continued breathing, really.

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I try to fill the emptiness I feel by playing the piano or Facebooking or writing (like this)—none of it works completely; it just provides a framework for me to thrash about within. Until my illness, I was unaware of the very real, physical stamina that thought requires. Now it is plain as the nose, as they say, and it has become my nemesis—I can still think, but not very deeply or very long—and that’s where intelligence lies. My former intelligence lies afar. My superpower is gone and I’m helpless in the grip of the Red Sun.

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See the good? Find that silver lining? Yeah, sorry—I can’t seem to oblige. Truth is, I’m barely alive. I’m a burden on my family. I’m a lousy role-model for my son. I don’t leave the house. I’m sitting on a pile of atrophied muscles and forgotten skills. I’m not involved—I’m missing the party. I want so much—I’m still wanting a few things I’ve become too old to ever achieve. I’ve been dying, literally, for nearly two decades—it’s been a parade of horror and pain and isolation and heartbreak and helplessness.

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Have I become wiser? Has the refining fire burnt away impurities and left me with the pure gold of reason and mercy? There’s some truth to that—I am wiser than I was—but to what purpose? My lack of people skills is not at all helped by being wiser—wise is no party-trick, it’s more like x-ray vision. It takes the false front away, but it takes all the fun with it. X-rays of beautiful bodies are just x-rays. X-rays of a celebration show the noise but fail to capture the mirth. I was much happier being intelligent, but foolish.

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Music is all I have now—I listen to it constantly. I pay more attention to soundtracks than to special effects. But I’ve built my own tragedy into music, as well—by trying the impossible, trying to make my own music. I should have stuck with just listening. I have no natural talent, and all my hard work is towards fighting fatigue, not finding beauty in what I do. It’s Sisyphean, and what’s worse, self-imposed. What was I thinking?

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My greatest fear is to find myself perfectly healthy and alive again. I’m fast approaching sixty years old—how the hell do I start over at sixty? How do I recreate a social life at sixty? How do I re-enter the workforce at sixty? It will be hard enough to reconcile myself to the erasure of my forties and fifties, how am I supposed to just pick up where I left off? If this medicine really works, I will find out just where I ‘pick up’.

Truly, I can’t simply start off where I left off. One of the hardest things about my illness was how long it took to be diagnosed. I spent many years being unfairly accused of alcoholism and drug abuse—just at the point where I had stopped my wild ways for some time—and both things, the accusing and the reining in of my lifestyle, were (unbeknownst to anyone, including me) the effects of my increasing liver failure and the blood toxicity it causes.

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Everyone, including my wife, my kids, and myself, resented my ‘laziness’ and my ‘lack of willpower’. I thought being forced out of management and getting fired was what I deserved. I assumed that I had no one to blame but myself—I laid such a heavy guilt trip on myself that, when I finally found out the truth, I was glad to learn I had a fatal disease—it was a far better reality than the self-hatred I was immersed in.

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Thus, I must pick up where I left off my health, not my life. I remember a nervous, overly serious guy in his thirties who had a head full of plans and dreams and more. I remember working hard, sometimes through the night—it didn’t faze me, I was always obsessive about projects. This was before the internet and I spent a great deal of time answering questions—I was a walking Wiki, calculator, copyeditor, proofreader, and history timeline. I loved being over-educated. One of my long-term goals was a PhD—I had planned to take school courses forever. Now I can hardly remember my name.

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No, I fear that health may prove a harder life than my mostly bed-ridden, everyday usual. We all fear change, even beneficial change. Plus, my memories betray me—the agony of getting out of bed and getting to work (during those years when I didn’t realize I belonged in a hospital) was a daily hell. The frustration of staring at the computer screen and not knowing what to do, when I was used to programing without flow-charts, the entire structure always firm in my mind, was unbearably humiliating. The heartbreak at not having the strength to spend time with my kids, to take them places, or do school projects together—I hated myself worst of all for that.

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Those are some of the reasons I don’t look back on my active past with longing—I fear the return of an active life because my last one ended in torture and near-madness. But I will try. I’m hoping to find myself capable enough to build a happy lifeand find some worthwhile work (I’m damned if I’ve gone through all this so I can work at Burger King in my sixties!). If my hands stop shaking, at least somewhat, I may just go back to drawing full-time—the internet provides a variety of ways to sell original artwork. If I get some concentration back, I’ll try writing fiction. I will definitely get in shape, no matter how much it hurts—I’m most tired of all of ‘being tired’.

 

Well, that’s my wailing and weeping for today.

Civilians or Hostages or What? (2014Aug09)

 

 

 

 

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I can’t speak to the culture in the Gaza Strip right now. I neither expect (from my comfortable home in a non-war-zone neighborhood) that my neighbors would cluster around an active rocket-launcher emplacement—nor that the military would allow them within 500 yards (or miles, more likely) of such an obvious target. I wonder how it is that so many innocent Palestinians are close enough to these things to be killed or wounded by Israel’s return fire.

 Do the terrorists hold a block party around the launcher before they fire? Do they threaten the women and children who try to get away? Or do they indoctrinate their women and children to believe it is their sacred duty to stand under an Israeli missile-targeting system? The terrorists have been accused of storing arms and explosives under their mosques. The Israelis claim to have witnessed secondary explosions from some mosques. Just today, a Palestinian spokesman accused the Israelis of deliberately firing on one of their mosques.

 It is apparent that the Palestinians are as responsible for these civilian deaths as the Israelis whose missiles caused them. To put their own innocents in harm’s way for publicity purposes is just as much a war crime, if not more so, as the Israelis defending their territory with missile strikes at rocket-launcher positions. And I would like to know the point they think they’re making. Hamas (or who-the-hell-ever) shoots their rockets into the air—which then come down, they know not where. That alone should give pause to a responsible adult—several of their rockets have landed in Gaza.

 The last I heard, their rockets had been supremely unsuccessful—not a single Israeli has been hit. When such foolish behavior invokes a response from a nation that can hit what it aims at—at that point it would seem clear to any sane person that the time had come to find a more effective method to solve their difficulties.

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 One is tempted to regard Hamas as a bunch of crazy people. But the issue is—have they been driven to insanity by inhumane persecution? Or is being unreasonable considered acceptable in their culture? I can hardly see any reason why the Israelis, as a rule, would have any great fondness for Palestinians—they are human, after all—but has that friction created a bullying policy towards those who have sworn to destroy them? Even that would be understandable, if not quite acceptable.

 But we Americans share a belief in the nobility of the survivors of the Holocaust and their country. We assume that of all the people on the Earth, the Jews know the evil of persecution better than anyone. Israel has become a strong nation, and proud—as well they should be—but that pride and strength can get twisted up pretty bad (trust an American on this). I hope they still remember their thirst for justice as much as the bitterness of their persecution.

 And an important addendum—what about the rest of the frigging Middle East, huh? Israel is not their only neighbor. If the heads of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt—whoever—if any one of them wasn’t afraid of ‘getting their foyers all dirtied up’ by a visit from the Palestinians, they could be offering all sorts of humanitarian aid and developmental resources to the area. They could turn that blasted moonscape into a thriving metropolis if they wanted to. Perhaps it is more to their liking to let the Israelis go on twisting in the wind—and the Palestinians.

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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!’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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!

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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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What Do We Need? (2014Jan26)

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Sunday, January 26, 2014             4:48 PM

I’ll tell you what gets me about the whole thing—in a time when we demand incredible precision in our electronics, we have ceased to respect precision of thought. We’re showing our respect for the luckily talented and / or rich—we get behind slogans that can never be specific. Celebrity, the once onerous duty of the great and justifiably famous, is now available to our most decadently wealthy and our sickest sociopaths. And with all those psychopaths being scrutinized in the media, our kids have taken that as encouragement to bring small arms to school—and even to use them on their teachers and classmates.

In an incredibly complicated world we tend to overlook the details—just as these details become more important. We reject the unfamiliar and cling to what used to be good enough. We are impatient with explanations—and our TV journalism responds by being more about sensation and less about information.

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A lot of the trouble comes from two things: parents and pastors. Now, wait—there is nothing better for a child than a good parent—or even a pair of them; and nothing is more edifying for a community than a good pastor. We both know this is true—however, we do not have any definition of a good parent. Indeed, defining a ‘good parent’ may be an impossible goal—even more so may be defining a ‘good spiritual leader’ for a community.

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On the one hand we have the premise that parenting is natural, instinctive… whatever your word for ‘seat-of-the-pants’ happens to be. On the other hand we have Child Services—a municipal recognition of the fact that some people are ‘bad’ parents. Some parents are so un-good they are a danger to the welfare of their child or children. But Child Services can only respond to really gross, bare-faced parental misconduct—and even then, only if some Samaritans (or the children themselves) report it.

There is a new-ish concept in health care known as Preventative Care—meaning the pro-active inculcation of a healthy life-style combined with enough testing to catch serious maladies in their earliest, most treatable stages. The main idea of this being that it is easier to keep someone healthy if they don’t wait to see a doctor until they’re already very ill—and this idea has borne improved health stats and lower health costs.

Parenting might do with some of that thinking, too. I’ve heard that a person’s psyche is almost set in stone after the first few years of life—a time when infants are almost exclusively under the care of parents (or other relations). By the time children get to public schools, their ability to deal with social situations, learning and study habits, and personal hygiene—all these things have already been imprinted—for good or bad. So why don’t we monitor new parents’ interaction with their first-born?

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Because parenting is sacrosanct—if liberty ever had a highest value, it is the value of being free to raise one’s children according to one’s own lights. So it is, in some ways, even more important than freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Yet Child Services is still standing by—if you abuse your responsibilities as a parent to such an extent that it becomes known to them.

But we can’t define ‘good parenting’. A bell-curve, often used in sociology, implies that for all the bad parents, there are many more not-so-bad parents who raise their children badly, but not so badly that the children are taken away. With a significant percentage of the population parenting poorly, it would seem that we should have some standards—but we can’t have standards without first having definitions. And until we do, parents will remain a crap shoot.

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Worse still is the problem of spiritual leadership. We consider religious freedom very important in the USA—even if it involves poisonous snakes or sacrificed chickens—so when a church authority goes bad, he or she has a lot of latitude to take advantage of the community. And if we could define ‘spiritual leadership’, we could hold them to account more rigorously—sadly, as with parenting, only the grossest of misconduct sees the light of our judicial system. Despite its huge importance to a community, ‘spiritual leadership’ may be the most undefinable quality of all–what is it? Is it Goal-Setting? Supplier of Meaning? Practicing Self-Control? Perhaps one, perhaps all–the only sure thing is the definition will differ with each individual.

And this is the trouble with overlapping value systems—what is good as a ‘freedom’ may not be good as a ‘behavior’; what we want and what we need are rarely the same thing.

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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.

Opnamedatum: 2012-06-28

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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Growth Spurt

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Techo-Industrial progress is generally thought of as a growth process, a progression of steps towards a brighter future. But as I look back on my Computer-Whiz career, I can see that digital technology outgrew me. It outgrew me and thousands of others, men and women who had struggled through the early days of the digital office revolution.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were hundreds of new products and programs every month, eldritch code and cabling that went through an evolutionary maze from Pre-PC, room-sized standalones, to PCs using Basic, to PCs using dBase, to LAN-connected PCs, to PCs with Windows 2.0, to email, bulletin boards, and the dawn of the World Wide Web—and all these stages had commensurate enhancements in printer technology, analog-modems to cable, cabling, through its various incarnations of ports and plugs, to wireless, Faxes, scanners, laser-printers, mice, keyboards, and monitors, in-house programmer to off-the-shelf-software to Office Suites, Adobe graphics suites, ‘Meeting-minder/Contacts’ Sales suites, and bookkeeping programs galore.

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I began as one of those ‘in-house guru’-types, doing everything computer—setting up the machinery, running the cable, hardware repairs, software programming, user-training, de-bugging, printer-paper schlepper, printer jam un-jammer, etc.

In the course of the next two decades, I would read badly-translated-Japanese users’ guides on modem installation, hard-drive installation, balancing the voltage on the CPU, 200-page tomes on how to set all the settings for all the users of a new LAN version, dictionaries of code-syntax, and a lot of other documentation that would never make the bestseller list (or in some cases even qualify as being written in English).

I sucked it all up in my brain and it was quite a suck—but I was pretty sharp back in the day. Twenty years—the computer industry from its first shoots, growing into the ‘monster with a billion tentacles’ we have today—I rode the wave and fully enjoyed being up on that big tech wave with relatively few peers.

Now, I’m in no shape to go back to a life of coding, so you needn’t think this is sour grapes, but the digital culture has outgrown all the many things I once knew or used. Anybody can use a computer now, hell, it’s not even a PC anymore, it’s just your phone mostly now. User-friendliness, once a big issue, has disappeared from the lexicon, owing to how completely it has been achieved. Even someone with a PhD in Computer Science, in 1989 (assuming no further education) would be as digitally-illiterate today as I am. Technology simply outgrew the need for our skills.

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But we are not lonely in that category—millions of others are in this group with us—letter carriers, phone-jack installers, radio DJs, journalists, fighter pilots, astronauts, camera and movie film processors, electronics cable manufacturers. Now there’s talk of 3-D printing opening wide someday soon—there goes factory work—whatever hadn’t already been replaced by robots, that is. Fortunately, we have some breathing space in this area—it’ll be quite some time before 3-D printers will be cheaper than 3rd-world labor. I’d bet a guy with a fax machine business in 1990 probably thought it would last.

New jobs? Sure, new tech is bound to create some jobs—but not for hordes of employees. Most innovation these days is achieved through enhancements in software and the electronics—the small part of innovations that create new jobs usually create only one or two jobs, and very specialized ones, at that.

And so we see progress. Our technology is growing like a weed. It is outgrowing the need for hands and eyes. Soon the cars won’t let us drive ourselves—too risky. And virtual meetings take the place of many arduous junkets to far-off customers or suppliers. Wikipedia is, for virtually everybody, a better memory than the one we were born with—and if some of its data is false, just imagine how much data inside your own head is a bunch of BS and you can rest easy that it’s still a good trade.

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Luckily, no one has a job remembering, so at least the economy is safe from Wiki—if you don’t count World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica—both of which no longer print paper-books, having migrated online years ago, so those printers were out, regardless of Wiki.

But I like work. Our cultures are always founded on work—our bodies need work to stay healthy, our minds need work to stay sharp. Mobs of farmers used to get plowing, sowing, reaping, milling, whatever. Craftspeople used to make stuff with their hands—that sounds like a nice way to go through life. But there’s no need any longer. Machines do the farming, factories make stuff in bunches—and all of it quicker and cheaper than people.

Without the need for those masses of workers, there’s still plenty for a person to do. Medicine, Computers, Law, Construction—jobs all over—for now. But that doesn’t mean those jobs are still going to be there in ten or twenty years. As technology grows, its growth accelerates—the more jobs it does for us, the faster it will be taking more jobs away. Even if our profligate consumerist lifestyle wasn’t killing the planet, our notion of ‘progress’ has our own erasure from the list of significant things built into itself. We are rushing towards our own uselessness. Onward!

Thought

Winter Outside

Cold? O yes! The whole Atlantic seaboard region is below zero—and that’s in Fahrenheit, folks. We here in Northern Westchester are right in there, as is NYC, though the urbanites have the standard ten degree boost upward that all big cities generate (in waste heat). Up here in ‘god’s country’ the temperature is closer to the rest of the Hudson Valley, but not quite so cold.

Our snow is middling, less than a foot high—and hasn’t fallen anew for two days now. Our house has no insulation worthy of the title and our windows are all old school, requiring the summer screens and the winter storm-windows, of which we have none. And the glazing is so old the panes rattle in the frames.

We do all right, indoor-temp-wise, as long as the wind doesn’t blow. That’s when things get dicey at the Dunn homestead. A stiff wind can blow, seemingly, right through our living room and into the kitchen! The rooms that withstand it best are those that are stuffy at any other time. But ice on the trees can knock out the power lines—and does, on an average of twice a winter. The house becomes a dank, dark cave—then it’s time for staying in bed with extra blankets and warm clothes. Better to move to Nana’s, over in Heritage Hills—unless she’s got power out, too.

So winter is my least favorite season—I’ve always been overly sensitive to cold and my tobacco-smoking makes me even colder in my extremities due to clogged capillaries. I can easily stay warm by active exertion, but only until I get tired and sweaty—and then the sweat makes things worse. Plus, I get tired out in about 90 seconds, nowadays, so that’s no help at all.

But winter can be wonderfully silent. All the windows and doors are closed; none of the hot-rods are burning rubber in the street; no one is setting off fireworks—and the snow is something of a sound-baffle, absorbing sound rather than reflecting it. With really deep snow, we do get snowmobiles dragging around the local streets and that noise is terrible, but that’s only when the snow falls so hard and thick that the plows can’t keep up.

I’m always struck by the uselessness of modern homes without electricity running through them. It’s all fun and games until the power goes out. Suddenly, there’s no heat; there’s no running water (toilets don’t flush); there’s no phone or lamps or TV or Internet. In the warmer weather, a power outage can destroy hundreds of dollars-worth of frozen and refrigerated food—that’s the one advantage of a winter power-outage—the frozen food is still safe, if I put it on the porch. Small comfort, when it gets so cold that I go outside to warm up; when reading is only possible during daylight; and when, the one time I really need the comfort of music, the iPod never outlasts the outage. Play my own music, you say? Sure, but when my fingers are cold nothing is more painful than playing on keys that are colder—when my fingers actually get colder from touching the keyboard!

When I said winter was nice and quiet, I didn’t mean quiet during a power outage—unlike me, everyone else in this neighborhood has a generator. It’s a chorus of diesel combustion engines, night and day, until power is restored. Now that’s annoying—and no less so for knowing those thumping-generator-people still have lights and running water—probably even heat. Speaking of which, I should like to know who designed home-heating furnaces to require electricity?—the darn things burn fuel, a AAA battery could handle the thermostat’s requirements—it’s poor design that’s lasted decades, and will no doubt remain for decades longer! O, I get so mad.

Luckily for me, I had just received my two new blankets, a queen-size and a throw, from Amazon when this cold snap arose—I had a wonderfully cozy few nights, rather than cursing the drafts and wishing I had more blankets. This new ‘plush’-type blanket material is very soft and warm—and they’ve somehow determined how to make them less static-ey than wool blankets, which is great. And my fears of a blackout during this big freeze were without cause.

I love winter when it stays outside.

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.’

Xmas Carols

 

Sunday, December 01, 2013                3:32 PM

Well, it’s December, at least—long past the appropriate time to bring up the holiday season, to most marketers. But Xmas is not so easily tamed. We give our thanks in November, we give our presents in December, and we give ourselves new goals at New Year’s, the first day of next year. Xmas is in the middle but gets the lion’s share of the focus—giving things to each other calls to that materialism we all have at least a spark of—but it is an event, and in so many senses, more engaging than the more ritualistic form of the ‘book-ends’ holidays.

So I prefer to keep each event to its place and I never begin to play Xmas carols on the piano (and worse yet, sing) until December 1st. Xmas has pressure enough—and in the nadir of Winter—with the expectations needing filling and the mandatory purchases having unbalanced a recently comfortable account balance.

More’s the pity—the Winter fest of Europe’s ancienter times was a blow-out in every sense of the word—even sometimes electing a ‘governing fool’ who gave orders to the gentry—but always including drinking too much, brawling for no reason, and debauchery among the adults of the community. Even burning down a house or two was considered no great extreme—and the first thing the Reformed Protestant Churches did was outlaw the celebration of Twelfth Night, or Yuletide.

This did not stop people from celebrating—and it’s my guess that the raucous outburst of pent-up tension was the very best way to prepare for the group to live all huddled together, indoors, for most of the winter. Today, with stress an unavoidable fact of life, it makes little sense to have the holidays be filled with guilts and repressions—as it is celebrated by a tremendous number of Americans today. But even that undertow of familial and social demands on the celebrants does not define Xmas (no matter what Chevy Chase would have us believe).

I believe that Xmas has become an emotional refuge, its most important function being to allow us the fantasy, at least for a day or few, of thinking our lives have the same simplicity and cyclic regularity that those pagans once enjoyed. Most rituals have been stripped away from modern life, aside from weddings and birthdays—the number of people with ashes on their brow on Ash Wednesday is so sparse that it can disturb non-Catholics coming upon it the first time that day—they impulsively tell one he or she has a smudge on their forehead.

Those fortunate enough to be raising children focus the entirety of the ‘Season’ to their children’s (hopefully) treasured memories—the things parents hope their children will reproduce with their own families, some day. And no childhood fantasy is so seriously guarded as the ‘belief in Santa Claus’. This dichotomy between kids and adults has its good side, I guess, but I could never see it as different from ‘lying’, so we had no great emphasis on Santa’s reality—the kids are more interested in the presents, anyway.

That it is a stupid idea is confirmed, by my reckoning, by the number of stupid Christmas movies that focus on the maintenance of this myth as a humorous plot point.

Xmas has to do with being in the northern states, Washington to Maine, or thereabouts, and walking through snow to bring your freshly chopped-down pine tree into your living room. Anything else is not a Hollywood-approved location for this coziest of holidays—one can never feel quite as good about oneself as when donating to (or better yet, feeding) the wretched poor when the ground is covered with snow.

New York City has a slightly different take on the season, but is still within prescribed conditions to be a ‘real’ Christmas. It adds a lovely dollop of urbanity—window displays, municipal decorations, office parties (though not as solid a tradition as once was) and seeing the toys in FAO Schwarz’s and the big Xmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, on ones way to Radio City Music Hall for the traditional “Nutcracker” show.

 But the full-on, tradition-filled Christmas happens in New England—plenty of indigenous pine trees, a good chance of snow on the ground (before Climate Change, anyway) and tree ornaments that may have passed down through three or four generations. Ordinarily, the head of the clan will have ‘the family’ to their big house and make a short week of the holiday.

I watch nothing but the Hallmark Channel for the whole of December—I can’t get enough of these crazy movies—Elves fall in love with humans; Santa’s son doesn’t want to take over Christmas; a poverty-stricken family somehow find themselves living in a big, beautiful house in a lovely, loving, small town; Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the shop; A reindeer with a fluorescent nose flies at the front of Santa’s team—you know the drill.

However, it isn’t entirely Hallmark’s fault—it was Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that gave Christmas its wish-fulfillment aspect. It was his idea that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ was a mandatory giver of grace to even the most twisted misanthrope. The idea that hard-nosed business-people were a blight on society wasn’t new, but the ludicrous suggestion that they can be convinced to open their hearts one day a year…  —all Dickens.

And now Hallmark channel has evolved into a cornucopia of sappy, sentimental hogwash, non-stop for 25 full days of nothing but Xmas movies. I am fascinated by their transmutation of human ritual into wish-fulfillment fantasies and Cinderella-type romances. There’s plenty of sneaky elves doing magic and smirking behind a corner at the surprised humans—there are plenty of BFFs that make seemingly trivial remarks that resonate with the movie’s plot-line (or it’s title—which in some cases is the movie in a nutshell, for example: “Snow Globe”).

But sometimes I catch them in a new bit of blasphemy—this year (unless I didn’t notice in previous years) was the use of the tag-line, ‘Hallmark, the Heart of Joy’! Can you imagine? “Joy: def. Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness”.  In a religious context (if I may suggest that Xmas has a religious context) ‘joyfulness’ is the ecstasy felt by those who worship the newborn son of God. I’m sure Hallmark was just looking for a generic word, like ‘tinsel’ or ‘stocking’, to suggest Xmas without confining their audience to any specific religion—but in my opinion, ‘Joy’ can be seen as overstepping by sensitive folks like me.

Besides, Joy is pretty strong language, especially when describing the most shamelessly sugary genre of cinema in the world today. Maybe ‘Hallmark, the Heart of Sweet’ ? If you want to see something crazy, check out the Xmas Movies listing of your current cable provider, TV, Hulu, or Netflix—thousands of these films—and Hallmark makes five or ten new ones every year, just to cement their place at the forefront of kitsch. So I guess it’s what you call a ‘guilty pleasure’ for me to watch these movies on Hallmark channel for hours on end. I don’t approve of Hallmark’s immersion in the treacle of holiday sentiment—far from it.

Hallmark has a much older claim than computers to destroying our literate holiday traditions—the whole point of a card, back when, was that you made it yourself—put some thought and feeling into it. Lots of people still do that, but very few Americans—‘we care enough to send the very best’, as Hallmark once drummed into our ears, back when they were merely a greeting card company. All the little notes and present tags and letters from old friends—they are nowhere to be seen in modern American Xmases.

So I lie in bed and allow the false joy of Hallmark channel to wash over me. I wonder about the kids of today—how much of their holiday season is torn from their focus on the gadgets they all have now? How many kids get sleds for Xmas, compared to how many get the latest gaming consoles or handheld electronics? And I wonder at the power of my conditioning as a child, that even now as an atheist of decades, I still think Xmas has great value and should be treasured for whatever few truly human exchanges of love and joy (and presents) it still engenders, in spite of the tinsel.

Don’t Go Getting Crazy (2013Nov26)

There seems to be a rise in mental issues that may or may not be part of the dip in our economy. After all, if you take someone’s livelihood away and practically guarantee that he or she won’t be able to find a new job, ‘reactive behavior’ occurs—you can call it insanity if you want, or call it desperation, or cognitive dysfunction, or even maybe hunger and shame.

Suddenly ‘life on the street’ gets a little more crowded, a little more dangerous—people with poor coping skills feel pressure, newly homeless are still reeling from the collapse of their lives, families, self-worth… As for me, besides the terror at the thought I could someday end up there (!) I see it as a scary sci-fi story—the rich people have hacked the system, disenfranchised  much of the majority’s (the Saps’) democratic, legislative machinery of redress and reform, and have settled in for a long era of sucking our blood, like tics, and laughing down at us from their penthouses.

Having had Arnold Schwarzenegger serve as Governor of the State of California, it is difficult to imagine his sui generis Action-Hero-role swooping in and kicking ass and blowing up bad guys—when Ahnold is blatantly a part of the current system—a system that is proof against any uprising of the heroic or the violent. When your enemy is the system, you are facing down the heavily armed, the decidedly uninterested, and the pitiful few whose life is nearly as bad as one’s own.

Even some of the worst-off, the real ‘nose-divers’—they want nothing so much as a chance to buy back into the system that brought them where they are—on the street. And for many people, there seems little difference between business and gambling—both want something from you, both offer you future advantages that may or may not happen, depending on how honest the table is—and the luck of the draw.

But what does business offer during these hard, hard times? A virtual guarantee that the game is rigged, that the fat cats make the big dough and all us little people just keep on working, and taking it, without much to show for it. But let’s not be silly—in a world where our banking and finance industry big-shots are convicted felons, how can we possibly maintain our hope that the dice aren’t loaded in Vegas and ACNJ?

A fascinating field for debate–can civilization contain the animal within all of us? Do we want it to? If so, how much containment is enough? How much is too much? Should society try to accommodate our animal-humanity, or repress it? Can we, as a group, or even I, as an individual, ever match up our late-night resolutions with our early-morning excuses?

If everyone is at some level of mental health, how far should we go to splice that psyche onto a digital world of yes and no answers? Are people called ‘sane’, such as you or me, only to say that we are somewhat less crazy than the institutionalized crazies? We all live inside our heads–society lives outside of everyone’s heads–can we ever synchronize the two or are we doomed to mob-mentality forever?

Fascism? Not at all–I believe the problem is less amenable to brute force than it may seem–the biggest question is how aware people are of the various attempts at all those things that are currently underway–we use iconic words like liberty and freedom to represent the value of each individual life and heart. Nonetheless, we have a criminal/justice/penal system to exert constraints against anyone getting too ‘free’. We have ‘social services’ which imply that even the poorest soul will be kept from harm. Nonetheless we write budgets that curtail those services at the very time when their need for expenditures increases and unemployment is high.

We aren’t talking about ‘two steps forward, one step back’, we’re talking about two steps in every direction. People love being ‘hooked up’ to the world on the internet, but they don’t want anyone to peek at their private business as it streams to every hub across the globe. People will endure personal searches to get on a plane, but they don’t want their freedoms impinged upon by setting up DWI roadblocks in their neighborhood.

To me, it’s a matter of facing facts–you can’t have a globalized ‘community’ without its mandatory troublemakers (every community has them) not to mention Big Bro checking out our keystrokes–but digital surveillance doesn’t actually focus on an individual, it just monitors all traffic for key words and phrases. We like being able to track our car when someone rips it off, but we don’t want the police to be able to track it. We like to check out of a store where the counter-person just aims a laser gun at the RFID tag, instead of using a brain that may or may not be there–but we don’t want that data to be used for inventory, marketing, sales projections, etc.

We don’t even have a clear demarcation line between what is our behavior (our private business) and what breadcrumbs we leave as consumers (corporate research)! There’s a lady’s family that has been fighting to take the patent for her cancer-cell genes away from a pharma-R&D corporation and return them to the deceased’s family’s possession–but it’s all new law. People don’t notice what a brouhaha goes on in civil courts for all these new legal issues raised by new technology, particularly in biology and surveillance. The faster they drop in our laps, the more new law is required to control all the new abuses all this tech progress makes possible!

And, as someone (finally) began pointing out, our legislation has no ‘housekeeping’ function–we never repeal outdated laws–which in some cases can be a good or a bad thing. I don’t have a solution–but I know it’s a problem, and I know no one is talking about it.

New South Wales Art Gallery - night

New South Wales Art Gallery – night

One-Way Finger-Pointing (2013Nov15)

So, I can’t understand this ‘instant disaster’—or maybe I just don’t want to—a few days ago, everyone was very happy with the President, even though there were problems with the Healthcare.gov website, and then the Insurance industry sends out blanket cancellations, specifically blaming the Affordable Healthcare Act for the cancelling of these policies.

First off, they followed this specious accusation with a sales pitch for a ridiculously overpriced ‘replacement’ policy they offer—and held back any emphasis on the new insurance ‘marketplace’ the AHA laws had created—sometimes failing to even mention that option in their ‘cancellation notices’. And there’s something else they conveniently overlook—that the Insurance moguls were cancelling existing policies because they failed to meet the new minimum requirements for Health Insurance!

So, did Obama really lie about keeping our policy? Or did he just conveniently overlook that Insurance Companies were definitely going to have to cancel those policies, because  the new law made them sub-standard. Now, I heard a lot of cherry-picking: some middle-aged woman made a big deal about not needing maternity coverage, because she was done having children. She didn’t understand, apparently, that the point is no health insurance policy be considered legitimate if it doesn’t cover all medical needs.

Lots of people don’t need every single, itemized bit of coverage in their plan—that’s called a ‘minimum standard’—the Insurance company offers a policy that protects you from unforeseen medical costs—if it doesn’t include maternity, that’s not a ‘savings’ for post-menopausal women, it’s merely a refusal of decent coverage for all the rest of the women capable of bearing children.

In all this ‘Tea Party’ madness, we sometimes lose sight of whose side we are on. Health Care Reform has been a major issue for decades—and for all that time, between our insurers and our employers deciding what our health coverage and cost should be, legislators have tried to curb the excesses and depredation that system was stuck in.

It is the Health Insurance Industry that is our enemy, not the President of the United States—how hard is that to understand? Insurers and Big Pharma have their economic sights set on all of us, just as any employers will. They want to get the most they can out of us, and give us back the least they can get away with. If our government can protect us from that, why are there so many politicians railing against the Affordable Healthcare Act?

I suspect their agendas lean towards other priorities than our well-being. The really sad part is they are tricking us into helping them help the Insurance lobby.

And in the process, they are demonizing our President for trying to curb the excessive rip-offs of these money-grubbers and make things better for the rest of us. They try to defame Obama just to help the Insurance industry maintain their ‘freedom’ to screw us over—and the Talking Heads rush on the air and say, “O No, the world is ending for Obama” – the real headline is: “Insurance Companies Close to Eluding Regulation”.

Back In The USSR Days

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When the Cold War ended and people started tearing down the Berlin Wall in 1989, it wasn’t just the end of a war, it was the end of a way of life. And those of us who were born near its beginning were cut adrift in a world that no longer made sense.

In my day, we knew who the enemy was—it was the United Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, the place that is known today as about ten different countries, including Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (or whatever, and however many, new countries Czechoslovakia is now), and most of Eastern Europe. We thought of them as the Commies.

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Boy, did we hate the Commies! They outlawed religion. They kept the few Jews that survived WWII from leaving the Soviet Union, so they couldn’t go live in the new Israel. (Or NYC, which had a larger Jewish population than Israel—and still does, for all I know.). They outlawed any literature and music from the West (we used to be ‘the West’—that is, the NATO countries and their satellite nations). Trade with ‘The Free World’ was prohibited. Free speech and free assembly were prohibited. The only reason we went to the Moon was because the Russkies (another word for Commies) put a satellite in Earth orbit first—and scared us to death with visions of them raining nuclear missiles down from the sky. Then VP Lyndon Johnson was quoted saying ‘we cannot allow the communists to take the high ground of space’.

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We had our favorite Soviet artists, like Solzhenitsyn the writer and Shostakovich the composer—and we admired them not just for their talents or artistry, but for the harassment they endured under the Soviet’s cultural restrictions. We ridiculed the Russkies in our media—Boris and Natasha (of ‘The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’ fame) were generic caricatures of inept Soviet spies who couldn’t even catch “moose and squirrel”. As a child, I also went through atom bomb defense drills at school—they had all us kids go into the hallway, huddle down facing the walls and cover our heads with our hands. I remember also being informed that I should never look directly at an atomic blast because it would cause permanent blindness. No one said anything about how blindness would be the least of a person’s problems if they were close enough to look directly at a nuclear explosion.

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But, there were upsides to the Cold War, too. Companies’ employment practices couldn’t be made too draconian without being accused of the same kind of autocratic invasion of human rights that the Commies were guilty of. Our freedoms of speech and of assembly were more jealously guarded because it was one of the things that made us the ‘good guys’.

Religion was kept in perspective as well—we could see that no hand of God was destroying the Godless Commies, so we couldn’t say religion was fact, as some evangelists try to do today—but we also recognized it as an important personal freedom. It was relegated to the background in practical terms—no one took seriously the fission between science and the Bible—science was science and religion was religion.

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And civil rights got a huge boost from the Cold War—as soon as the Commies began to deride our ‘Free Country’ for being racist and quite unequal, the civil rights groups, the feminist groups, they all had to be taken seriously—they had become part of the Cold War, not as an enemy but as a necessity.

Information was free then—as it had always been. Scientists took collaboration to be such a serious mandate for scientific progress that the idea of owning information had a Commie feel to it. And that was leading edge scientific research—nowadays we can accept the idea of information ownership because our ‘information’ consists of reality-show-videos, music-videos, online gaming shortcuts—and other such frippery. The sharing of information between two scientists, in today’s terms, would be up against a mountain of Non-Disclosure Agreements and a mob of lawyers. The people who own things have gathered information unto themselves—and now the great scientific minds of the World are kept locked away by these Fat Cats so that they may profit from whatever genius those thinkers possess.

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I admit, it was a simpler time. Back then, the idea of riding in a jumbo jet was new and modern—steering them into the WTC Towers wasn’t something anyone thought about until much later—and even then, in 2001, most of us were shocked by that particular idea. I read the “Tom Swift, Jr.” adventure series when I was little—that was science fiction about jumbo planes and undersea construction, all dumbed down to the level of grade school reading. But I loved them.

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Later on, I began to read the late Tom Clancy—along with several million other people—his novels were very satisfying. The only evil in the world was the Communist Bloc—and U.S. soldiers never did anything wrong. As long as Jack Ryan defused the bomb in time, the world remained free from the threat of Soviet Dominion! In Clancy’s last real best-selling thriller, “Executive Orders”, he has cobbled together enough serendipity to land Jack Ryan in the White House (Someone steers a jetliner into the Capitol Building during a State of the Union address.) yet still leaves his character enough running room to fight bad guys hand-to-hand before it’s all over. And when it was over, it was over—that book was published in 1996.

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Clancy would write several other popular novels that would concentrate on the technology of modern warfare, mostly starring the sons (and daughters) of the main characters used throughout the books of his glory days. Many movies were made of his books–and his later post-Cold War writings were almost as prodigious, inspiring the TV series “Tom Clancy’s Net Force” and video-games from “Red Storm Entertainment”. He died in October of this year, 2013.

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Not only had we become used to the two-dimensional configuration of our civilization, us vs. them, but at its farthest, most extreme remnants, it became codified in entertainments, from “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” (1966) until the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October” (1990)—we enjoyed the melancholy status quo of two peoples separated by ideologies, who were always seen by each other as far too human when encountered face-to-face.

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We had yet to encounter a world in which terrorism was the new paradigm—I’ve always been very upset about our country’s reaction to 9/11—the fear that we allowed into our life-styles and our laws—was by far the greater attack—and we fell before it. Nowadays I could start a riot simply by walking away from a backpack in a crowded place. And yet we have more fatalities accounted for by random shootings this past decade, not to mention the home-grown terrorist Americans that bombed Oklahoma City. We have more fatalities accounted for by soldiers’ suicides than those who have fallen in action!

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Clearly, something’s amiss. We must put away our fear. And we must put away our pride. We have to take stock of ourselves, individually, and as a society, and we have to start figuring out sensible plans for moving forward.

The biggest storm in recorded history hit the Philippines a few days ago—and the consensus is that climate change is about as ‘real’ as it gets. The lying bastards who have knowingly obfuscated this issue for decades to get their almighty, god-damned dollar are not pooh-poohing Global Warming anymore—the smart ones are investing in the ocean-walling business—every big city in the world is near the shore of some ocean, and that’s a lot of massive berms and boundary wetlands.

The Chinese are learning what we learned—go overboard on the cheap, dirty energy, and the cities become murky fogbanks of lung-glue, and cancers break out all over. The Chinese will be easier to reason with—their advisors need only point out their windows, or at American newspaper headlines—the results of fifty years of greedy, sloppy energy-production are manifesting globally, in historically bad weather and bad crops. The planet is physically changing—and not in a good way. Between resource-rape and over-population, we’re headed for a bumpy ride these next ten, twenty years.

Tea-partiers trumpeting their petulant ignorance are not to be blamed—no journalist with any wits would waste time on Sarah Palin and that bunch. It is the Koch brothers, a notably personal aberration comprised of twin nut-jobs, who deserve the blame for inciting the stupidest demographic we have, and more than them—it is the cold, shark-like predations of all corporations, in their present configuration. The laws governing corporations in the USA read like an instruction manual for destroying the human race—and they must be changed.

We can never go back to the fairy-tale of “Moose and Squirrel” vs. “Boris and Natasha”—we know all too well now that our greatest dangers lie within ourselves and within our society. As a people, we don’t take enough responsibility—we don’t have more than a quarter of eligible voters voting in any election—and you can imagine how many informed voters that comes to. Not a lot. You know who comes out—the yahoos. They may be dumb, but they’re smart enough to win elections—simply by showing up.

I don’t know—I’m not expecting to see too many more decades—I ain’t dying, but I ain’t young, neither. My only concern is the kids, trying to make a good life for themselves in this junk-heap of a civilization we’ve become. Whenever I try to imagine a lifetime starting from now, I just get very tired. Can you imagine? It was hard enough starting in the 1950s—starting in the twenty-first century seems like something I wouldn’t enjoy—luckily, my opinion isn’t what matters.

There are some things I’m sure of. Money is a problem. Ignorance is a problem. Fertility is a problem. And, of course, Peace is a problem. There are organizations which, no matter how fine someone slices it, exist for the sole purpose of keeping the truth from being shared. Likewise, there are PR firms and propaganda departments that exist for the sole purpose of telling us lies, or at least, well-spun truths. Education will never work well until we recognize it as an ongoing thing—most especially now, when technology changes the marketplace, and the jobs market, so quickly.

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Public schools that don’t graduate literate students are not acceptable—how is that even possible? It’s possible because even very good, dedicated people are powerless against politics—and politics is rife in public education now. Maybe that’s because parents started trying to get their kids educated ‘with conditions’. The differently-abled are well-deserving of any assistance that can be devised. But the differently-‘faithed’ are a different story—we need to tell those parents to cowboy up and teach that junk at home, where it belongs.

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We can see the way the debate is formed by the media—what’s important is pre-decided—all that’s left is the arguing, which the media facilitate the best they can. And we all have fun, arguing over stuff, discussing stuff, criticizing stuff. We can see that many important things are left out of modern news reporting—things that don’t have high visibility yet have immense importance—these issues are ignored entirely. Think to yourself—aren’t there things you think about, that you never hear about in the news? And aren’t some of those things kinda important?

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Ahh, like The Beatles, I miss being “Back In The USSR”.

Take That

Take That (Election Night 2013)

Election Night! November 5th, 2013

Election Night!
November 5th, 2013

Augmentation, but In a Bad Way

Get back to me on that.

Get back to me on that.

 

Augmentation, but In a Bad Way

2nd consecutive rant–I can do this all winter….

Our Dog Is Getting On

Our President can’t reason with unreasonable people.

Our Dog Is Getting On

My most recent rant–enjoy!

Cold Tea (2013Oct07)

Monday, October 07, 2013                  8:59 PM

The ‘Tea Party’ House Representatives were voted in ‘in anger’—and they make things worse by ignoring any rules of logic or civility. Their mandate, as they see it, is to upset government-as-usual—which no one can deny they have now succeeded at. Bravo, Tea Party—you win.

Just one problem—the Tea Party has no off switch. It was sent to D.C. in protest against all the laissez-faire acceptance of the Twenty-First Century’s dynamic paradigm.

The Tea Party won’t accept any religious freedom that infringes on their religion—and their religion (as represented by the squeakiest wheel) is a type of fundamentalist protestant Christianity. The Tea Party prefers to see global culture as the subsuming of the rest of the nations under the USA’s economic sway, if not legislative. And the Tea Party is against the coddling of perfectly exhaustible humans who ‘claim’ to be disabled or otherwise unable to work—not to mention their children.

The evolutionary story of the Christian faith was completed at the turn of the last century. It was most noticeably finalized by “The Golden Bough” by James George Frazer, first published in1890. I will pause here and quote Wikipedia.com, to save us both some time:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

[“The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion”

(retitled “The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion” in its second edition)

is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).

 

It was first published in two volumes in 1890;

in three volumes in 1900;

the third edition, published 1906–15, comprised twelve volumes.

The work was aimed at a wide literate audience raised on tales as told in such publications as Thomas Bulfinch’s “The Age of Fable”, or his “Stories of Gods and Heroes” (1855).

Sir Frazer offered a modernist approach to discussing religion, treating it dispassionately as a cultural phenomenon rather than from a theological perspective. The influence of The Golden Bough on contemporary European literature and thought was substantial.”]

And this was a crushing blow to organized, modern religions—at this point (as of my writing this) all have been discredited for over a century. T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is considered by many to be the pre-eminent poem of the entire 20th century. It’s subject, in large part, is the devastation felt by these good people when the very bedrock of their reality was de-bunked. Nor did this deathblow to the legitimacy of churches come out of the blue.

In 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche, in “The Gay Science”, Section 125, ( translated by Walter Kaufmann):

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

For more than a century, scholars have grappled with historical evidence, with proof that religion is a tradition, not a reality. Because the understanding only comes after an education that involves science, archeology, history, and philosophy, those left with no choice but to turn away from our ancient traditions, or risk hypocrisy, are few—and we tend to be those irritating college-boys and girls. Thus the news that god is dead has come and gone, unless you are well educated enough to understand what research has revealed.

In the interval, we post-modern sophisticates have come to avoid the issue in public out of sympathy for whosoever may still believe in their religion. Thus the major changes were academic rather than public. We see a great reduction in those who once used to prescribe learning (Ancient) Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit so that any truly serious scholar would be able to read the earliest records of the sacred scriptures.

Nowadays, students of Science and Mathematics can ‘show off’ by memorizing all the Latin names of special flora and fauna. Beyond that, the language and alphabet of the ancient Greeks, Romans, or Hindus has become a purely archeological and scholarly interest in the halls of higher learning (pre-supposing I exempt all such institutes that may still be run on the precepts of some such dogma that forbids that point-of-view). An advanced degree in Religion or Religious Studies was once considered a powerful tool for a leader, or a teacher—presently those degrees are viewed by many as no different from a degree in Philosophy or Ethics.

Throughout the Twentieth Century a polite détente was observed with regard to those who considered Christian religions exposed as historical amalgams, rather than ‘revealed scripture’—and those who clung to their faith in spite of what research and learning had unearthed about our distant past. The Old-Timers (if you’ll excuse my calling them that) were not confronted on the sidewalk every day by impatient atheists who wanted them to get over their ‘delusion’. That’s how we got to the point of Charismatic Cults in the 1970s, and hypocritical TV evangelists who were begging for money—and getting it in handfuls from lonely old folks who had nothing to do but watch TV all day.

But this new ‘respectability’ is beyond all sense. Our Christian fundamentalists funded the Muslim fundamentalists’ war against the Soviet Union (godless heathens, that is). Now we have debates on what is extremist, what is terrorist, what is harmless fundamentalist doctrine?

The truth is that it’s all a sham. But religion is a part of society. The Catholics, and the Salvation Army do the most to support the impoverished, but Protestants, Muslims, lots of ‘church-groups’ of whatever stripe are also out there, trying to make a difference. To date, no fund-raising organization for helping the poor has ever replaced our churches and temples.

And that has never been addressed as a public issue. Neither has the basis of ethical behavior, outside of an organized faith’s doctrine. Declaring ones atheism isn’t going to make one a lot of friends. The atheist’s peace of mind is also scant. But the freedom from the ludicrous, the letting go of the incredible… there are some upsides to being without a church.

But I have allowed myself to meander—back to the point. The full quote from Karl Marx is: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

He makes no mention of our addiction being used by the establishment to coerce us into cooperation with the very-far-from-fair Capitalist system. For some reason, I always implied that meaning in my own mind. Regardless, when religion becomes part of the politics of a government, it invariably signals some group of hypocrites trying to manipulate the simpler folk. To be fair, I think there are plenty of politicians out there who are privately agnostic—but if they hadn’t the sense to keep it to themselves, they wouldn’t be politicians now, would they?

So the Tea Party can boast members with a very prickly attitude about church-going. And the Tea Party is very picky about freedom. I, for instance, enjoy the freedom of walking down the street and feeling perfectly safe in my own little American neighborhood. But I can only enjoy that freedom because others have lost the freedom to let their dogs roam unleashed, have lost the freedom to hold dangerous drag races down the street I’m walking on, and have lost the freedom to DWI their automobile right up my—shutcho-mouth.

The Tea Party wants to keep their freedom to say no to mandatory healthcare. Where were these people when we got saddled with mandatory auto insurance to register a car—or mandatory home insurance to get a mortgage? I’ll tell you where they were—they were being properly ignored by sensible people who were looking at the bigger picture. We got so used to having responsible representation in the federal government that we got tired of voting—and after a while; the excitable nut-jobs were the only ones voting.

I’m as guilty as the next person—I didn’t bother to vote until Clinton. The aftermath, that terrible eight years of ‘W’, was much harder to take now that I was a voter. But Obama’s election, and re-election, restored my faith in my fellow citizens. I’m supremely happy with his steering of the ship of state. The only thing that went wrong was the Tea Party. The implicit racism of the Tea Party is borne out by its creation after Obama took office, it’s persistent disrespect and rumor-mongering towards our head of state—regardless of the harm done to our nation’s perception by the rest of the world, and its current pretense of fighting to ‘preserve their freedoms’ while the country, perhaps even the globe, begins to smolder.

They are a shame and blight on our body politic. I have to hope that even the idiots who elected them will see their mistake, and vote for someone else to take their office, someone with some common sense and respect for our governing system.

Obama has turned our economy back upwards from the ditch the GOP drove it into—he has passed and (now) implemented the affordable care legislation that the GOP are screaming about—it is very popular. Apparently, health care is something poor people, even middle class people, want and need.

To turn this country upside-down in protest is worse than childish—it is criminal. If it were up to me, I’d charge a heavy fine on the Tea Party reps for every day they thumb their noses at our country’s well-being and reputation abroad.

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.

Thought

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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Fifth Columnists

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The disloyalty to our president was just embarrassing through his first term. But now it is actually impinging on our national security. Past presidents could always rely on the people recognizing the importance of supporting the elected president, even when they voted against him. And it is just suicidal where international policy is involved—making our head of state look weak isn’t in any American’s best interest.

But now we have a rabid media, carrying the ammo for all the tea-party, red-neck, fundamentalist, closeted-bigot misanthropes who have assigned themselves as ‘Obama blockers’—people who study the art of oblique response and ‘teaching the controversy’ for the sole purpose of holding us back from the twenty-first century’s avalanche of cancellations of status—men aren’t in charge anymore; Christianity doesn’t get a free pass anymore; priests and gym coaches are not nearly as respectable as they were once thought to be; ‘weirdos’ aren’t safe to bully anymore; being gay is no longer a ‘mental illness’; and nerdy ‘thinkers’ are more dangerous, more powerful, and more wealthy than anyone else—even football players.

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There’s no denying that it’s a lot to take in. The world has become scarier on many different levels—how could it not when, suddenly, nearly every person in the world can text-message anyone else in the world. The decline of the United States Postal Service is the least of it—the Arab Spring saw social media become a Command and Control network for any group of like-minded people. Politicians who embraced the new digital environment were miles ahead of any doubting laggards. People are becoming so involved with each other that the major TV networks are failing to capture prime-time audiences that once were captive—and their best breadwinners are now reality shows and talent shows that display humanity’s interactions and dreams of success and validation.

With our contemporary enlightenment comes a loss of steadiness and security—now that we’ve questioned everything, we have to live with an infinite string of questions—will the bank fail?, will the stocks crash?, will a small town become a ghost town?, will our food give us cancer?, will our food help prevent cancer?, are cars safe?, is burning petroleum a crime?, will my air conditioner break the atmosphere? All things have a 50-50 chance now—we may have been stupid to rely on false assumptions or a corrupt system, but in some ways we had a lot more peace of mind. Would life be better if we were stupider?

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Well, I think you can guess what a stupid person’s answer to that question would be. But let’s say you’re smart—like President Obama. Let’s say you have to play international ‘poker’ with every other nation on Earth, all at the same time. Would he maybe threaten the use of missiles, when it helps put pressure on intransigent dictators and pouting braggarts? Is that tricky? You bet it’s tricky. Is it harder when the media-swarms and naysayers nit-pick everything he does and says? You bet it’s harder. Did you ever think you’d see the day when Republicans would holler bloody murder over proposed US military actions? Me neither.

The Republicans, by hating everything Obama on principal, have truly contorted themselves into a human pretzel—they tried to stop Health Care Reform for years (they’re still trying) but they can’t be against health care, or schools, or lots of things people generally want and need. They tie themselves in knots trying to say two opposing ideas at the same time. But now they’re against firing missiles at somebody—come on! We know you guys love that stuff—you’re not fooling anybody.

I take that back—some are fooled. Putin, for one. He thinks all you reactionary maniacs represent the majority of Americans—why wouldn’t he—the tea-party gets more TV air-time than car commercials. Why? Because the news loves a car wreck. The Media wants conflict, they stopped being about ‘informing the public’ a long time ago. Still, Putin, Assad—all those charmers—should take note of who won our election, twice.

The majority of Americans voted for the man they trust and respect—and if that makes us exceptional, well, ya got me there…

 

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A Song, An Improv, & An “Are You Dunn?” Addendum….

A Song,

An Improv,

& An “Are You Dunn?” Addendum….

click to Play my YouTube Video

XperDunn plays Piano
August 25th, 2013

Cover of the Carpenters’ single, “Goodbye to Love”.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[“Goodbye to Love” : Single by The Carpenters from the album “A Song for You”, Released on June 19, 1972, Label A&M #1367 / Writer(s) Richard Carpenter; John Bettis / Producer Jack Daugherty

“Goodbye to Love” is a song composed by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis. It was released by The Carpenters in 1972. On the “Close to You: Remembering The Carpenters” documentary, Tony Peluso stated that this was one of the first, if not the first, love ballads to have a fuzz guitar solo.

While visiting London, he saw a 1940 Bing Crosby film called “Rhythm on the River”. Richard Carpenter noticed that the characters kept referring to the struggling songwriter’s greatest composition, “Goodbye to Love”. He says, ‘You never hear it in the movie, they just keep referring to it,’ and he immediately envisioned the tune and lyrics starting with:
I’ll say goodbye to love
No one ever cared if I should live or die.
Time and time again the chance for
Love has passed me by…

He said that while the melody in his head kept going, the lyrics stopped “because I’m not a lyricist”. He completed the rest of his arrangement upon his return to the USA.]
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click to Play my YouTube Video

XperDunn plays Piano
August 25th, 2013

Improv – Goobers
(music fades out instead of ending–the result of a dead battery-sorry.)

Start and End Cards source: http://www.winslowhomer.org/hound-and-hunter.jsp

Homer’s watercolor sketch for Hound and Hunter showed, lying behind the boy, a rifle that the artist later painted out. When this final canvas was exhibited in 1892, its subject was condemned as a cruel sport then practiced in the Adirondacks. Some viewers believed the youth was drowning the deer to save ammunition. The artist curtly responded, “The critics may think that that deer is alive but he is not—otherwise the boat and man would be knocked high and dry.”

To clarify that the stag is already dead and no longer struggling, however, Homer did repaint the churning water to hide more of the animal. The hunter, therefore, simply ties up a heavy load, calling off the hound so it will not jump into the boat and swamp it.

Homer once asked a museum curator:
“Did you notice the boy’s hands—all sunburnt; the wrists somewhat sunburnt, but not as brown as his hands; and the bit of forearm where his sleeve is pulled back not sunburnt at all? I spent more than a week painting those hands.”
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Sunday, August 25, 2013            4:06 PM

“Are You Done?” (Cont’d):

I am aware that the previous ‘essay’ (if I may use that word) was both ludicrous and without any substantive ideas for moving forward. I think one point I attempted to make is that People have to wake up to the very powerful forces being arrayed against them at present. And that civil-rights-oriented and community-activity-oriented crowd-sourcing is a very promising new tool that we can either use or have used against us—our choice.

The other point, the main idea I wished to illustrate, was that individuals are wooed by many associations and organizations, including political parties, multi-national corporate giants, and banks—and that the only organization intended for our own self-interest, the federal government, being so wrapped up by capitalized and specialized interests, has ceased to perform that function. And that leaves us with only two choices.

We either have to wrest control of our government back towards the protection of civil rights and the providing of social services, or we have to find some way to sidestep those ‘clogged arteries’ and create an organization outside of government. I had intended to mention, further, that such an organization, by virtue of the digital revolution, and what may be called the enhanced social conscience of our society here at the start of century twenty-one, would operate so much more efficiently, cost-effectively, and speedily that the existing government would be pulled along in its wake, so to speak.

Why do I see this issue in this way? That’s easy—because we have already learned that Authority is not a ‘God-given’ right, such as monarchs used to claim; neither is Authority a prerogative of the wealthy, such as the wealthy have been used to claiming; nor is dogma an Authority, as religious extremists persist in insisting. Authority is a necessary evil, plain and simple—someone has to be in charge to enable groups to create something greater than what they could do as a disorganized group of individuals.

And that greater creation, or ‘progress’, if you will, is always a source of Power to those in authority. Power is an addictive drug which no human has ever been immune to—thus authority inevitably changes its goal from a common good to an entitled elite who skim the cream of organized effort and (usually) begin to work counter to the original common good.

We have attempted, by democracy, by socialism, and by communism, to create a more perfect organization, to put in place checks and balances which restrain, as much as possible, the natural tendency towards corruption in authority, including favoritism, and elitism—but all have been overwhelmed by the constant pressure of those natural human drives. Unfortunately, authority has to reside with someone—so I won’t bother trying to invent a new system that partitions or restrains authority from abuse—it’s like trying to lift yourself by your own bootstraps.

And this is why I have no suggestions as to how to fix ourselves—human society has built-in structural flaws that prevent us from Utopia. The only thing we can hope for is that the Elite become ashamed enough of all the starvation and poverty that they eventually find a way to accommodate the millions of losers in the great game of capitalism. Or, for the truly optimistic, we can hope that our global society matures into something less of a dog pile than it’s always been, and is now. If I had a religion, that would be it—people starting to work just as hard to cooperate with each other as they do now to compete with each other.

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.

You Want To Know What It Is?

I’ll tell you what the f***k it is—it’s the goddam Obama-haters. The one thing we, as Americans, have always done is to accept the elected president and treat him with the respect deserved by the office, regardless of our feelings for the person elected. I’ll grant you, we had a lot of fun sniping at Bush 2.0 because he didn’t have the greatest command of grammar, English, arithmetic, or public speaking—but we never expressed the violence implied by the vitriol of the ‘I hate Obama’ party.

Even when it became crystal clear a few months into the occupation of Iraq that there were never any WMDs and that the whole war was a ‘pet project’ of Dubya’s and his cronies’, when he committed our troops to an unnecessary invasion, did we ever question his citizenship, or his faith, or his intentions. Even when there were a lot of outstanding questions about his win over Gore in 2000, once the FL supreme court ruled and Bush was inaugurated—no one ever trashed his character or swore to fight his every single piece of legislation in Congress, or block his every single Presidential appointee, or call for outright violence against his person.

Only the Obama-haters have ever so ruthlessly disgraced this country with their obviously racist fury. I would give them the benefit of the doubt if their objections and allegations remained respectful of this country and the office of the Presidency. But they made history with their disrespect.

No one, before Obama, had ever been called ‘Liar!’ in the middle of his state of the union address—and by a member of congress, no less. This congress is set to make history over the next few months as the most useless, do-nothing, back-biting bunch of bulls**t-artists this country has ever seen.

A record low in the number of bills passed. And the Republican party, i.e. the people who brought you the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression, just days before Obama would become president-elect, could hardly wait for him to take the oath, so they could start blaming him for their greed and corruption—and the millions of Americans who lost their jobs under Bush’s watch.

Legislation that was copied word for word from earlier, Republican conceptions was nevertheless voted down by that party’s office-holders, especially the health care bill they so loudly declaim is unconstitutional.

All of this unprecedented rage and stubborn, irresponsible behavior in elected officials is proof, to me, that we are not talking politics here—we are talking racism, pure and simple, and I think the whole conservative camp in this country should be ashamed of their childish and ignorant behavior. That’s what the f**k it is. Prove me wrong, you tea-party clowns and closeted sex criminals and corrupt, fat, toxic bunch of fools.

I mean, Jeez! You people took what was potentially the proudest moment in our nation’s history—proof that the American ideal of equality was real, Not just a bunch of bulls**t, and you ruined it by publicly and strenuously screaming your heads off about our President being this, not being that, putting obstacles in front of every single move he tried to make.

And let’s get this straight—this was not tit-for-tat. President Obama has done his damnedest to try and get this country out of the ditch the Republicans abandoned it in, to end the useless wars the Republicans got us into, to get services for the troops who were wounded, or the families of the dead, to improve our infrastructure, our educational system, and a whole lot more. Every day that man gets up, rubs his eyes and says, ‘Well, let’s keep trying, let’s get to work.’ And every damned day the Republicans greet him with catcalls and obfuscation and dithering over nits.

The Republicans have spent nearly eight years straight now, working their hardest to ruin this nation. They call it politics—I call it treason.

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.

Thought

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.

greed08

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.

20130212XD-GooglImages-Pope_Urban_VII_1590

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.

mam015

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

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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.