28 09 2010

Gentlemen, here’s a manga (comic book story) from Japan It’s been translated into English. Its title is Ane Doki. It comes from a manga magazine aimed at older boys. It’s a combination of a very touching story, a funny story about a weird relationship, and a sexy story.

The drawing is great too:

I’m betting that once you start reading it you’ll be hooked.
Per Japanese writing convention, the panels on an individual page proceed from right to left.
Here’s the place to start:



26 08 2010


Here’s something on the national horizon that is so profoundly unfair and potentially counterproductive for the economy that it’s frightening. Yet it could come to pass:


And here’s a response to it that really made me feel hopeful about my country:

New York, NY
August 23rd, 2010
11:52 am
Dr. Krugman,The socially-responsible wealthy do exist but their voices have been drowned out by the conservative propaganda. Some of us have been so incredibly fortunate to be among the top 1-2%, and (surprise!) we would readily welcome higher top-bracket taxes to give back to our nation in dire need. Our fellow Americans are struggling, while the widening rich-poor gap is both undesirable and unsustainable. There is hardly any satisfaction in being affluent if we are surrounded by an ocean of poverty.

Yet, it is precisely during these trying times that the conservative movement has revealed its true colors of ultra selfishness. The staggering amount of misinformation has in fact led to many struggling low-income Americans — those who could actually benefit from lower taxes and/or more stimulus — in effect believing that the rich should not be taxed any further, lest we start looking like socialist Europeans! This is simply unconscionable.

Believe me, I am not the only one among the lucky few who feel this way, but our voices aren’t being heard. Oh, and by the way, I am an immigrant who owes a huge amount of gratitude to America and am prepared to give back.



Today’s strange brand of “conservatism” has taken a death grip on the radical, relatively-new notion (1940s) of the “virtue of selfishness”; so it would have us believe that there are few wealthy people like this man. I think there are lots. Remember when Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and several other super-rich men appeared before Congress to argue AGAINST repealing the estate tax?


Yes, I’m getting slightly optimistic here because of Adrian’s post, but that’s a long-term hopefulness, based on a sneaking suspicion that common decency and common sense wins out in the long run. In the short run, though, I still have to ask you, my friends, to please not vote Republican this Fall. If many of you do, we’ll have another round of tax cuts for the Rich, restrictions of public services (except for the sacrosanct military, of course!), and probably a serious effort to mess up Social Security under the guise of “budget austerity”. All this can lead us in only one direction.


It’s dangerous for all strata of a society for it to end up where this one is headed: a small island of super-wealthy people surrounded by a vast sea of struggling, unhelped Poor.


Don’t believe me? Read the history of Guatemala.






7 08 2010


(In this case the TV show Mad Men)

TV is so pervasive as to be inescapable in the USA in 2010. (E.g., videos by young folk on YouTube are often virtually incomprehensible because their makers unthinkingly recorded the video with TV chatter competing with them in the background. TVs bolted to the wall unroll endless drug company spiels in doctors’ waiting rooms.)  Any medium that is that pervasive, and that is commonly absorbed that unthinkingly, has great potential for harm.


Here’s one of the bloggers  who write so well I always quote them in full, commenting on a New York Times column about the show Mad Men:

Jon Jost
Matera, Italy
August 1st, 2010
6:24 am
The “prevailing ethos that style and cool trump all” is a ringing indictment of America’s cultural hollowness. A hollowness which has driven us into unfunded wars (have fun paying for it, children), to an economic system which glorifies image while having carved out the substance of our economy, to a constant white-noise of trivialization (of which this column is a perfect example) which drowns out all seriousness and reduces life to a recitation of brand names and logos. We’ve been corporatized so that a TV critique of our mores becomes chic and hip, and we glorify the grisly reality that we’ve all been turned into whores: to business, to the government, to style, to ourselves.

What is mad about Mad Men is that we can no longer get mad – too uncool.


Impassioned, yet commendably brief, Jon.


Vacation? Try to Imagine 8 Weeks / Year!

5 08 2010


I realize that the USA is the Greatest Country on Earth, but does not appear to have the best quality of life:


I leave as an exercise for you who work for a living but fear European “socialism” the task of constructing an argument for why it’s actually BETTER to get a maximum of 2 weeks vacation a year, which you’re scared to take.



30 07 2010


Or, “I Ain’t a Bum As Long As I Got My Gun!”


Recently I was asked to explain why I’m against the notion that everyone should be able to bear arms just as much as he pleases.

Happy to Oblige.


First, the Second Amendment

The language of the 2nd amendment explains itself:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

It the only amendment that has this characteristic. That fact suggests very strongly that the right being given was, just as the language says, only for the purpose of making a “well-regulated militia” possible. The early USA had no standing army. It had to have such a militia in order to have any military capability at all. Therefore a rational reading of the 2nd amendment would be, “As long as you’re a member of the national militia you have a right to keep and bear arms”. This is how the amendment was read by the Supreme Court for many decades. The recent decision of the Supremes that the right to bear arms extends to everyone under every condition is as inexplicable, under the plain terms of the amendment, as the recent decision of the Supremes that corporations, being “persons” under law, have a right to spend unlimited money on elections.

Both those decisions are only explicable as telltale manifestations of “judicial activism”, right-wing variety.


Second, What Gun Ownership Costs Society

Widespread gun-owning is incredibly costly to this society. The murder rate here is between three and four times that of Britain, where gun ownership is tightly controlled.* The widespread availability of guns has produced a brand new all-American cultural rite: “going postal”. When you decide that you’ve been intolerably “done wrong”, usually by your place of work, you, after brooding over that mistreatment sufficiently, can just grab your gun and go a-shooting. It happens all the time.**

Further, our police are trigger-happy out of the knowledge that anyone at all they attempt to collar may have a gun; and in public buildings and events we’re subjected to intrusive, burdensome, and often incredibly expensive “security” procedures and limitations — both largely due to widespread exercise of the 2nd amendment right.


We Want Our Guns Anyway, Damn it!

Oh really?

All this contorting of the Second Amendment and ignoring of blood and money wasted! For what, exactly?

…So a bunch of guys who have guns tangled up in their sense of their own manhood due to having been taken hunting a lot by their dads can continue to feel that warm manly glow as they loll in their recliners? Does that REALLY seem enough to justify all the social ills of gun ownership to you?

…Or is it so we can rebel against the gov’mnt if need be? Hmmmm…. Do you think our brave American revolutionaries could ever prevail against all those tanks, etc. that our bloated military now has? Guess not, huh? So why incur the immense social cost of unrestricted gun ownership then?

People who live in the country need guns to shoot varmints and defend themselves from unwelcome criminal visitors.  When most of America was rural, most people needed guns for the above reasons and, more importantly, to put meat on the table or fight Indians.  Understandably those folks of the 17th through early 20th Century would have gotten very mad at the thought of losing their guns. But today most of America is urban or suburban, and most people — RATIONALLY speaking — no longer need guns. Long guns are now only the toys of occasional hunters. Handguns, as toys, have even less important uses, and, as tools, are only good for killing people. Ordinary people very seldom NEED to kill people. They may think they might someday have that need, but common sense tells us that they almost certainly won’t. So why are a vociferous and thoroughly lobbied-up minority perpetually screaming about the need to protect gun ownership in the USA of this new century?

Wild passion in defense of a thing that has little real value is a tell-tale sign that that thing is not cherished for itself, but as a symbol of something else. And most of the “save our guns” brouhaha in America today does come from a pretty small group of right-wing, very passionate activists who have made this their make-or-break issue.

Ultimately, I think they’ve done THAT because the USA has gone kind of nuts over the last three decades. Lots of us have long been and remain a bit crazed from mourning something wonderful that’s we can now increasingly see is lost beyond redemption. For many generations, we Americans were all unusually “free”, due to having a frontier we could go live on whenever we found we didn’t like society much anymore.  It was the very best kind of freedom too, because the free frontier was situated right next door to civilization; so if you went adventuring there it wasn’t like being irrevocably stuck in a trackless wilderness or something. For over 200 years all Americans were free every day, in principle, to decide anew which way of life they really liked better, gun-totin’ self reliance, or well-policed social order, and to go live where they could live that way.***

Now America has unquestionably lost that frontier freedom for good. Every year that passes it becomes clearer that this is a modern urban society, and there’s no part of the country in which to escape its limitations and demands anymore. Furthermore, ever since around 1980 a brand new loss of a similar weight has loomed in the lives of many of us. The social position and income of working class and lower middle class people — the majority of Americans — has been declining relative to the rest. ****  Many members of that big group of our folks have a great deal of emotion invested in the notion that they are free, independent individuals who need no economic or other help from any quarter. Yet in fact they are mostly  getting poorer every year, and every year they seem to be hemmed in by more rules-on-top-of-rules, at work and elsewhere, that they must obey, on pain of an economic or legal whippin’.

A human brain can’t long endure this degree of conflict between its sense of self and the reality of the society around it. So lots of the traditional guys do what is within their power to do about this unique cognitive dissonance that haunts modern America: They cling to SYMBOLS of the old frontier freedom — the most powerful by far being GUNS — in order to be able to  go on denying the fact of their permanent sentence to the grueling daily labor of negotiating their way through a highly complex society that is slowly abandoning them.




** See The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner

* Here’s the most recent going postal incident, which happened just 4 days after this blog post was entered:

***See this July 30, 2010 article in the Financial Times

or see my earlier post “So THAT’S Why We Both Have to Work!.”

Reconciling With An Old Love

12 06 2010


She was so unsatisfactory in so many ways that for many years I looked back on my time with her with resentment, almost hatred. True, she had a lot to teach me that I very much craved to learn, and I gloried in learning it. Under her tutelage the thinking side of me grew by leaps and bounds.

But my emotional side languished. At an age when a person’s life revolves around relationships with others — how to  start them and develop them, how to handle the details of them, and how to deal with the depth of emotion they can cause — I came on the scene too stunted to pursue that side of my development and left it just as stunted.

Major depression ensued — not surprisingly. And for years  after it went into remission I couldn’t remember my time with her without also remembering the loneliness that had been my only companion for most of that part of my youth.

That mental association became automatic with me, and always painful, so when she tried to communicate with me over the years I didn’t want to hear from her. I threw away all her letters. And when she needed help I said, in my poverty of wealth and spirit, ” Go get it from your foster children who’ve got rich. I never developed the social skills needed to get wealth and power, and I blame you for that, damn you! Fuck off!”

Yes, my alma mater presided over a bad, bad period of my life! Through the luck of my having had a martinet mother, I had gotten straight “A”s through all my school years. And when in 1966 (!) Columbia University sent a representative to my little town looking for graduating seniors who could help it put together a class not made up just of  kids from New York City, I was ready to accept their offered scholarship and join up. I shook the dust of  little East Texas town off my boots and headed East…

Only to discover, aside from the contents of a truly terrific education…my own sweet self. For reasons I now understand, but couldn’t then guess, I couldn’t relate to anyone I met in that New York City college. I didn’t make friends and didn’t date. The reasons for those deficits had nothing to do with Columbia and little to do with the people I met there. They are buried far further back in my past.

It’s all still the same with me 40 years later. I retain, and still cherish, most of the contents  of that great education; and I still can’t be close to people except under very special circumstances. For decades this intellectual/emotional lopsidedness caused me great sorrow.  But now, in the twilight of my life, the way I see my great deficit has greatly changed.  I don’t need the ability to bond with others very much anymore, but I feel that I need to understand the world around me now much more than ever before. And I’m trying just as hard as I can to understand as much of it as I possibly can, drawing upon  my Columbia education, all the learning I’ve built on that foundation since, and the vast world of information to be found on the wonderful new Internet.

Understanding the world is my way of embracing it prior to leaving it, I guess.

My old alma mater is one of the two factor in my life that have made that embrace possible. Thanks Columbia! I love you for having made it possible for me to relate fully to the world in the only way I ever truly could have done. I believe that if I had never known you I would  have turned out just as emotionally limited as I am now, and, more sorrowfully, no less ignorant than the poor redneck I was otherwise bound to be.

So please start back sending me those glossy alumni magazines. From now on I’m going to read every page!



Here are some pictures of the Columbia campus. It’s unchanged as far as I can see. Now at last I can feel nostalgia for it.


And how nice to find that I’m connected through my alma mater with one of my two great heroes!


Whack-a-Mole Ideas

1 06 2010

A Particularly Stinky Mole!


Once an idea is put  into circulation within a culture, it can subsist for a long, long time. Cultures are above all vessels for transmitting ideas and knowledge from generation to generation. And some people in any given generation are bound to find even the most extreme and potentially harmful ideas congenial.

Such is the idea of the “superman” (no, not the comic-book guy of the same name), who is “above morality”. As all adults, at least, have reason to know from personal experience, morality is essential for society to function. Therefore anyone who takes the superman idea, originally posited as an abstract philosophical concept by Friedrich Nietzsche, seriously is likely to become dangerous, especially if he or she is one of the “half-smart” people of the world, i. e., people who are just smart enough to get the gist of a complex idea, without being smart enough to understand it and its context thoroughly,  or to tease out and question all of its implications.

The poster girl for such people is Ayn Rand. Anyone who reads her novels in youth, before anything really bad has happened to him or her yet, may well love those books. The Young are famous for feeling as if they were immortal and impervious to harm. Rand’s novels (Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead) fit that understanding of the world perfectly. In them, supremely strong, fearless people do great things without regard to consequences, and emerge unharmed and vindicated. The useless, cowering weak folks around them have to get out of their way, or suffer. The Strong Guys in those novels have no concern about the fate of those inferiors, and shouldn’t.

One really major misfortune further along in his life, though, after the Young Reader has realized that without the mercy and/or altruism and/or govt. benefits accorded him when his luck ran out, he would have been well and truly trashed, all that stuff seems absurd.

I suspect that Rich People of all ages have a tendency to be like The Young. If your life has always included complete economic security and most of what money can buy, you are unlikely to recognize the reality of any limits — including moral ones — on your  economic behavior. And you are likely to be at least open to the idea that this limitlessness is because you are inherently superior to the pullulating masses of the poor. Old Ayn’s ideas will seem right to you, too.

And in the USofA, where many of the Poor are capable of performing for a lifetime the extraordinary trick of identifying with the Rich and ignoring their own actual economic situation and interests, it is not surprising that the predatory Ayn Rand mole is rearing it’s head again these days in a big way.

Miss Rand, her current popularity, and her odd ideas, are all dealt with pretty well here, I think,

and better, and more comically, here,

But here’s your definitive information on Ayn Rand.



24 05 2010


Let’s get back to basics in our political terminology , shall we?


Most people, including me, kind of know what these terms mean — in the contemporary American context. They mean different things in the European context, though. You may not be interested in the European context, but I am, because I think I belong there more than here, (Though of course the French would probably be just as rude to me, who loves them, as to any other American.)

The fact is, all these political terms and concepts had their birth in European theorizing and political action over the last 200 years. I think it’s good to know stuff like this. It helps you understand the Big Context of politics.

So here, taken from another writer, is the clearest description I’ve ever read of the political spectrum here and over there, of what it’s slippery terms mean, and why these distinctions matter so much:

“Don’t think that liberal = left wing. It doesn’t. Left wing is more state control, particularly of economic matters.  Right wing is less state control.  Left wing [at its most extreme] is communism. Right wing is liberalism, libertarianism, and finally, at its extreme, pure right wing is anarchy. That’s why liberalism is generally used in European parlance to mean supporting unfettered, or lightly fettered, capitalism.

And that’s also why fascism is not, strictly speaking, right wing, since fascism calls for maximum state control of everything*. The reason we think that fascism is right wing is an historical accident, in that the French parliament used to seat parties from right to left depending upon how much state control they wanted, but the fascist and the communists fought so much the fascists were moved to the other side of the chamber, hence right wing.

Whatever the nature of the two ends of the political spectrum, all modern democracies have their major parties in the center, in that they see that some state control is necessary for peace and economic justice. Too little leads to abuse of the poor by the rich, while too much restricts the rights and freedoms that we believe all people should have.

The problem is that, in practice, moving to the right, while in theory granting more freedoms to people, in practice reduces overall freedom by allowing the strong to harm the weak, either directly or more likely indirectly by setting wages artificially low, while inflating prices for education, health care, housing, etc. until they are out of the reach of the poor. Moving to the left, on the other hand, imposes state restrictions on people’s ability to harm each other, but move too far that way, and you infringe more and more fundamental freedoms, until overall freedom is reduced. In the middle lies justice for those who cannot protect themselves, and not-too-onerous restrictions on the rich and strong.

The American Republican party, fed by the US cult of individualism, is pretty far out to the right, and accordingly pays only lip service to protecting the rights of the weak against the strong. The weird thing about the US is the “American Dream”, which convinces the poor that voting for the Republicans will preserve their opportunities to clamber out of poverty. And so long as they can retain this right to clamber, they don’t mind clambering over the hopes and dreams of their fellow Americans. Thus they feel empowered by the Right, though more often than not, in situations of wide-open economic freedom, they become not the clamberers, but the clambered-over.

In Europe, on the other hand, the prevailing view is that the greatest good for the greatest number is provided by state provision of education and social care. With everyone getting a largely equivalent access to education, social welfare etc, economic mobility in most of Europe (but not the UK) is greater than in the US.

The Democratic party of the US is right wing as far as the global spectrum goes, because they too are trapped by the “American Dream”. That is, that myth is so central to American society that Democrats always meet a great deal of opposition when they attempt to provide economic justice to the poor, not least from the poor themselves.”

The above is adapted from this comment stream here, in the Guardian newspaper:

where it succeeds in explaining what seems like an odd set of personal- and Internet-freedom policies declared by the new, mostly conservative,  British government.

A very long time ago I had a very good education. Lots of what I learned has gotten ragged. That includes a great deal of Western political history. The above description brought it all back.



* Sound familiar? Do the names George W. Bush and Dick Chaney spring to mind?

Of course “state control of everything”, as toyed with by the Bush-Cheney axis, would never have been allowed to include regulation of economic arrangements in ways that lessened the autonomy of big corporations. The Republican Party has always been first and foremost the party of our wealthiest citizens, and they wouldn’t like that.oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

And no, socialism is NOT Fascism. Fascism is, on the economic side, the melding of the business community and the state. This is from Wikipedia:

Fascism is a radical and authoritarian nationalist political ideology.[1][2][3][4] Fascists seek to organize a nation on corporatist perspectives, values, and systems such as the political system and the economy.[5][6]

Fascism is strongly opposed to core aspects of the Enlightenment and is an opponent of liberalism, Marxism, and mainstream socialism for being associated with failures that fascists claim are inherent in the Enlightenment.[22] Fascists view egalitarianism, materialism, and rationalism as failed elements of the Enlightenment.[23] In contrast, Fascists promote action, discipline, hierarchy, spirit, and will.[24] They oppose liberalism — as a bourgeois movement — and Marxism — as a proletarian movement — for being exclusive economic class-based movements.[25]


11 05 2010


I wrote to my CongressCritters recently on this subject:



“Net Neutrality is the cornerstone of innovation, free speech and democracy on the Internet.

More than 1.9 million Americans have expressed support for Net Neutrality at Congress and the FCC. They want control over the Internet to remain in the hands of the people who use it every day.

Please stand with the public by protecting Net Neutrality once and for all.



I recently was reminded that several years ago the FCC decided NOT to regulate ISPs  as ‘common carriers’. I was amazed to discover this! If you happen to be as old as me, therefore perhaps not blinded by the anything-business-wants! mood of the last 30 years, you may feel the same way. ‘Common carriers’* is obviously just what they are.

If we ever let ISPs be anything else, they’ll eventually work that modest regulatory specialness around to having as much power as the TV broadcasters of the last generation. Remember all those years of mindless TV that was ‘given’ to you on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis? Did you really enjoy being a passive couch potato? Do you really want the Internet, with all its promise of universal FREE (in both senses) communication to descend to that?

If ISPs become able to pick and choose the content they deliver, and control the speed and convenience with which it’s presented to you, rather than just accepting it for a standard payment proportional to the size of what’s delivered, you’ll be back on the couch forever.”






Seriously folks, especially my fellow baby boomers, have you forgotten all those years of sitting down on your sofa for a bit of TV, finding only the usual boring drivel, and sighing and sitting there and watching the junk anyway, ’cause there was “nothing else on”? A person could spend a whole evening vegetating like that back then — and end up more than slightly sad because so little had been accomplished, or even enjoyed. When it came to home entertainment, we had NO CHOICE.

Having way more fun with the Internet now? Of course you are. The interactivity, and above all the control of what you experience, the Internet provides is wonderful.

But the amount of money to be made on the Internet by ISPs that succeed in controlling its content would also be wonderful! And those ISPs have lots of lobbyists, and money to buy CongressCritters with.

CongressCritters love money, but they also somewhat fear US. Every marvelous new technology comes to a turning point where the corporations involved in it are on the verge of getting complete control of it (e.g., see the history of radio in the 1920s). For the Internet, that turning point is most likely this decade.

So get up from playing with the marvelous Internet for a bit and throw some fear into your CongressCritters on the subject of net neutrality!

Unless you just WANT to go back to being a couch potato again, this time in front of your computer instead of your TV.





29 04 2010


Today I had an informative talk with a nice retired Methodist minister. The Southern protestant theology of today that he described was not fundamentalist, and had little to do with the rule-ridden Christian semi-theocracy in the stony bosom of which I grew up very long ago.

I was delighted, because I always loved what I thought was Jesus’ central ethical message (See “Why I’m Not a Christian”, infra.)

There’s a nice Methodist church within walking distance of my home that I may be visiting soon.

Once again I learn not to attempt to understand any aspect of the world by reading our media’s description of it! They have money to make, above all, and so they usually tell us only about the most juicily extreme version of just about every social group and ideology.


22 04 2010


I was amazed when Ronald Reagan, who I knew then only as a second-rate actor,  was elected president in 1980, and I’ve been appalled at what he and his cohort have done to the country since. I’m all the more appalled because the folks whom they’ve mainly done it TO include me, a lower-middle-class cubicle dweller.

The poor and middle class have been disproportionately affected by Republican policies over the last 30 years, as more and more of the national income and wealth has flowed upward away from them. For documentation of this, see my earlier post here:

Believe it or not, I suspected that this slow “pauperization” was happening long before the Internet came along to supply the actual statistics. The metastasizing growth of Wall-Mart and simultaneous waning of traditional department stores told me what was happening. People sliding ever downward in real income were struggling  to maintain their familiar lifestyles. To do so they had to abandon shopping at traditional department stores and consign themselves to the noise, disorder, aesthetic challenges, and under-service to be found at Wal-Mart, “the price leader.” *

Periodically during that period I tried to imagine why working people were swallowing the Reagan line — approving his effort to weaken unions, worker- and consumer-health protections, anti-trust enforcement, and the like, and cutting taxes for the most wealthy taxpayers, plus continually weakening the country’s social safety net.

I think I understand why now.

They did it because Reagan revived the founding myth of the USA.

For the generation of people who became the parents of my generation, the Depression had been a terrifying thing that lingered on in their hearts, keeping on raising questions about the wonderfulness of business and capitalism, long after the emergency that business and capitalism had created had passed. After all the suffering of the Depression and THEN of WWII, I doubt that boundless optimism was widespread among them.

But by 1979 those folks were mostly over being scared — and of course their kids, having grown up in a long period of general prosperity, had never been scared. So Reagan was able to come along and revive, even in working class hearts, that great American belief that everyone can get rich, or at least prosperous, if he just applies himself to it**.

That notion, which had had a large element of truth in it when the frontier brought us ever more virgin territory to exploit, is not lightly extirpated from the American heart***  by modern industrial and globalized reality, which drive down wages due to lack of collective bargaining, and easy exportation of jobs . It’s so HOPEFUL, and we’re an optimistic people. And it’s so CONSOLING!

As long as I believe I’m likely to be rich — or at least better off — later, I may manage never to truly notice that right now I’m working retail and taking crap every day for a few dollars an hour. And getting rid of government interference with business is going to seem like a great idea to me too, because, after all, I am surely going to be one of the interfered-with owners/managers some day, and, even if I never am, I will continue to admire the people who do get rich, and wish them well.

And of course I will hate taxes, because I know that when my inevitable richness arrives high taxes are going to steal my money!

Hence, the phenomenon, today, of the aggressively conservative pauper!

Let’s wait and see what happens when a lot of these people at or near the bottom of society, who had hoped to achieve a modest rise over their lifetimes, wake up and realize that not only are they never going to ascend any economic heights, they’re actually slipping back down the modest slopes they’ve already managed to climb.


Looks like some waking up is already going on:



* Back in the 1960s, when I grew up, people who didn’t have to count every  penny normally shopped at highly-respected department stores like Sears, Montgomery Wards, Macy’s, and Marshal Fields. Those places were busy but quiet, clean, orderly, carefully designed to appeal to the eye on every side, and full of well-made products and helpful salespersons. The Wal-Marts of that age, Woolworths, Kress, and K-mart, mostly received the custom of the poorer folk.

** That idea was first given compelling literary form in the bestselling late 19th Century stories of Horatio Alger, in all of which a penniless boy becomes, by virtue of his optimism and work ethic, a secure member of the upper middle class or beyond. But the idea was in the American air long before that. If you think about it, what would be more natural than that everyone born into a country with boundless frontier lands waiting to be exploited would assume that his personal prospects were equally boundless?

*** Nor should it be, entirely. The Horatio Alger story is not a “myth” in the sense of a lie, but rather in the anthropological sense of an idealized story known by everyone in a culture, and which serves to explain the world and give meaning to their lives. People can certainly sometimes still “make it” in the USA. Recently I received a narrative of the life of a fellow member of my high school class of ’66. He had ended up doing very well, and it was inspiring to read about the twists and turns of events that he had navigated adroitly for 44 years to to reach his affluent current state. (You know who you are, Bobby!)

But not everyone is fitted to be or wants to be an “entrepreneur”. The big organization in which I work has several thousand employees.  They are not paid well, and most of their work is tedious paper-pushing. I suspect they stay because they are people, like the vast majority of every American generation before them, who just want a job where they can make a decent living and then go home and play with their kids. Back in my youth this was a thoroughly respectable aspiration, and millions of such people could achieve it through high-paying factory jobs. Why in fact there were so many people with such jobs back then that I must have seen a million beer commercials on TV that were directed just at them: A bunch of guys are standing around in a bar after getting off work. They are slugging back beers at a great rate while laughing and carrying on and obviously having lots of fun. All is right in their world.

I never thought as I watched those dumb ads that one day I’d be nostalgic for the world they reflected.


11 04 2010

Pictures from the Struggle Out in the Street:


7 04 2010


A comment in the New York Times to a Maureen Dowd column about the latest Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal:

Phil in the mountains of Kyushu
March 31st, 2010
12:10 am
“Love you on these ‘rottweiler-Cheney-type guys’ in skirts [Catholic priests who’d commented on the scandal].

They’d be more decent — less hypocritical, less arrogant, less bullying and lying — if they could admit what it means as men that they happen to like to parade about in jewelry and skirts — except they have a phobic need to hate actual gay culture — to preen themselves as holy of holies above mere mortals with actual human inclinations.

In this sense — their disdain for actual humanity — for gays, or for actual sex needs and complications of straight women — they epitomize the “type” of newly-empowered corporate humanity that the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision  recently ruled equal or superior to traditional humanity.

Of course this new, corporate soul doesn’t come only from Supreme Court rulings — it also comes assiduously from all of corporate academe where so many learn the prevailing impersonality conceits deep in the silos of biz and law schools, and in too many other departmental niches also stripped only to what fits the narrowest specialization pretenses.

The Catholic higher-ups provide a public purpose, anyway — as they goad the world into ever greater population increases, and as they find former Nazi conscripts to keep their feudal world intact, at least their gaudy displays of pomp and circumstance clue the rest of us to the rot obvious under it all — which you so rottweilery-wonderfully nab today.”


Cheery…Bullshit v. BUDDHISM

31 03 2010


If you read my last post you probably wondered what in the world Buddhists could possibly believe that would have moved some Buddhist monks to burn themselves alive during the Vietnam war.

I will try to explain what I THINK Buddhists believe, based on my reading.

The Buddhist monks who burned themselves alive might well have explained, if asked, that they were doing it as an act of loving kindness.

Yes, I know. Weird, isn’t it? But it’s true.

They weren’t doing it for the glory of God or to get multiple virgins in the afterlife. Gods to them are not very important, and they believe in reincarnation, not a conscious life after death. And they weren’t, unlike today’s Muslim suicide bombers and American malcontents who commit multiple-murder/suicide, interested in killing other people to make a point or to terrorize. No bystanders were ever hurt by the monks’ actions, as far as I know.

To show loving kindness to all those around you is the central ethical tenet of Buddhism. Far more important to them, and forming the predicate for that kindness, is the awareness some Buddhists achieve that in their essence all things and people in the world are one. This is not meant metaphorically. Their meditation eventually leads them to perceive the true reality of the world, and it is One. All the multiplicity is just an illusion.

The Buddha said that once you have direct perception of this Oneness on the deepest level, you will be free of desire and fear, which normally tie all people to the world and make them subject to repeated internal upheavals as the world constantly changes around them, removing or threatening to remove whatever they love or otherwise feel an attachment to.

Having had this perception, one can’t help having compassion for the rest of mankind, still caught in the midst of an  ever-changing illusion that causes constant suffering,  like people having bad dreams who can never awaken.

I’m guessing that the thought of those monks who burned themselves was that they might help alleviate the suffering that we’d brought to their country by making the ultimate statement as to how abhorrent that suffering was to them, and at the same time leaving us Americans so appalled when we saw it on our TVs that we would eventually go away and leave their country alone.

And so we did — maybe in part because those amazing, unforgettably horrifying  images of self-sacrifice shocked lots of Americans into questioning, and ultimately opposing, the Vietnamese War.


To Any Actual Buddhist Who Reads This Post

I know there is way more to it than this! I did my best. Please tell me about anything in this post that’s wrong, and I’ll correct it.


29 03 2010


“There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain. What really matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I have complete control.”
— Dr. Leo Buscaglia

Yeah, right!

“How I respond to those disasters” has got to mean, at least in part, what emotions I have in response to them. How many people do you know who have “complete control” of even their mild everyday emotions? Lots of people may seem to be calm on the surface. Still, I think it’s widely understood that everyone has hard-to-deal-with emotions frequently, and that in harsh situations like “tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain” everyone has particularly intense and unpleasant emotions, most notably fear, perhaps even TERROR — possibly followed later by GRIEF over loved ones (or parts or functions of one’s own body, for God’s sake!) lost in the disaster.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see myself ever having “complete control” over terror or grief. Perhaps Dr. Buscaglia would care to explain to me how this little trick can be accomplished.

The only thing I’ve ever heard of that seriously claims to allow people to deal effectively with emotions like terror, fury, sorrow, intense pain, or even the continual undifferentiated physical misery that poverty can bring, is Buddhism. I recently read  a wonderful book called The Three Pillars of Zen.

It describes in detail the intense training and sometimes wrenching struggle that aspirants to Buddhist enlightenment go through in order to meditate their way to to the point where Dr. Buscaglia would have us just blithely one day decide to be.

After long, uncomfortable, and single-minded meditation, many of those aspirants to enlightenment do seem eventually to reach a certain understanding about the nature of the world….No, that’s too abstract. The aspirants eventually have a direct experience of the true nature of themselves and the world that allows them to go on to face the uncertainties and occasional horrors of this world calmly.

I believe the arduous path of Buddhism works. For one thing, it’s 2500 years old and still going strong. For another, I can never forget how, for a while during the Vietnamese War, Buddhist monks in Vietnam would occasionally burn themselves alive to protest the war.

Being a suicide bomber for Allah? OK, pretty amazing!

But going to the gas station to buy the gasoline, filling a nice big can with it, lugging it down to the public square and pouring it all over yourself, and then finally lighting yourself and proceeding to experience the most intense agony that humans can know for several minutes, until you finally die — now THAT’S “control.”

Except it’s not “control” at all. It’s the fruit of an arduously-won radical union of the self and the world. Through that deeply-felt union, one, precisely, renounces the effort to “control” anything, internal or external, and so wins a peace that is unbreakable.

Care to shut the fuck up now, Dr. Leo?



24 03 2010

(For background on Miss Magibon, see my earlier blog entry “What Is Magibon”: ‎

(Among other things, she’s a meme more significant than it looks.)


16 03 2010

This quote is so true it’s breathtaking:

“For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money.”

-Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)

I must add, though, that for the the terminally socially inept (moi!), the grotesquely ugly, and those who perhaps have never had good health, the things money can buy, though all very much “second bests”, may be the very best of that kind of thing that they can ever hope to obtain.

And don’t forget also the cheering effect of living in beautiful surroundings (which money can buy) vs. the depressing effect of living in impoverished squalor (which I vividly remember from my childhood).

Finally, don’t forget the SECURITY that wealth brings. Of all the many things that the world can do to you, if you are wealthy it at least cannot inflict squalor, grinding labor, and/or homelessness on you.


14 03 2010

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one
day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college-
that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared
back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”
– Howard Ikemoto

I vividly remember how when I was little I never got over the time my mom pointed out that you were supposed to keep your colors INSIDE the lines in the coloring book. I never wanted to color after that. It had gone from play to work instantaneously.


17 02 2010

OK, fellow Facebookers, prepare to laugh, and be chagrined:

Here’s my own fav from this fine collection:


13 02 2010

These days I spend a good deal of time trying to imagine how it feels to be young. It ain’t easy! Dear fellow baby boomers, do you remember how back when we were in our teens the 1920s seemed impossibly distant? Well, that’s how long ago I graduated from college!

Of course, the distancing effect on us then was especially severe because we could only “see” the ’20s in unclear and SILENT black and white movies, which normally moved abnormally fast when projected because of the slower standard film feed speed that prevailed in the ’20s.

An indication that the 1960s are far more present for the young than the ’20s were for us is the continued influence of my fav 1960s band The Velvet Underground, whose famous “banana” album of the same name came out in 1968. Recently I heard someone  on the radio say of the Velvets that their albums only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who heard them went out and started a band.

Truly, when I first heard them in 1969 they were unique!  They may still be.

Here’s my fav song by them:

And, of course, they also gave us THIS (!):

The Velvets and Bob Dylan — my heros forevever!


4 02 2010

Here’s just about the best blog I’ve found:

Why do I think it’s so great?

1. It’s so full of visually gorgeous photos that looking at it never gets boring.

2. This gentleman, Jon Jost, has done interesting stuff, and describes it well.

3. He has a considerable experience of Italy, a country of great beauty which, it turns out, has a worm in its lovely apple.

3. He’s a fine writer, who can say a lot in a few words.

4. The subjects he speaks about are not arcane. Many are of interest to anyone, but he brings new insights to them that you may never have considered before at all.

Scroll down the blog and note especially:

a. his graph of job losses in all recessions since WWII;

b. a post about Italy’s oddity in general, and the agony of making a movie there in particular;

c. the post entitled “Autumnal Meander”, which is about an experience I’m having now—and one that I GUARANTEE you’ll have too–if you’re lucky.

Getting A Bit Too Close to Home:

His blog for his daughter’s, here, is just as lovely:

Mr. Jost’s blog shows that he’s a terrific photographer. There are letters in the daughter’s blog that reveal that he’s lived many places around the world, and been pursued by attractive women. To me there’s nothing harder to hear of than this particular combination of experiences in another man.

On top of all that, I assume from this  blog material that my  fav blogger has, or once had, enough money to have afforded this peripatetic lifestyle. How can I describe the agony of envy I feel for such a life, so full of beauty both enjoyed in the world and created as art?

Suppose, dear reader, that when you were a poor young redneck you’d come to believe that you had the potential to become a great writer, and in addition you genuinely loved literature for its own sake and more than anything else in the world—and then suppose further that,  through a combination of poverty and your own timidity, what actually happened to you was that your whole life passed without your ever publishing anything?

Thwarted love of beauty. Thwarted creativity.  And no time left to fix either of them.

Now I know what Satchel Page meant when he said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”



19 01 2010

There may only be a fading myth born of a 500-year spree. The West found a whole new continent to exploit in 1492—a once-in-a-millennium event. The glorious promise of wealth inherent in that event has drawn people who transcendentally love money here from all over the world continuously from then ’til now.

Like a vast Darwinian juggernaut, this uniquely American situation has selected for that type of person to become our citizenry over all those many generations. It’s a wonder we have anything here at all but  businesspersons and bankers! The long, long influx of the acquisitive has expressed itself most endearingly as “the American dream.” Time is running out on that dream, what with all our national wealth going into mad wars, and China rising fast and all.

So what’s left is a nation of some very bewildered people. They were sure they were all going to get rich. Now lots of the ones near the bottom of the middle class are coming to realized they’re headed down, not up.*

At times when a society’s foundational myths are crumbling they are clutched at all the more passionately. Or, as one smart commentator said in response to today’s New York Times column by David Brooks:

Milwaukee, WI
January 19th, 2010
10:14 am

The reason for disillusionment [with President Obama and the Democrats] is because most Americans are still clinging to the delusion of their own specialness. A fake narrative endlessly peddled by the conservative dream makers to keep the pocket picking endless.

“Oh yes, stout American, you are a giant of your time. A hero. Admired. Individual. Listen to our rousing conservative homage to your ego.”

But of course it’s fiction. Fiction lapped up like sweet water in a desert, but still fiction.

Americans, haven’t reacted [to the recent and perhaps continuing Depression and the Obama’s resulting election] with a “deep, vestigial sense of proportion”. They’ve reacted with a tantrum, ticked off because the fiction is exposed and they can’t accept it. They can’t accept that the riches they were promised by the free market and housing boom was in fact a shell game. They’ve been Bushwacked.

The problem with Obama is that he’s actually trying to tie solutions to his rhetoric and, politically, Americans aren’t used to that. Don’t want it. We are not prepared and are still addicted to our delusion. Right now we resemble teenagers on a school day morning who don’t want to get up and face the test they haven’t studied for. ‘I’m sick’.

Wake up America and face the music.”


*For evidence of how and why they are headed down, see my earlier post,  “So THAT’S Why You Both Have to Work” at

Globalization and the resulting export of once-well-paid working class job is likely to make all this worse in future.


19 01 2010

Swimming delightfully into my consciousness after my last post about the quiet people, entitled “Why I Don’t Belong Here”, comes this lovely blog description of the life of a woman who elected to be quiet, unnoticed, and helpful—and in the process facilitated one of the greatest works of Western literature:

Several years ago I had a job doing legal research and writing for a very important project that my boss, a woman law professor, was doing. She did all the promoting, cajoling, publicizing, explaining, and generally being up front on the matter. I did most of the background stuff. The background stuff was hard too, and my ego was constantly being bruised by the fact that other people assumed that all the expertise lay with her, and none with me.

But you know, I took great pleasure in facilitating that lady’s work! And I now know for a fact that if I had ever tried to do her job and be the person up front my anxious nature would have made the job a perpetual misery for me.

In the end that big law revision project was excellently done, and I was proud  of it.  Now, at long last, I’m also proud of my backoffice role in creating it as well. It was a job made for me! My pervasive unhappiness then was in part a matter of temperament, but mostly a product of the culture I live in, which says that we should all want and strive to be a star.

Even then, twenty years ago,  I was already beginning to know from bitter experience that I would have an anxiety attack every single time I stepped to the fore. But I wanted to be the star anyway, dammit!  Later, I made a dumbass career change in pursuit of that stardom, to my great misfortune.

Culture had trumped my own real nature so thoroughly that I acted against it and my own best interests without knowing I was doing so. I would never have believed that phenomenon if I hadn’t lived it!

Has it happened to you?


15 01 2010

Seldom have I had one of my own insights better articulated than this!

It’s a comment made by a reader to a newspaper column in which Paul Krugman spoke ill of the the bankers who got us into the recent near-depression:

“Ken H.
Athens, Alabama
January 15th, 2010
9:49 am
Your bemusement regarding the bankers is easily understood and well justified. You stop too soon, though. It is the American people who ultimately are responsible for the tragic economic tailspin that already has occurred and those that inevitably will occur in the near future. We live in a shoot-from-the-hip, fastest gun wins society. We glorify risk takers and shower them with rewards. We see ganging up on them through statutes and regulations as cowardly and counter productive. In fact, we live vicariously through their successes.

Ours is a make-believe world where the mighty are heroic. It is evident in our worship of Hollywood idols, sports superstars, and fictional super heroes that we constantly are seeking unrealistic saviors from an otherwise mundane world. Ultimately, we will not destroy such icons, even those whose flamboyant antics led us to our present crisis. Doing so would require a sudden attack of adulthood that just is not in the cards.”


As a passive person, I personally am so out of place here in the USA it’s almost pitiable. Here much is made of people who are temperamentally the opposite of me. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade it’s the same. I can never identify with America’s usual heroes.

Even when people get a debilitating or killing disease here they aren’t allowed to be described as “suffering from” the disease or, god forbid, just “dying of it” (if they are). No, the media always describes them as “fighting” the disease, as in “He’s fighting bone cancer.” What did he do to fight it exactly? Punch it out?

And of course there are the heroes with large parts of themselves burned off or otherwise traumatically missing who go on to make their mark in the public eye. I heard a story on the radio about such a guy (I’ll spare you the details of his disfigurement.) who did stand-up comedy several nights a week. Admirable! And I bet not one in a million other people so disfigured does anything like that. Those folks and their suffering and justified sadness are beneath notice, though.

I realize that people who accomplish unusual things are worthy of admiration. I just wish someone around here thought that the quiet and introverted were at least worthy of a little respect. The more retiring of us, including me, don’t accomplish much, true, but at least we do no harm.  Could those energetic, go-get-em bankers say that?

We quiet ones are the folks the go-getters go out and get. They energetically think of ever-new ways to extract money from us or lord it over us.
We are their sheep.


11 01 2010

Or, who’s REALLY the greatest country in the world?

Tell it like it is, Paul:

And likewise you Mrs. commentor,  an American living in Germany:

Here’s what the lady says:

“When it comes to the European way of of life, Americans lie-to themselves and to each other-because by such lies they can maintain the fiction (and myth) that the American Way of Life, with all its perils, is the only way to go.

I can tell you this: we’ve been living in Frankfurt now for over a year, and our life here has debunked such myths. My husband, who has dual citizenship, works in finance–here in Frankfurt, he has a job as a European, and previously to that, he had similar jobs in Houston and NYC as an American. We came to Europe with virtually the exact same salary–and everyone told us (including Europeans who’d moved to the US) that we’d lose with the tax breaks. However, that turned out not to be true at all. We pay almost the exact same salary. Actually, contrary to popular belief, here we pay about 4% less.

Furthermore, here we receive money for each of our kids, better tax deductions for them, tax deductions for myself as a stay at home mother (and therefore, dependent), and incredible tax deductions when we looked into buying a place of our own. We’re not on the public health care option–we go private–and yet it costs us far less than our US health insurance did, and here our insurance covers everything 100%. Each time one of our kids had to be rushed to the ER after some fall (they’re boys!), none which was dangerous, we paid nothing, zero, and were attended immediately, and always by the doctor, never nurses or aids, as had happened before in the US. Our taxes also pay for the most incredible public transportation system–which, besides, is free when you work fulltime. As if that were not enough, my husband receives a car and, more importantly, free gas. Food is cheaper, too. Here, you can eat daily what in the US would be considered ‘organic’ or ‘healthy’ or, even, ‘gourmet’ and not even blink. Lastly, in Houston our son’s private childcare cost us anything between $800-$1500 per month for each (even more in NYC) and we were looking at similar costs forever if we contemplated private schooling throughout, plus college. Here, they receive an international, bilingual education at a renowned institution which, like nearly all in Germany, is subsided by the state and slanted progressively so that parents pay according to what they earn. Our school fees, therefore, have shrunk to less than half what we paid for each child and university, if we chose to stay, in Germany is virtually free.

And did I mention the 2 months vacation? Which everyone is expected to take? Which everyone DOES take? And that hotels are cheaper? In the US, my husband received quite a generous vacation package (for the US) and yet the understand was that he take as little as possible.

However, without a doubt, the biggest difference in this way of living is the sense of security. The knowledge that greed is kept at bay and social life will continue, protected.

So in what way exactly is Europe’s social democracy not working?

Oh, I know: it will do its best not to allow for excess.”

Frankfurt, Germany
January 11th, 2010
10:50 am


9 01 2010

You’ve heard this kickass song by Michael Ferranti and Spearhead. Now see the words to it here:

See a great video with the song here:

And, finally, see an even better video by the guy who made that video, here:

Feel like fighting now? See why you’re right:


8 01 2010

Another of the secret joys of being an English major:

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

—Andrew Marvell, 1681


6 01 2010

This is one of the many standard cool poems from the past that you get to read if you major in English in college:

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he ‘s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he ‘s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

—ROBERT HERRICK. 1591–1674

I don’t suppose any explanation of this text is necessary. 🙂


3 01 2010


“We tend to idealize tolerance, then wonder why we find ourselves infested with losers and nut cases.”
–Patrick Nielsen Hayden

“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.
–Hermann Hesse

“I’ve always wanted to be Brigitte Bardot.”
–Bob Dylan

“There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them.”
–Werner Karl Heisenberg

“His mother had often said, “When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action.” She had emphasized the corollary of this axiom even more vehemently: “When you desire a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it.”
–Lois McMaster Bujold

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”
–Anna Eleanor Roosevelt


The first quote is a little expression of that sheer meanness toward the weak that is so common here in the USA, the great home of social darwinism.

I’ve heard the second quote, and believe it to be generally true. However, I would add that the hatred that springs from envy, which I have often felt, is clearly NOT due to hating something that is a part of onself—unless you could say that envy is hatred of someone else who has received something that you feel by rights belongs to you, and so is in a sense “part of yourself”.

Who wouldn’t want to be Brigitte Bardot? Gender considerations aside, she got a vast amount of what the rest of us must largely do without—attention.

“Things that are so serious…”—the greatest one by far being death.

Quote from “his mother”: True, but assumes a fully-functioning personality. Personally, as a neurotic, I have found that in many areas of life, TRY AS I MIGHT, I was unable to bring myself to “take the action that would create a consequence.”  See also, please, the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, by T. S. Eliot; or the play “Hamlet”, by you know who.

“A mature person…”: Easy for Eleanor Roosevelt to say! She was rich. The rich sit on very thick cushions. They can better manage to be mature and deliberative than the rest of us because most of the vast numbers of nasty sneaking threats whose approach can make us panic are never going to have any real chance to bite them on the ass.


22 12 2009

This is the most succinct description I’ve seen yet of the dangers presented by global warming:

Of course, you can find a way to dismiss all that.

Maybe you believe that the consensus among climate scientists that global warming is here and is getting worse is just a big plot…to do/get/steal…WHAT?

Do you think they all those scientist got together and decided to lie in order to become big shots?

Or did they make up the whole thing because they plan to make big money out of this concerted lie (HOW, exactly? Please tell me. I’m having trouble imagining where all that dough is going to come to them from.)

Or are they simply the most abnormal cabal of scientist every known to history? Though many scientists have always worked to be remembered and honored by posterity—just like top writers, composers, conquerors of the world, etc.—, do you imagine that thousands of today’s top climate scientists, many of whom would dearly love to be favorably remembered IN THE FUTURE as the people who discovered global warming and warned the world about it, would lie about it now, merely for a status bump of a few decades, even though the inevitable long-term result would be that later generations of scientists would discover their lie and revile them for it?

Or are they self-deluded? Are those thousands of scientists all joining together in kidding themselves–an example of the madness of crowds? Of course, they are trained in the scientific method, which calls at least for reiterative testing and retesting of hypotheses by new and different scientists; and, again, if they turn out to have been this foolish their memories will be reviled, but still…maybe?

Or are they just a bunch of evil European liberals who concocted this in order to ruin your American lifestyle?

Pick one please, oh global warming skeptic reader. I want to hear you defend it.

Time to Wind Down the War on Drugs II

20 12 2009

I’ve wondered ever since I was young, back in the 1960s, why governments in the USA always seem to be “cracking down” on something or other — usually recreational drug use.

I think the fundamental answer is simple. This was never, PRIMARILY, “the land of the free”. It was really the land of “work hard and keep your nose clean.” And when it started to stop being that back in the 1960s a lot of people became very nervous and very angry.

We’ve  had two great streams of sentiment working together for almost 400 years in the USA. Those streams were puritanism and “the American Dream”, aka greed. They both seem now to be fundamental to the American psyche. Which is not surprising, since they were the two main reasons that our forefathers went to the considerable trouble of coming here in the first place — either to set up a community where everyone “did right”, or to get rich, or both.

Those two great purposes reinforced each other throughout most of the history of the USA. They both put a premium on self control and self-denial in pursuit of long-term goals, and one of them added to the mix that the bonus feature of a dire threat of horrible, eternal punishment if one disobeyed.

The country — or rather, its capital owners — got rich as a result.

In fact, for us it went just about  the way things are starting to go in China now, and for the same reason: The population is naturally oriented toward striving and work.

But in the USA the machine started to look like it was going off the rails about 40 years ago. The 1950s was a period of great prosperity for the USA. It was followed in the 1960s by a great explosion of young people coming of age at about the same time. After growing up during that 1950s prosperity, millions of those young people now had every reason to feel safe in following youth’s natural hedonism.

Those kids went wild! And The Owners of this society (and, through employment, of most of its people!) have been cracking down to bring the society into line ever since. It’s just that simple folks*.

Still don’t understand what I’m getting at? Ask yourself this: What would the Chinese government do if drug use and liberal thought started to become widespread there? I guess you can picture a scenario unfolding there that would mirror what’s gone on here since the 1960s, only better organized.

The principle here is one that everyone intuitively knows, but just doesn’t think about much. To make most ordinary people work to the max you need both a carrot AND a stick. Greed and fear aid each other. It’s a natural balance. And during those times when the carrot grows less appetizing because the donkey is focusing on today’s pleasures, you have to wield that stick harder to restore the balance.

But why does the donkey have to work so hard in the first place? After all, in Europe (my Shangri-La) they hit a balance for a while there that was a lot more in favor of hedonism than here, and yet those countries prospered. Why does everyone in the USA and China, by contrast, have to work super-hard, seemingly forever?

Well, the Chinese government is looking to stay in power, so it’s trying to placate the population by fulfilling their greed. And in the USA federal and local governments are doing about the same thing, only the main people they have to placate are The Owners of Capital (and givers of campaign contributions), for whom greed is a way of life.

Luckily for our Owners and the Chinese rulers, the competition between the two countries is now strongly motivating folks in both countries to work harder. In the USA the world market is now providing all the stick any donkey driver could need.

Look for our laws on drugs, etc., to get a bit laxer soon. No artificial terrorizing is now necessary.


*Well, not really. This is a rhetorical statement. Obviously many other factors, such as worry about the safety and health of our children, have motivated this generation-long crackdown on all forms of drug taking. What I’m doing here is looking for THE most fundamental motivation for the crackdown. Without such a universal motivation that is very powerful and functions at the wellsprings of our culture, people in government wouldn’t  have been willing to go on with the crackdown for so long, though it has done so much harm to so many people, particularly users and sellers of the innocuous drug marijuana.


13 12 2009

The YouTube star Magibon is well on her way to doing that successfully. See her new blog:

And check out her YouTube channel:

See also my earlier post on why Magibon is so popular:

What a story! A shy girl from a small town in the USA has made it as a media personality, first on YouTube, and now in the Japanese media. She loved Japan and its culture, conceived the dream of immigrating there, sat alone in her room and made a bunch of cute videos of her cute self directed at Japanese audiences, and now, because of those videos, is living in Japan and well on the way to realizing the rest of her dream.

Magibon did all this quite demurely, within the protected and censored walls of YouTube. Others venture out into the wilderness of the larger Internet and sell an opportunity for a more frank appreciation of the way they look:

Jess is very attractive and very smart, if her posts on Twitter are any indication.

She has explained in a YouTube video that her first naked-me site was controlled by a webmaster, but eventually she managed to buy it from him.

Jess now runs her site completely on her own (as far as I can see), and spends many hours a day putting together sexy videos of herself. She is reasonably successful, and, if she is a shy person as I suspect she may be, she is fabulously so. At twenty-something she has found a way to work without a boss and entirely at home — two longed-for situations that I, at 61, still haven’t managed!


Such is the the power of female beauty!

But those who have had that power in the past have usually failed to profit by it. Like every kind of power, beauty has to be applied where and how it is most effective. The Internet, and especially YouTube, constitute a brand new conduit for it.

Today, for perhaps the first time in history, a smart beautiful woman can try her power without first having to convince some man to let her in front of the camera. And, if she’s lucky, she can go on to achieve the joy of being longed for and collect all of the profits of same, without ever being abused or commodified.


8 12 2009

Being a compulsive homebody, I missed decades of movies. Now, thanks to Netflix, I’m catching up.

The best directors so far have been the Coen brothers. I’ve now seen several movies by these guys. I haven’t seen “No Country for Old Men” yet, but I’ve enjoyed almost every other Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen, particularly “Miller’s Crossing”, but emphatically excluding “The Hudsucker Proxy”, which I thought was about a world that the brothers either don’t know much about or couldn’t find a way to make as dramatic as they usually prefer.

They seem somehow to know all about the world of dumb rednecks and their ilk, though. The proof of that is “Blood Simple”. And of course the sublime second example of that is “The Big Lebowski”. (You know — the movie whose main character always refers to himself as “The Dude”.) Turns out that that last film is a cult film. I’m not sure why. It’s not THAT great.

The Coen brothers seem to be at their best when they make movies about people who make very, very serious errors! “Fargo” is the primo example of that. “Miller’s Crossing”, on the other hand, when I saw it years ago, seemed to have a protagonist who actually was smart and on top of things. Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. Quite unusual for them.

Whatever else may be true of the Coen brothers’ movies, their plotting is always complex yet believable. What a pleasure to sit back and be told a story by these smart, smart guys!

Time to Wind Down the War on Drugs

3 12 2009

by Gene Healy

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.

Added to on December 1, 2009

This article appeared in the DC Examiner on December 1, 2009.

It’s hard out here for a libertarian in the Age of Obama. From bailout mania to the drive to nationalize health care, those of who want less federal involvement in American life have plenty to be depressed about.

Is there any area in which it’s not too audacious to hope for less intrusive government?

Yes, thankfully: Today, more and more Americans are open to winding down our destructive war on drugs.

In October, Gallup recorded its highest-ever level of public support for marijuana legalization, with 44 percent of Americans in favor. There’s “a generational rift” on the issue, Gallup reports: A majority of voters under 50 back legalization.

Our prohibitionist policies have filled America’s jails to bursting, and made our streets less safe by funneling some $40 billion a year to organized crime.

This Election Day, Maine joined a growing number of states that have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. Meanwhile, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a “robust debate” on the issue, and activists are on pace to put a marijuana decriminalization initiative in front of the state’s voters.

In Congress, unlikely allies Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., recently introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Most encouraging, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., has called attention to the scandalous fact that the United States has more people in jail per capita than any other nation in the world, in large part because of the drug war.

At the state level, nearly 60 percent of those serving time for drugs have “no history of violence or significant selling activity,” Webb notes.

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, and nearly a quarter of the worlds prisoners — more per capita than authoritarian regimes like Iran, China and Russia. We probably shouldn’t take official Chinese prison stats at face value, but is there really good reason for the United States to imprison people at six times the rate Canada does?

As Webb puts it, “Either we are home to the most evil people on Earth,” or we’re doing something wrong.

Webb’s National Criminal Justice Commission Act would set up a bipartisan commission to, among other things, “restructure the approach to criminalization of, and incarceration as a result of the possession or use of illegal drugs.”

“Distrust of government’s interference in people’s lives” is supposed to be a key GOP principle, according to the 2008 party platform. But too many Republicans abandon it when it comes to the drug war.

After Webb introduced his bill, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, pushed an amendment that would prohibit the commission from recommending or even studying drug decriminalization. “I filed this amendment in an effort to start a debate on this important issue,” Grassley later explained. If you say so, senator.

And when Obama’s Justice Department announced it would no longer prosecute medical marijuana users in states that have legalized the practice, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, complained that the administration was “tacitly condoning the use of marijuana in the United States.”

Maybe so. But so what?

Pot is less harmful than alcohol, as shown by government-commissioned studies, including a 1999 report by the Institute for Medicine and the 1972 Shafer Commission, set up by the Nixon administration, which ignored its recommendation that marijuana be decriminalized.

Any number of prominent pols have inhaled, including our last three presidents, and conservatives Newt Gingrich, Clarence Thomas, and presidential hopeful Sarah Palin. (Isn’t pot supposed to squelch ambition?) Yet we still arrest more than 700,000 people a year for marijuana possession.

Our prohibitionist policies have filled America’s jails to bursting, and made our streets less safe by funneling some $40 billion a year to organized crime. Drug warriors fear that decriminalization would make these problems worse. But recent evidence from Portugal refutes them.

In 2001, Portugal became the first — and so far, only — Western democracy to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. The results of that experiment are now in.

In a recent study for the Cato Institute, Glenn Greenwald reports that decriminalization has “had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal,” drug-related pathologies “have decreased dramatically,” and there’s little public support for recriminalization.

It may be some years yet before American public opinion is ready to follow Portugal’s lead, but the prospects for reform are better than they’ve been in decades.

Cato Institute • 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. • Washington D.C. 20001-5403
Phone (202) 842-0200 • Fax (202) 842-3490


It’s not often that I agree with the Cato Institute, but this is one of those times. Outside the economic sphere, liberalism and libertarianism have much in common.

— Nightman1


29 11 2009

Being a grumpy old man, I confidently predict that in 10 years YouTube will have ossified into a slick, manipulative money-making machine, a la Disney and MTV.

But for now, those kids are having FUN. Try this:


27 11 2009

Dear Readers,

Please take a look at this much earlier post of mine, reporting stuff I’d learned on the Internet from an ACTUAL SWEDISH PERSON:

Now another Swede has come along and told more of the details of life in Sweden in the form of comments to that post. See the comments of Annika about paid parental leave.

If this blog does nothing more than inform a few working Americans how good life COULD be for them, and in fact is, every day, for millions of people just like them in the premier progressive, democratic country of Europe, it will have done a hell of a lot of good.


21 11 2009

Some comments on my last post on “The Wages of Weakness”:


The minor slights I reported in my last post were nothing compared to what I suspect most black people in the South experience! Those trivial events in my life are connected to the local virulent racism only in that they may have stemmed from it in some attenuated way, as I theorized in the last post.

But my little experiences do represent what I suspect is the most frequent FORM in which racism is experienced by its victims these days. Direct insult is now out. Violence is now out (except by cops). Firing at will, and quietly refusing to hire, are IN.

And the “inexplicable slight”, above all,  must happen every day. I would hate to be as hypersensitive as I, alas, am—and have to confront a world that contains so much scorn for folks like me.


Nothing I experience in the way of inconvenience or occasional insult will deter me from pursuing my plan of avoiding driving—and the inevitable anxiety attacks that go with it.

When something seriously sucks, I believe it’s OK to avoid it. Millions of people have dramatically decided to avoid things that made them miserable or threatened to harm them during my lifetime.

The first group of people who did this that I remember were the Viet Nam War era draft dodgers. They were willing to go to Canada and live as foreigners for a lifetime — and in a country that’s COLD MOST OF THE TIME to boot — rather than die or suffer in any of a number of ugly ways. They didn’t believe any such suffering could be justified by the call to defend, not our nation, but our Empire.

I’m glad I personally got a high draft lottery number back in 1970. Viet Nam would have destroyed me (assuming I lived through it)….The only treatment they had for major depression in 1970 was electroshock, and it was not only traumatic by only episodically successful. I don’t think they had any treatment for major anxiety disorders at all.


In the back of the mind of every old American man looms the ghost of John Wayne, exhorting him to perpetual toughness. I never had a shot at achieving that even when I was young. Now that I’m old, I look back sadly at my half a lifetime of struggling to be Waynian when I am by nature Barney Fifeian.

From now on I’m using to the full the amazing opportunity that age gives us to become no less and no more than what we truly are  — and in my case to get off the macho hook for good.


19 11 2009


I’m 61. I’m White. I live in a city in the Southern US that sprawls for many miles. Its structure has been shaped by and for the car. Recently I choose to give up driving because I’ve always had a phobia for it, which has gotten worse every year, to the point that the last few times I drove I had severe anxiety attacks, and came home totally exhausted from the experience. I also have a history of depression, which put me on Social Security Disability for three years a while ago. I now have a job that comes with a very good health plan, one that is known to practitioners throughout this city because so many people here have it.

Now that I’m not driving, I’m very assiduous in finding ways to work around that detriment. I do most of my shopping on the Internet. For my frequent trips to health professionals, I’ve found a fine organization that gives ride to the afflicted.


Several months ago I set out to develop a relationship with a small pharmacy located about 3 miles from the downtown of this city, where I live. The listing of that pharmacy in the Yellow Pages said “We deliver.”, and that’s why I chose to use it. I had several conversations on the phone with a pharmacist there. I filled out two sets of forms he mailed me. My downtown address appeared prominently on both. I received no questions or comments from the pharmacist on any of the information I supplied. I then went happily on with my life, figuring I had the prescriptions problem well provided for.

Several weeks after that, I came home with three new prescriptions from my doctor, which he had also faxed to that drugstore. I called them the next day to place an order. The pharmacist informed me, out of the blue, “We do not deliver to downtown.” Nothing I said would change his mind, even though either he or his partner had received my earlier telephone calls and the forms I’d filled out, both of which had contained my downtown address — which, again, is located less than 3 miles from their place of business.

I wondered angrily for a while why this sudden reversal had occurred. I decided that I will never know. But I wonder: Could it have anything to do with the fact that the downtown of this city is known to be a place where many Black people live?


Over the last few weeks I made a couple of calls to a local audiologist, asking to make an appointment to get my broken hearing aid fixed and get an updated hearing test. I explained that I would have to get a ride there, since I did not drive. I mentioned that fact in both calls.

I showed up today and the audiologist fixed my broken hearing aid by cleaning it out. The whole interaction took no more than 10 minutes. The audiologist’s  manner was abrupt and dismissive. She then informed me that she did not have a time to give me a hearing test, and I would have to come back another day.

I was very disappointed because I knew I couldn’t come back, due to the difficulty of arranging a ride and the fact that the hearing test was just a precautionary thing. It wasn’t essential.

Then I sat in their waiting room awaiting my ride home for half an hour. I didn’t see any new customers come in. I started to wonder why I had been denied the hearing test, and complained to the audiologist’s receptionist. She said that she had put me down for a hearing test, and had no idea why the audiologist wouldn’t give me one.

I left, bemused.

Why this dismissal? As in Story #1, a health provider had denied his or her services to someone who needed them and was in a position to pay full price for them. Could the reason for that have anything to do, in this case, with the fact that during my talk with the audiologist I mentioned that I had received my 2 pairs of hearing aids free from the State Vocational Rehabilitation Office over the past 9 years? (That happened while I was coming off Disability status and returning to work.)


This is the redstate American South. I grew up here. It has a history of the most vicious, heartless racism, amounting to American apartheid. I remember things being said in my home about Blacks that, even as a child, I found vicious and cruel. In my middle-size town in the 1960s, Blacks lived in an enclave of their own, and no interaction occurred between them and Whites that I could see, except those strictly necessary for business (which did NOT include their being allowed to hold any good, white-collar jobs).

Though much has changed here since then on the surface, such a fundamental cultural wellspring as that old racial hatred does not go away in a single generation. Does it still flow here as strongly as ever, but now all unspoken, and does it explain the mystery of Story #1, and, indirectly, of Story #2?

This is Ultra Right Wing home base. The radio-host pygmies on local AM station WJBO strive daily to stand as squarely in Rush Limbaugh’s huge shadow as they possibly can. Folks who call into the shows of those mini-Rushes love to hear the hosts’ vituperation, and from time to time make it clear that they, too, take it as given that all recipients of social programs are cheats, thieves, and/or layabouts.

This drumbeat of propaganda is endless and unrelenting. The generalized fury of the local AM talk radio listeners is so thick it’s almost palpable. It has an emotional intensity way beyond what I think can be motivated by mere disdain for the awfulness of liberalism alone. But the power of xenophobia, now…THAT is strong enough to do the job!

I’ve come to believe that the triumph of extreme right wing sentiment in the South arises from continuing hatred of Black people, an unusual number of whom live in poverty here in the South, and so are the the main recipients of those hotly-condemned social programs. Hate the program and consider it worthless = scorn its beneficiaries.

By being stridently Right, folks down here have found a way to be racist covertly.

Did I, a White man, then, get unceremoniously shown the door today due to merely being associated in someone’s mind for a moment with the hated minority group? Did the audiologist simply show me her dislike for a presumptive cheat/thief/layabout?

Or am I just being paranoid?

Even if I am, as we’ve all heard many times before:

“Just because I’m paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me!”


11 11 2009

Bad Gods


9 11 2009

This gentleman really understands the history of the last 30 years:

All I have to add is that anyone could see at any given time during the Great GOP Period that it was not a populist party.

Things like

in Reagan’s time, using “supply side economics” to pass tax cuts for the rich,

refusing again and again to reign in the ever-greater abuses of the credit card industry,

[trying to] spoil Social Security,

in Bush-the-Lesser’s time, again passing even more tax cuts that mainly benefit rich people,

and, most recently, refusing repeatedly to vote for extensions to unemployment compensation in a time of economic desperation…

these are not populist actions by any measure I’ve ever heard of.

The Republican Party has always shown, by word and deed, that it is the party of the rich. Historically it has not been ashamed of that fact nor, until the last 30 years, has it tried to conceal it. Only in those same last 30 years has the GOP sought to make itself a majority party by grafting onto its vast amalgam of money something called “social conservatives”, which are in large part poor and working people who don’t like to see things change because they subliminally know that they may not be able to figure out how to keep on surviving in a world that changes too much.

After all the GOP’s highly visible betrayals of this latter group, the Democratic Party was perfectly situated to present itself as the Party of The Little Man, as it had in fact been from the 1930s to the Clinton year. Instead, the Big Donkey forever undermined that claim by giving vast amounts of dough to big banks as a way, supposedly, of staving off another Great Depression.

So I am scared as to where that leaves us now.


2 11 2009

In the contemporary world (USA version) I wonder if the name

Søren Kierkegaard

is known by anyone any more, except by a few philosophy professors. And from what I hear of the state of American higher education these days, I think that even those professors may no longer be allowed to teach Kierkegaard’s work to anyone but philosophy graduate students.

But college was different 40 years ago, and difficult old philosophers were thought then to be worth undergraduates’ time, so I walked into the third meeting of my Existentialism class in the early spring of 1968 absolutely ignorant of philosophy and ripe to be snared by the mere first paragraph by Mr. K’s great book The Sickness Unto Death.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a philosopher with a twist–a pioneering analyst of despair whose description of the many varieties of that state later became, I believe, the source of one of the most familiar truisms of our present place and time:

Be yourself!


High self esteem is good for you.

We didn’t know about “self-esteem” back in 1968. And if I had ever made enough progress in the first reading assignment for that class in  to discover the original progenitor of that self esteem concept lurking in The Sickness Unto Death I wouldn’t have understood it anyway. Mr. K’s description of the various kinds of sorrow that can come to one who does not accept himself* would have fallen on deaf ears for me then for one very simple reason—I couldn’t stand myself.

I had no self-esteem at all. In its place I had grandiosity. After a lifetime of abuse of various sorts, I saw myself as simply a kind of unwanted and inchoate mess….

…”but that’s OK”, I always thought back then, when I was forced to take notice of what an unsavory creature I seemed to be, “because I’m going TO DO GREAT THINGS SOMEDAY…”

…”because I’m SO SMART!”

Could there be any kind of person in the world better prepared to be stopped dead by the following gaudily incomprehensible  introductory sentence of The Sickness Unto Death?

A human being is a spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation relating itself to itself in the relation.

Nope. Someone with vast intellectual pretensions constructed on a foundation of nothing, like I was then, was maybe never going to get past that sentence.

And I never did. I was the guy, after all, who was so smart that I could understand anything if I only put my mind to it! I exhausted myself pondering the meaning of K’s impenetrable introductory sentence and a few very abstract pages following it, and never read further into the book to discover the much more accessible, and very insightful, dissection of spiritual despair in all its varieties that was to be found there.

Too bad! Because it was information that I could have used, and at that time in fact desperately needed. I might even say that if I had absorbed what Kierkegaard had to say and realized how much it applied to me then, the experience might have changed the rest of  my life for the better.

So don’t  you be the same as I was! And don’t be the opposite kind of person, who yells “BORING!” and runs away in panic when confronted with anything “hard”, either!  Instead, take a look at this brief appreciation of Søren Kierkegaard:

As for me, 25 years after that first abortive encounter I got out my old copy of The Sickness Unto Death and skipped the hard first part and read the perfectly accessible remainder.  The experience was instrumental in making me what I am now — very odd, and OK with that.

The desire to be some other self than one’s own sweet, inescapable one-and-only self wears many disguises, and Mr. K. describes them all. Some of them you wouldn’t guess in a million years.

Who knows? You might be wearing one of  those right now. Buy the book and see.


*Kierkegaard wasn’t writing a self-help book. He was proselytizing. His purpose was to show that a human self, being partially a spiritual being, had to be “grounded” in God to avoid falling into despair. Without that connection, the self would be unstable, and would be forever pursuing things to complete it that could not complete it. Anyone who watches the antics of the powerful people of the earth for a while, as they display this “seeking” behavior in various forms on a huge scale, would have to agree. See, most recently, American investment bankers.


26 10 2009

Knowledge is when you have ideas.

Ideology is when ideas have you.

At the url below you can see a history of a period in the late 1990s when one lady in Washington tried to go against the prevailing economic ideology of the last 30 years — which we later saw crash and burn so spectacularly in October of 2008.


24 10 2009

A couple of decades ago, certain wealthy interests began buying up radio stations, stripping their staffs down to the absolute minimum needed to function, removing local programming from them, and then borrowing money against them to buy still more stations to add to their collections — and so on, ad nauseum. The cashflow from the stations was very nice for those rich folk, and no-one much cared about all the laid-off employees to whom much of that money had once gone to in the form of salaries.

The radio broadcasting version of the story of American business over the last 40 years, in short.

Later, after this consolidation had gone on for a long time, radio began losing listeners because only a few broadcasting formats were allowed by the amalgamation masters, and younger people were bored with them. For God’s sake, even I, a crusty old bably boomer, don’t want to hear songs from the past over and over and over again, daily and forever.

Now one of those eaters of stations, Citadel Communicatons, seems to be headed toward bankruptcy. Here is an interesting discussion of how the company’s immediate future is likely to play out, from a commentator on the radio business who has been prescient on the future of radio under the amalgamators for years:


9 10 2009

I am 61.

I recently ran into a woman I went to high school with whom I hadn’t seen in 40 years. She wasn’t an old girlfriend, or one of the people who were my really close friends, but I always liked her. Back when I was in high school, though, I also looked down on her, for some reason I can’t now define. I liked her, but I didn’t value her as much as she deserved for her sweetness of temperament, which even I could perceive even back then, and which she still has. That was a bad  mistake, since that is one of the greatest virtues a person can have — and I could  really have used a wife like that over the last 40 years!

I’m becoming one of the uncountable multitudes of folks who have begun to grow old and upon doing so have noticed that they had really poor judgment about lots of things for most of their lives.

Still, it’s an interesting and pleasant process. Many a stubborn person must have had this experience before me and also said, “Hey, the world’s way bigger than I thought!”

Some of you boomers may remember the song “Clouds” by Judy Collins, which was popular around 1968. It ended with the refrain:

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”

Now I understand that song.


7 10 2009

It’s rare to read a story about something that I consider not only deplorable in every present detail, but also bad in all of its implications for the future, and positively frightening in some of them.

We seem to be a species whose instincts and most basic cultural tendencies still fit the sparsely settled, tribal world in which homo sapiens evolved. Unfortunately that ancient world is as far in condition from the present one as it’s possible to get.

Thank you Mr. Malthus for raising the alarm on this whole matter some time ago.


1 10 2009

When I was a little boy growing up in a poor family WAY back in the early 1960, I was really into learning things. My stern mom always gave me a smile when she signed my report card.

Later I became a teenager and began to wonder just why we were so poor and others in town so clearly weren’t. What did they know or have that we didn’t, that condemned us to be perpetually one mortgage payment away from the streets? I became then and remain to this day furious at that disparity, well expressed for me in 1966 by the Doors in these two lines:

Some are born to sweet delight,

And some are born to the endless night.

Still later I went to college and some of this mystery was dispelled…but that’s not what this post is about.

No, this post is about how I’ve always been able to see over the past two decades why Rush Limbaugh et al. appeal so strongly  to poor people — poor white people in the South particularly –, even though the fundamental program of the Right has always tended to work to the advantage of the rich, not the poor.

This lady (commenting on an article in the New York Times that I’ll cite later) expresses my understanding of this strangely self-contradictory phenomenon perfectly:

“I don’t know whether to call it nostalgia or anachronism, but this idea that there is some “working class” or “blue collar class” in this country does not fit the times. Outside of the wealthy we have a remnant of what used to be the true middle class. At this point, these are mostly sales people who can manage $100k plus along with a few remaining professionals, technical workers and some managers. If you don’t fall into one of those two categories, you’re just poor.

The poor are the people with the $10 hour jobs, if they have jobs. No benefits — no paid vacation, no paid days off, no paid sick time, no health insurance. If you show up and work, you get paid. If you don’t show up, you hope you don’t lose the job. If you’re part of a family and live in a home together, probably most people living in the house have one or more such jobs. You’re never sure you can get enough money to pay the rent, electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage collection, medical bills, credit cards, etc., etc. You feel under siege most days.

The poor generally do not have the thinking ability afforded by a good education. In a country with a failed basic education system, they may be high school graduates, but they cannot read well enough to clearly understand meanings in things like newspapers and magazines. They are large consumers of “free” media — broadcast television and radio. Without critical thinking ability they are the rabble being roused by hucksters with nothing but their own self interest at heart. Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Rupert Murdoch care only about possessing power and the money that comes with it.

Consuming that media, the poor are angry because they see themselves as being left out. Every show, fictional or otherwise shows people they believe are like them as being far better off than they are. The TV characters have better cars, nice houses, and they have no real worries outside of the scripted drama that is resolved so easily in the denouement. In the morning, the poor have to get up early, hope their 12-year-old car will start and make it to work if they can afford to put gas in it. This is a harsh and bitter reality that is almost a cognitive dissonance in contrast to the way they believe life is for most other people.

When they drive too fast on the way to work, police give them a ticket for speeding and the fine amount rivals their weekly take-home pay. Meanwhile they see politicians accused of crimes, and years later nothing has been done about it. They see police officers shoot apparently innocent people, and they get away with it. They hear about corporate executives being released from their responsibilities (fired) and given $25 million to take home with them. And when the poor don’t have the money to pay their speeding ticket a warrant is issued for their arrest. That leads to the loss of the car and the job and perhaps everything else they thought they had worked for.

These poor people are angry. They have a right to be angry. They were told in school they were being prepared for the “American dream.” Life was going to be the pursuit of more happiness today than yesterday. But they didn’t understand that their education was woefully inadequate to comprehend the current world. They weren’t told that corporations care about profit and nothing else, least of all them and their lives. They can’t accept that what they see and hear in the media they consume is a fantasy meant to take advantage of them in a hundred different ways. I could compare them to lost children wandering aimlessly around huge shopping malls angrily screaming at people in the food court who somehow have enough to eat.

We adults who have figured out how to get some food are at a loss to understand these people at their rallies saying the president is a monster. And calling them the working class or blue collar makes no more sense than labeling them “conservatives” or “patriots” or loose cannon for that matter.

They are simply poor. They are without hope. And they cannot understand what’s going on when they look at the Mercedes next to them at the stoplight and a black woman is in the driver seat. So they turn up the radio and Glenn Beck tells them Obama is causing it all. It has nothing to do with either work or class.”

— Tracy

If I had stayed in East Texas and  stayed uneducated, and there had been a Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck on the radio then, I would have believed everything he said!


The comment quoted above was to this article:


29 09 2009

If it’s the disease “major depression” it feels just like THIS:


27 09 2009

Not only is he clearly very  smart — of course! because he agrees with me — he’s also handsome:


25 09 2009

Just as cute, and she is also funny, and getting funnier every day.


21 09 2009


The story of the recent cancellation of the F-22 fighter plane:

This weapons system was conceived in the 1980s during the Cold War to go up against the finest fighters the militaristic Soviet Union could create. It was a plane built to achieve air supremacy in a major conventional war between large, technologically-sophisticated nations with huge military budgets.

The Soviet Union went away in 1991. We took delivery on the first of these planes in 2003. Congress recently capped procurement of the planes at 187 units after a big fight.

Here’s how much the F-22 cost the USA, all told:

“By the time all 183 fighters have been purchased, $34 billion will have been spent on actual procurement, resulting in a total program cost of $62 billion or about $339 million per aircraft. The incremental cost for one additional F-22 is around $138 million;[18] decreasing with larger volumes.[16]”


Who needs universal health care? We have super-duper fighter planes!

Dumb and Dumber

22 07 2010


Please check out this blistering video by George Carlin, who was almost always funny, and ALWAYS thought for himself:

Then read this blistering comment by Timothy Egan on one of our worst Senators:

and, finally, this blistering explanation of why the standard stratagems of that wretched Senator and his ilk always work:


Overstated? Sure! To a degree.

But lurking in all three of the above comments from smart, thoughtful people is  the sadness of a common disillusionment. The Official Political Faith of America is representative democracy. Most pointy-headed intellectuals subscribe to this faith just as much everyone else here does, including the self-described Palinesque “real people”.

That’s why we American brainiacs are necessarily condemned to lead lives of serial disillusionment. Over and over again, from the Willie Horton lie against Michael Dukakis in 1988, through the Swift Boat lie about John Kerry, to the “death panel” lie last summer against health care reform, we have had to watch millions of voters jump on absurd lie after lie and make it their own, without investigation or even the application of minimal common sense about what’s likely — and what’s not likely — to be true.


Now lots of The Folks here in the USA are swallowing the lie that human-caused global warming is a lie. The vast majority of climate scientists tell us that global warming is happening.  A few outlier scientists say it may or may not be happening.  Right now, most of the Folks believe the tiny minority, and even blowhard opportunists like Senator Inhofe who say it’s definitely not happening, over the majority of scientists.

“Why oh why does this always happen?!” we propeller-heads cry, aghast.

The reasons are not hard to find:

1.) One half of all people have an IQ of less than 100*;

2.) The United States has the best public relations people (i.e., liars for hire) on earth; and

3.) The United States has the most militantly self-righteous rich people on earth, and they have lots to lose** if the global warming problem is acted upon, plus virtually endless supplies of money to pay to the  2)  folks to lie to the  1)  folks.

See, no mystery at all!

But for many of us the sadness remains. And so does a great fear. The People really do rule the USA to a degree, and if they are really this easily led by lies, then it’s only a matter of time until the USA does something terminally stupid.

And then the rest of us who live here will have to take the consequences right along with all the the inattentive folks and dingbats who were lied into bringing those consequences about.

I fear that. And I think that global warming is the thing we’re in the process of making our terminal mistake about now.



*      Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IQ Tests –  (median = 100)

Granted, most people who fall below 100 I. Q. fall within 15 points of the 100 norm. Other factors unique to the USA, however (e.g., ever-increasing work hours, the innate sensationalism and superficiality of our for-profit TV news, etc.), make REAL FACTS hard for all of us to come by. See the first and second urls above for the most important of the impediments in our society to understanding how it really works.

** from drilling for, refining, shipping, and selling oil, natural gas, and coal; and
from selling all kinds of fun products that run on those energy sources.

But there’s another, more subtle, way that the USA’s current energy-use binge especially benefits our better-off citizens. The USA is a society that puts business at the pinnacle of social activities. And it accordingly makes money the usual measure of our citizens’ worth as human beings. The more money you can make, the more you will be honored. There is no competing substantial, society-wide road to high status (such as, for example, being born into an aristocracy that confers distinction even in the absence of wealth).

So any policy concern that might require a degree of retrenchment of economic activity in the USA to solve is widely denied.  Any kind of economic retrenchment here strikes at the heart of the American version of one of the most fundamental wellsprings of action for all humans and creatures like us.  To rise as high as possible in, or to keep one’s already-high place in, the applicable pecking order is a top priority for every social animal from chickens to humans. Here in the USA, centuries of prosperity arising from having had a whole new continent to exploit have accustomed the folks who possess unusually intense desires of this sort to always “expect the best”.

Our hotdog non-team players, in short, do not want to be made to strut their stuff on a smaller stage.

Here’s a response to Mr. Egan’s commentary that I think illustrates this. It expresses the fury of “Capitalist Prof”, who has accrued a lot of status and status markers that he sees those creepy environmentalists as threatening to take away or devalue:


16 07 2010



Amazing! A war in which most people on one side know they’re in a war, and never stop using their wealth to fight for victory….

while most people on the other side not only don’t know they’re in a war, they don’t even know there are SIDES.


George Carlin has a good video on this:


10 07 2010


(re Net Neutrality)

Both of the brand new mass media that technology produced in the USA in the last century started out in freedom, with a burst of diverse creativity. Then the Money People got hold of them. To maximize “delivery of eyeballs [or ears, in the case of radio]” for advertising purposes they proceeded to restrict, censor, and dumb down the brave new medium.

It happened with:

Radio in 1922 – 1930. (Lots of different kinds of stuff was presented at first—even classical music!—, followed swiftly by the lockdown to “popular culture” fare only, shows that were the forerunners of the situation comedies that later became so over-familiar to us on TV);


Television in the late 1940s and early 1950s (A broad range of stuff was broadcast in the first few years—including even highly respected plays written just for TV! You know what happened later.).

Today people are abandoning broadcast TV and radio steadily, because those media have become so narrow in the classes of content they will broadcast and so controlled in what can be said/addressed/played in those broadcasts that they are mostly boring and irrelevant to our lives.

Instead, now we have the Internet: so vastly diverse it’s a joy for every taste! But it won’t last folks, unless the current de facto freedom, aka “net neutrality”, is preserved.

Diversity requires a low initial entry cost, and  continued equality of cost of the Internet medium for all producers. Would we have, say, YouTube now if, when it was starting out as a new concept, Internet carriers had been able to charge it for its bandwidth at a rate 100 or a 1000 times what they charge Google (which, being already gigantic, could always have afforded to buy carrier-rationed bandwidth “in bulk” to get the best deal)?  I doubt it.

And ditto for all the wonderful, unpredictable forms of entertainment and instruction  that the minds of the creative can be counted to produce for us on the Internet over the next several decades—IF they can get their new stuff into the Internet “pipes”.

If today you let your bought-and-paid for Congresspersons pass something that authorizes ISPs to install lucrative “valves” on those pipes to limit what goes through them, then get ready for several decades of whatever becomes the Internet version of situation comedies and reality shows.



Here’s how a group of important economists have said the above:


Here you can follow the doings of THE premier activist organization trying to protect net neutrality:


And here’s a blog on why broadcast radio is growing increasingly popular these days. This guy pulls no punches!