16 05 2009


And check out Norway and Denmark:

(Scandinavians found to have “highest level of life satisfaction in the world”)


Whereas we, the beneficiaries of our much-touted economic “freedom”, are overweight, overstressed, prone to overdrinking, credit-addicted, nutcase-religion addicted, liable to break out in workplace killfests frequently, and becoming jobless at an alarming rate!)



15 05 2009

Things are looking up in an area of the law that has become so blatantly and creatively exploitative that just about EVERYONE has now had some experience of being screwed by it:

Some of you will know the kinds of thing I’m complaining about from personal experience. If you have been spared, here’s a site, chosen almost at random, that gives some examples of some of the ripoffs they subject us to:

Another bank’s nefarious acts:

And here’s a way to reach your Senator, who may be one of those who are quaking in their boots at voting on set of credit card law reforms that will piss off the mighty banks:

I’m betting there are enough royally pissed-off credit card holders out there that this reform might pass.


6 05 2009

Here is my comment to today’s Freakonomics column* in the New York Times (where the conductor of the column explores the novel idea that there might actually be some views of the world that should trump economics):

“Throughout all the ages there have been Masters and servants.

The Masters prosper because they are (or their ancestors were) willing to use other people without compunction or pity. The useful servants are deployed, whether to fight feudal wars or to labor out their lives in cubicles, in whatever way is deemed necessary to give the Masters the emblems of power necessary to have high status.

We simply live in a very large monkey troop, whose status games are played out with total, deadly seriousness because we, unlike the monkeys, are aware that death will come along soon and take away all the status and all its tokens.

To the extent that politics can erode some of the awfulness of this pitiless struggle it is good. Government has to be used carefully though, or it will turn into just another kind of heartless struggle for status.

To the extent that economics studies the mechanics of the modern version of this perpetual status war, and goes on to declare the war perfectly OK and in fact THE paradigmatic, natural way to live, it can be and is used by the Masters to keep the servants from asking troublesome questions.

Every prior age had its equivalent theory of society that justified its particular set of Masters’ having their master status. In ancient Rome it was essentially, “Hey, Romans rule! ‘Nuff said.” In medieval Europe and later, up to the time of the Enlightenment, it was the “great chain of being”. That was the theory that God had ordained for all the beings in heaven and earth a universal hierarchy of power and status, with him at the top, then angels below him, followed by kings, then various levels of nobels, then serfs, and finally animals. A place for everyone and everyone in his place! No one questioned that. It was deemed self-evident.

That’s how unfettered capitalism, as described and analyzed by the “science” of economics, is thought of in the USA today — as simply a given that cannot be questioned or changed despite all the wealth disparities and miseries it gives rise to. Economics, in short, is the supine legitimizer of the power and privileges of the Masters of this particular age. As such, I am sick of hearing about it and its endless pretensions to explain everything.”

*Steinbeck on the Crisis

P.S.: In Europe during the last half of the 20th Century most societies actually tempered this ancient monkey-status-struggle with mercy, in the form of programs designed to make the servants’ lives somewhat pleasant. Perhaps the Europeans had inflicted so much suffering on so many of each other during their two World Wars that in the end they all began to feel more like servants than Masters, and so learned to have a bit of pity for the weak.

Whatever the reason for the brief European social democratic hiatus, the century to come will most likely be dominated by the USA and China. Expect no pity from either.


5 05 2009

They are born into different economic classes, and those classes have different ways of life, different opportunities, and, above all, different economic interests. They also have far different degrees of political influence. Ideas for human betterment that don’t take account of these differences can go spectacularly wrong.

How one did is nicely explained here:

If your economic life has been getting worse for years, I especially hope you’ll check this out.


3 05 2009

(I’m lifting another comment from an online news story.

It’s a bit further down here.)

I grew up in East Texas in the 1950s and ’60s. My mom was a Scottish immigrant, and, under her influence, while making my weary way to adulthood in Texas, I read a lot of classic novels from England.

My dad, meanwhile, was a classic Texas farmboy redneck.

So it was nasal slang all day at school from my peers, and again at home each night from my dad — as against my mom’s orderly Scotch English and the elegant British English of those old novels. The cognitive dissonance was stunning. The linguistic dissonance was worse. My dad and my peer-group lost the battle for my soul (a poor prize at best, I guess!) because I disliked them both. My mom and those English novelists seemed to share certain ideals of honor, gentlemanly behavior, and economic disinterestedness. My peers and my dad, on the other hand, posited a world where toughness and business success were the only recognized manly virtues (aside from going to church a lot, of course).  I joined up whole-heartedly on the side of my mom and The Sceptered Isle, and gladly brushed the dust of Texas off my shoes (not boots!).

I went to college in the North and majored in English.

Only those who have grown up in poverty in the sticks, speaking the stripped-down language of a place and time where “danger is double and pleasures are few”, can appreciate how desperately such a person may struggle to leave behind not only the benighted place and time, but also its characteristic dialect. Even if one does not have a fine ear for language, the associations with the dialect are all bad.

(I think of James Baldwin here, for some reason.)

In light of the above, imagine my disgust eight years ago when I heard George W. Bush’s twangy malapropisms begin emanating from Washington and the Highest Seat in the Land! Conversely, imagine my pleasure eight years later as I’m beginning to hear the cultivated tones of Barack Obama from that same lofty seat!

I listened to Mr. Obama’s third news conference Wednesday night and immediately decided to post something on this blog about the way he speaks — which meant that I spent quite a while thinking in detail about why I felt enlightened after listening to him. (Yes, ASIDE from the fact that he was saying mostly things I agreed with!)

And then, today, wonderfully!, I was spared the trouble of trying to figure it all out in detail when I read the best description I’ve ever heard of the difference between the ways Bush and Obama talk. It is a post commenting on the Leonard Cohen column in the New York Times of 4/29/2009:

“Mr. Cohen, it is not the language, it is the quality of thought that is wonderful in a politician. What people see in this president and did not in Mr. Bush, is the ability to express his own high caliber thinking in his own words which he has thought about before expressing them publicly. His language makes clear that this time around the presidency is not a committee of oligarchs for whom the president is the spokesman.

President Obama talks, listens, thinks, answers and sometimes rethinks. This is new for this generation. You just have to listen: Bush wanted to be obeyed; that was clear. And he refused to take responsibility for errors. In 9th grade language his speeches were either lies or excuses. President Obama, on the other hand, wants to be right and he lets the people in on his plans and ideas. Nevertheless he can also be deceptive because he uses language as a painter of fine art uses his palette of colors  and his fine brushes to achieve shadow and shading. Mr. Bush did the best he could with his box of seven crayons.

— Moishepipik34, NYC”

(My thanks to Moishepipik34 for explaining so well and to the New York Times and Mr. Cohen for creating the occasion for him to do so.)