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. 🙂