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.”



6 04 2010



Here’s an interesting column on the recent potentially-socially-disasterous decision of the U. S. Supreme Court that had the effect of  allowing corporations to give an unlimited amount of money to their favorite candidates*:




“C. Wolfe
Bloomington IN
April 6th, 2010
11:50 am

Looking forward to next time, Mr. Fish, when you explain why you’re nervous.

In an often fascinating but vanishingly specialized book called “Money and the Early Greek Mind,” Richard Seaford looked at the monetization of archaic Greece as a factor in, or at least a concomitant of, Greek metaphysical speculation. Money has no nature of its own but can be exchanged for anything; how does this relate to philosophical questions such as the One and the Many, or the search for the primal element from which all else is made?

In order to try to understand the conceptual impact of monetization, I had to imagine a world without the abstraction of “money” in its usual sense, as a symbol of value rather than a thing having use or value itself. This was a radical way to think (though Gene Roddenberry managed it very well in “Star Trek”). It seems that in the half-century of my lifetime, money, which of course had ‘always’ been a necessity, has increasingly become the only and the ultimate measure of value. When I was young, I thought there were times when we as a society had agreed that a moral value had to take precedence over any monetary question. Now I’m not sure there’s any moral imperative that money can’t trump.

But money isn’t real. It’s a system of value to which we consent as a collective. When people object to taxation because “it’s MY money,” they are fundamentally mistaken. Try making your ‘own’ money and see whether they accept it as payment at the grocery store. ‘Your’ money is only a symbol of our trust in each other as a political community. ‘Your’ money represents the value society places on your contribution as an individual; if you feel you are justly compensated in proportion to what others contribute, then you feel you live in a just society. Money has a value only because we all agree that it does.

At one time, God was thought to be as real as money. The cathedrals of Europe were not built because they were cost-effective ways to house worship services. Their communities couldn’t “afford” them. (We think we can’t “afford” standard health care for all, because we think money is real and the health of the citizenry is not.) At one time, honor and love were thought to be as real as money, because they are — if we decide collectively they are. An individual who makes this decision in isolation becomes a kind of martyr.

The point in relation to speech (as distinguished from mere mouthing off) is that we can in fact choose within systems of value. We don’t have to treat money as an implacable reality. Money responds favorably to other abstract forces such as greed and power; it can also respond to justice, if the same collective political will that causes money to have value also tends toward justice. Unfortunately, we see that most Americans (the articulate commenters here aside) have learned that it’s addictively simpler to treat money as if it were a physical law, like gravity.”

I was brought up on television, which normally programs to the persons at the lower end of the bell curve of intelligence. Today, listen to talk radio for a while and you’ll hear “ideas” crafted to be sold to that same group.

Never until the Internet arrived did I understand how many brilliant and articulate Americans there nevertheless are. The above is another bit of evidence of that.

Big deal! Today, especially under this Supreme Court, the dollar is mightier than the pen.



*Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The Supreme Court’s “Reactionary Four”, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, never met a powerful or wealthy person or corporation they didn’t like. They consistently vote on the side if such people. It is amusing to hear them pretend to have principled reasons for their decisions. They are simply remaking the world to be as they’ve always seen it.

Most lawyers serve the rich and powerful all their lives. That’s where the money and status are. How long has it been since you heard about anything done by lawyers on behalf on poor folks?

Once you get comfortable serving the Nobles, it’s hard not to kowtow to them when by accident you end up having power over them and their interests.