Friday, July 29, 2011

Congress for sale to the highest bidders??? betcha.

By now, you know and I know that the men and women who are responsible for running our country are a bunch of self-serving, self-advancing political hacks. Our system of governance is so dysfunctional that it cannot get out of its own way...and there are some very clear and obvious reasons why this should be so.

First and foremost: they do not go to Washington as 'public servants' but rather as political aspirants who almost universally will stay there as long as they can manage to get re-elected. This means, of course, that they must accumulate huge campaign chests of money and begin waging the campaign for their own re-election as soon as they have been re-elected each time. In other words, they are not ever NOT RUNNING for their office, and this means that catering to affluent constituents and even non-constituent entities becomes the critical key to staying in office. As time passes the lobbyists..and the interests they lobby for....inexorably come to the point where they have bought a legislator, lock, stock and barrel, as the expression goes. They 'donate' so much money at every opportunity that it becomes well-nigh impossible for the legislator to refuse to do their bidding.

What this means is that Congress has slowly evolved into a body of bought and paid for minions who are obligated to do the bidding of corporations and even whole industries...whether or not that is in the best interest of the American people at large and their constituents at home. What we are seeing at present is proof of this. All the Republicans--almost without exception--have opted to protect rich Americans and wildly profitable companies against having to pay even a reasonable share of revenue. When you have a billionaire, Warren Buffet, standing in front of national media and telling us that he pays far less taxes than his office manager does....and that he KNOWS this is unfair and simply wrong.....what more do you need to know?

So, the Republicans are bent on reducing spending by putting the greatest burden of massive cuts on the backs of the middle-class and the working class....and at the same time, protecting the wealthy from paying even a percentage equal to what rich Americans paid in the past. They have drawn a line in the sand and are defending it as if it was the most critical issue of our times, with the same desperate zeal that a small infantry unit would make a last stand against an onrushing hoard of enemy.

If you haven't asked yourself why this is such a make or break issue for is the time to do so. And, I will just bet that you get the same answer I do: the rich corporate and individual interests are their employers, in a very real manner of speaking.

The Looter Elite is now calling the shots very skillfully using the Tea Baggers and issues such as the sanctity of 'Free Enterprise' in much the same way that the Confederacy got simple farm boys to go off to war to protect the interests of rich slave-owners. They sold them the bill-of-goods that it was really about 'states' rights', when the truth was that it was about preserving an economy that depended heavily on rich people being able to enslave black people. And, that is not a fact that I have manufactured for my own convenience in the same vein that talking heads on Fox do all the time.

Time to WAKE UP, America!!!! Our own legislators no longer represent us in the manner that we expect them to. They work for those who keep them in office with an endless river of cash. can take that to the bank.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ernest Callenbach at 82

His novel "Ecotopia" was published in '72 and had an impact far beyond the borders of mere fiction writing. For a full description of its contents, click on the title above and see what has been posted on Wikipedia.

Recently, Callenback, now 82, sat down with Matt Sledge, a staff writer for Huffington Post and shared his present thinking on what has transpired over the last 41 years and what he believes is happening in our society. Here's a sampling: "Since I wrote Ecotopia, I have become less confident of humans' political ability to act on commonsense, shared values. Our era has become one of spectacular polarization, with folly multiplying on every hand. That is the way empires crumble: they are taken over by looter elites, who sooner or later cause collapse. But then new games become possible, and with luck Ecotopia might be among them."

Funny thing happens as one gets older: their ability to see clearly and to put it in context deepens, and I believe this is at the core of all actual WISDOM. In these times there are a host of posers, all pretending to have a handle on 'the truth' and self-anointing themselves as a source of what we should pay attention to. Most of these imposters--and there is a very long list of them with national audiences, the most glaring being Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, of course--are putting forward an agenda that is both self-serving and self-destructive were it to be applied to any great degree. When Callenbach uses the term, "looter elite", he is referring to all the pundits and their mentors who are loudly putting forward the philosophy that getting what you want is all that matters. This is the previously referred to view of Ayn Rand, et al. What really caught my attention, however, is Callenbach's almost casual mention--as if of course you already know this--of this being a definite cause of 'empires' crumbling.

If the aims and goals of the neo-conservative movement become the primary driving force in how this society conducts will be the beginning of a process of tearing itself apart at the seams. History has taught repeatedly that a society cannot become the vehicle and the means for a small ruling class to become fabulously wealthy and powerful, without also creating the means of its own destruction. Taking a look back at tsarist Russia, feudal Europe, earlier societies that depended on slavery and conquest...and on and on.....all gives us the exact same message. To allow the 'looter elite' who is currently gaining serious domination to simply pull the wool, even temporarily, over our eyes is to set the stage for 'The Great Crumbling", and God only knows what that will look like, but I am guessing that it will not be pleasant.

So, here we are at a crossroads, symbolized by the current deadlock in congress. The minions of the looters can have their way and dump off the pain of a contracting economy onto the backs of the middle-class and the working class....take away benefits earned and held as a sacred promise by those who really need them....protect the wealth of the upper crust, and the looter corporations who are seeing profitability on an unprecedented scale, and do all of this thinking that indeed, 'it sucks to be you'. And, we should not expect them to have the wisdom or insight born of greed that would allow them to know that they are working towards a calamity of unimaginable proportions.

Perhaps there is a broadly held intuitive sense that this is what we are doing. And, maybe this helps to explain the current fascination--indeed obsession--with the idea of an onrushing Armageddon, Gotterdamerung, Rapture, End Time, etc. A very large percentage of people I have spoken with, feel that a mega-disaster is coming. Some are almost counting on it to straighten up the mess we've created with the environment, the economy, class conflict, global conflict, religious insanity....just about every single aspect of life on planet earth in these times.

But, all of that not withstanding.....there is no time like the present to make a commitment in our own lives to hold onto our sense of moral rectitude, our compassion towards other less fortunate souls, and to act in ways that not only don't contribute, but fly in the face of all this.

As the old 'hippyism' said, "If not now, when? If not you, who?"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alternatives? What alternatives.....?

I don't think it would be fair of me to allude to the fact that there are indeed alternatives to spending one's life on the great rotary milking machine....and not specify what at least a few of them are.

Okay, I was a hippy. Sometimes, I was a member of the great unwashed, unless I could find a nice stream or a lake to dive into. There was a period when my 'extended family' even ate out of dumpsters. We discovered that a local Safeway tossed huge amounts of good food out with the 'bad' food that was merely outdated. If an egg broke in a flat of eggs, the whole flat went. Some kind soul realized that we were using these cast-offs and began putting them BESIDE the dumpster, instead of inside it. Hallelujiah.

We considered and even referred to ourselves as 'freaks', and we definitely knew that we were 'outsiders' in the culture from which we had emerged. In truth, we were ordinary young Americans who had each looked around at this society and found it lacking in many ways. We craved an alternative society where love and compassion were important, where kindness and freedom were accessible and revered. We thought of what we were doing with our lives as creating an alternative society within the greater one. Some have referred to those times as the era of the 'counter-culture', and I believe that is an apt descriptor of the motivation behind it. They were good times for those who didn't fall prey to the temptation to over-indulge in hedonism, drugs and laziness. Some of the hardest working people I have known were well-grounded and highly motivated HIPPIES. So, please do not succumb to the notion that it was all about being high and promiscuous.

During the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, there was also a counter-culture. It was made of young people who had basically the same reaction to a highly structured and regimented society that the hippies had. The were called Wandervogel--Wandering Birds--and these intrepid young Germans had their own traditions. They set out on the road, wandered as far from the Fatherland as the Far East, had their own songs, poems, bandanas and shirts, and conducted themselves in a way that drew as little negative attention as possible. They craved the freedom of the open road, and, in fact, this sub-culture pre-dated the Nazi era by at least a generation. The Germany that they returned to became a nightmare of conformity and I suspect that almost all of these young people ended up in the military, or the Hitler Youth, depending on their age as conformity became mandatory.

In the present economic and social climate in these United States, adopting an alternative life-style is doable, but it requires the same determination and ongoing effort that participating in either of the aforementioned alternatives did. A person, or a couple, or a group of like-minded souls can buy a piece of land and begin laying the foundation for living in a way that does not require being tethered to a job, a career or a mortgage and all the other indebtedness that comes with being 'middle-class'. Most people think doing this would mean living in a way that is so impoverished and deprived that they could never tolerate it. This impression is false, and it is the result of just not knowing what an increasing number of people are doing across the land.

Learning how to become self-sustaining is now associated with the term: 'off the grid', which means dropping out of the system we're all literally plugged into. To be 'comfortable'--for the vast majority of Americans--means that you have a full set of monthly obligations to: the power company, the mortgage company, the energy company, the insurance company, the auto finance company, and on and on. This amounts to a 'monthly nut' that anybody living this way has to 'crack'. If you can no longer meet your all begins to fall apart and becomes a modern American nightmare, often ending in bankruptcy, even homelessness.

So, the question becomes: "Yes, but how do you escape this without living like a 17th century peasant?"

And, the answer is: "You avail yourself of the vast body of knowledge surrounding alternative dwellings"....even 'owner-built' dwellings that can be created for a song, compared to the turn-key homes that most feel are the only choice....and to which they immediately become indentured on signing a mortgage aggreement. My son's mother, built her own mountainside home in a year, using her own sweat, some help of friends and it was a comfortable and excellent dwelling. She is a Cornell graduate, with a masters in education and a law degree. But, she could have done this regardless of her formal education. She did it because she wanted a home that would not enslave her.

Becoming self-sustaining in all the ways that it is both possible and necessary is eminently DOABLE. But, not unless you start thinking outside the box.....the box that comes with a hefty monthly payment.

One of the greatest assets that any person or couple can have is that of friends. Finding people who feel similarly and who want to also 'escape', is vastly easier in these days of the internet than it used to be. The process of building a community of people who are willing to throw in together and depend on each other, is both a grand and difficult undertaking, but a source of making the whole process of becoming liberated ever so much more doable and sustainable.

So, when you ask: "What alternatives?" My response is that you need to begin shifting your focus away from what you CANNOT DO towards what is POSSIBLE,...and once you do that, the possibilities begin to emerge from the mist.

When I landed in Marin County CA, fresh out of grad school, head stuck in the mainstream American paradigm, I was convinced that life consisted of a series of roadblocks that one had to overcome, defeat or somehow learn to accept. The de facto matriarch of the extended family that adopted me was a remarkable woman named Donna. One evening as we sat around, I was grousing about wanting to travel but not having any money. She looked at me and shook her head. "You dumb ass. All you have to do is stand up and walk out of that door and you are travelling." I looked askance. She continued, "Just do it and figure out the details as you go." She was speaking with credibility because not long before I met her, she had spent several years travelling all the way around the planet. She'd been a cocktail waitress in Hawaii, and one day she got fed up, tossed her apron to the bartender, said, "See ya." And, she took off for she knew not where....with a young child.

A month later, I landed in Paris.....with $40 in my pocket. And, I stayed in Europe for the next five months, had the adventure of a lifetime.

You can only escape your limitations if you are willing to set them aside.

This much I have learned. Btw: That is a picture of Donna at the beginning of this piece.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Coming Divide.....

Several times in the last few months Ayn Rand has been brought to my attention. The first time was because Congressman Paul Ryan has been said to require his staffers to read Rand's writings, which largely boil down to either Atlas Shrugged, or Fountainhead, the two novels for which she has become known. You recall that Ryan is the one who wants to solve the deficit problem by dismantling Medicare and Social Security, right?

Rand developed a pseudo-philosophy called Objectivism, and it was essentially an argument that the purpose of life is to make yourself happy, to get what you want, what you can, and remember that compassion for those less fortunate is a form of illness, stupidity, and just's for suckers. I refer to her philosophical efforts as 'pseudo' because the entire academic philosophy community recognized her as one who was not a serious philosopher, but as a person who just wanted to legitimize her personal viewpoint. Believing that self-interest is cool and altruism is foolish, doesn't make you a serious philosopher on any legitimate level, it just makes you a coy person who wants to have what you want and not feel guilty. My wife summed up Rand's philosophical argument very succinctly: "It sucks to be you."

So, in a society where self-interest has come into its own, where putting integrity and honor aside in favor of playing the acquisition game has become the avowed goal of people who hide behind the august sounding label of 'entrepreneur', it just makes sense that some of the self-anointed purveyors of wisdom would seek ways to justify acting in what most of us recognize as selfish and even predatory ways. The World War II generation knew with great clarity--for the most part--that being a selfish person who eschews and uses the less fortunate is not a qualification for being a decent person. In fact, most of that generation--having lived through the Great Depression and having fought to save the world from fascism and the murder or enslavement of millions--knew without having to philosophize about it, that being a decent Human Being is more important than merely getting what you desire...especially when you do so at the expense of others.

We are headed down the road to a Great Divide: those on one side have adopted Ayn Rand's attitude and will stop at nothing to get what they feel they are entitled to have. Those on the other side will be the modern equivalent of a proletariat. They work to keep a roof over theirs an their family's heads, food on the table and they hope for a reasonably happy life as they go about this task...a task that for many is becoming a dire struggle.

The people on the Rand side largely regard these others as 'useable', there for the exploiting and suitable to build their personal dreams on the backs and the sweat of the less fortunate. It has been this way for a very long time. Once it was outright slavery, then a feudal system of exploitation, now it is a much more refined system in which those who seek it can become a part of this 'ruling class' and have the means and the channels through which to use hold the reins of power. The rich are getting not just richer; they are becoming an elite class of power brokers and money barons who now call the shots in government. They essentially have the wherewithal to buy political power, to de facto own the mechanism of governance, and to thereby ascend to levels of power and wealth that allow them to not merely be pleased with themselves, but to RUN THE ENTIRE SOCIETY, as they please.

And, unless you are one of them....that is not good news for you. The aphids of the middle-class will be kept under control by making sure that they have enough desire to own STUFF, and that they can borrow the means to do so. By keeping us scrambling for what we need and for what we believe will make us happy....the power elite has us eating out of their hands. Whether it be the desire/need for a home, a nice vehicle...or several, all the electro and petro toys we could ever imagine and never need but come to DESIRE.....we are on their treadmill and it looks very much like the big rotary turntable milking machines that large commercial dairies have. We need medical matter the price....we must have higher becoming a source of massive indebtedness for so many. We must have all the glittering toys that we are bombarded with from the ever larger glowing screens that comprise so much of our lives now.

The grand irony in all of this is that we're so busy scrambling for what we think we need, for what will somehow--though we have no real evidence of this--make us HAPPY....that we haven't got the time or energy to resist what all of this is doing to us. One clue might be the fact that the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants has now soared over 100 million per year....with a rapidly growing percentage of them being written for CHILDREN. If you look at it all from a distant mountain-top, with a sense of how it all works, you begin to see that this system of economic and social domination is now at a very high level of smooth-running perfection.

We are doing just exactly what we're expected to do: work hard, conform to what is expected and, indeed, demanded of us. And, the people who are using us, who understand that it 'sucks to be us', are getting so good at making us believe that we're somehow 'free', and that if we just do what they want we'll also be happy, that we can no longer even see what is really happening to what was once dreamt of as a near-utopian society.

If you do see what is happening, and it doesn't sit well with you...chances are you just haven't got the right prescription for an anti-depressive drug. Maybe things would seem better if you just asked your doc to put you on something different.

Or you can admit that you do see what is happening and that you don't like it, that you, in fact, do not accept it as inevitable.

And.....then you can begin to ask yourself what the alternatives are.

BTW: when Ayn Rand died, her funeral was sparsely attended...but some caring soul had the presence of mind to order up a large funerary flower arrangement, in the shape of a DOLLAR SIGN. What a legacy, eh?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Fine Art of Irony

Every once in a while, something appears in the media that is so over-the-top, that it seems it must have been written by a tongue-in-cheek dark humorist. My favorite has been Kurt Vonnegut Jr, who was responsible for such dark insights as: "The only acceptable form of suicide in this society is Pall Malls." And, yes, that is what he smoked, and I am sure contributed to his death in some measure.

But, just a few days ago, I read an astonishing nugget of irony (click on the title above to read the newspaper story). A large group of motocyclists were staging a 'protest' ride, to, of course, protest the mandatory helmet law in New York state. There were about 550 of them, and I would suppose that more than 90 or 95% were riding Harleys...most of them making that lovely--to some--staccato 'potato, potato' noise that they so love, and which is seemingly somehow exempt from noise laws in communities across the country.
So, as this defiant motorcade proceeded through the town of Onondaga NY, a rider, Philip Contos, from Parish NY, had to brake explanation why, but from experience I will guess that he suddenly saw that he was going faster than the rider in front of him. So, he grabbed a handful of front brake...and his '83 Harley snapped sideways and tossed poor Philip over the handlebars. This could happen to anybody who rides, regardless of how many years they've ridden, and how good they are. But, on this day, poor Philip landed on his head, and suffered a head trauma. He was transported to a local hospital where he was declared dead. The police issued a report stating flatly that had he been wearing a helmet, he would have very likely survived.

Now, I am not making light of this man's death. I am sure that he will be missed and that it is a tragedy on multiple levels. But, the irony in this instance is so humongous, so inestimably VAST...that it should not go un-noticed or ignored.

I have ridden motorcycles since I was in my teens. A rough guesstimate of miles passed under me would be somewhere around 300K. I also live in a state that steadfastly refuses to mandate helmets for motorcyclists.....despite the fact that there is a detailed and undeniable body of proof that helmets do save lives, lessen the severity of injuries and are just a damn good idea. Every time this issue is brought back to the Maine legislature for consideration, all the heavy-metal Harley types turn out in their most troglodific outfits and threaten mayhem if such a law is put on the books. Okay, I get it. It is a choice.

What I don't get is that so many younger riders, just getting started in the sport, follow the macho example of these bare-headed riders and venture forth into the dangerous environment of steel, concrete, asphalt, and sundry unforgiving objects....without a clue that even a seemingly 'gentle' tap on the noggin will render them cabbage-like sacks of flesh. The lucky ones are killed, never know the joys of spending decades being fed from a tube, having a ventilator forcing air into their lungs.

It seems, on balance, one more example of the dumbing of America in its final stages of completion. And, this poor fellow in upstate New York has just become a symbol of how utterly unforgiving and wildly ironic life can be.......especially when you approach it with your brains in the seat of your pants.

After owning 16 motorcycles, riding more than a quarter million miles, I can state with absolute certainty that I would have been killed AT LEAST three times, possibly four, and I might have been paralyzed another two. I still ride..sometimes faster than I should. And, I wear one of the best helmets money can buy.

But, apparently, in America today, we have perfected the idea that Truth is what we want it to be....not what it factually is. And, we put greater store in showing off our defiant machismo, than we do in the value of human life. So, what else is new, right?