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Einstein and Me

Dec 06, 2015
It’s gratifying when you find a genius who agrees with you. Here’s what Einstein once said:

Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men—above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.

Einstein doesn’t just mean you need to keep your boss happy. If, for instance, your fellow citizens are ill-housed, un- or underemployed, impoverished, unhealthy, and uneducated, you can bet your life your happiness will be diminished if not ultimately destroyed.

Your happiness is diminished when your paycheck is plundered to provide a niggardly subsistence to those unable to provide for themselves. This includes the three million people who earn at or below the minimum wage (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics), not to mention the millions more who earn less than a living wage.

The current federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour since July 2009) is considerably less than half a living wage by most accounts (see, e.g., the living wage calculators at MIT and the Economic Policy Institute).

Your happiness is diminished by the increase in all sorts of crime and corruption that thrive in times when the absence of “smiles and well-being” is so apparent among so many. We are living in an angry world, where in the U.S. a mass shooting happens on average more than once a day; where millions risk death to flee places that should be considered their home and sanctuary; where existence is threatened for other millions by rising ocean levels and capricious weather patterns; where a vicious fundamentalism has replaced strong-man tyrannies and spread its venom throughout the world.

Your happiness is diminished by the cost of dealing with all this unhappiness, in domestic surveillance, enforcement, and imprisonment; and in international conflicts that siphon trillions from our treasury.

In Darwinian terms, ensuring the other guy’s “smiles and well-being” is a survival mechanism, not some feel-good, altruistic effort, and this is Einstein’s point: Our survival depends on the other person’s survival; our happiness on their happiness.

No candidate for president has proposed policies or programs that are not, finally and essentially, business as usual, or worse, or much worse. No candidate has proclaimed that we must rewrite our social contract with ourselves, to acknowledge the truth of Einstein’s observation and to pursue its goals with dispatch. Not even Bernie.

And for that reason, I despair of the short-term future for our nation, and of the long-term future for our planet.

tags: People | Poverty | Politics

The Road Ahead

Nov 14, 2015
You reap what you sow.

Western Europe and the United States have, for several hundred years, enslaved, colonized, and ravaged peoples around the world. We have overthrown legitimate governments and established and supported brutal tyrannies in the name of stability and to support unbridled capitalistic pursuits. While our enviable democracies have enabled a level of peace and plenty which made of us the beacon of hope for the rest of the world, we have taken every opportunity to withhold a share of our good fortune. And in being willing to go to any lengths to protect and enhance our own interests, we have created monsters of much of the rest of the world.

What happened in Paris last night; in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, in 2001; in Madrid in 2004; in London in 2005; is going to happen continually and forever. Unless we change.

We know what we have to do, to undo what we have done. It will be a long and bumpy road. If we don’t decide to take it, however, we know the cost, as we already have begun to see our enviable democracies under attack, both from within and without.

Our only avenue to continued peace, liberty, and plenty is to bring peace, liberty, and plenty to the world.

tags: Terrorism | Europe | Human Rights

Talk Back!

Sep 30, 2015
Thanks to a cool new tool called Genius, you can now talk back to me with comments, arguments, guffaws, whatever. Simply block any word, phrase, sentence, or group of sentences. An odd-looking icon (what is that, anyway?) will appear above the blocked copy. Click it and an annotation section will open up on the right side of your screen. Once you annotate something, it thereafter displays with a yellow background. Click anything with a yellow background, and its associated annotations open up.

You may be sure I will keep an eye open for annotations and will respond to any that are not abusive, profane, or stupid. It would be even better if Genius could send me an email alert whenever a new annotation is created.
tags: ATN | Working Together

Open Letter to Bernie Sanders

Sep 26, 2015
Bernie,

I am writing this letter to you on my page because, even though the email I received from you today says, “we need to hear your ideas as to what issues are most important to you ....” there is nowhere on your official campaign website for me to say these things to you.

It is good to see you are fleshing out your platform beyond the one-note income inequality issue with which you launched your campaign. I agree with everything in this email that sets forth your position on many issues, with the following exception:

You say, “We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. . .Over a period of a few years the national minimum wage should be $15 per hour.”

You need to go much further than this. For one thing, $15 per hour is not a living wage right now, let alone will it be in a few years. MIT has an excellent Living Wage Calculator which I believe originated at Penn State. It indicates that a living wage for an adult with one child in our state of Vermont is already $22.04 per hour. Now of course what constitutes a living wage must of necessity be a matter for careful study and computation. The Economic Policy Institute, for example, estimates a living wage for the same adult with one child living in Vermont at $25.71 per hour.

I hate to say this to you, Bernie, because I believe you are sincere in your campaign. However, anyone arguing for less than a living wage TODAY is playing into the hands of the corporatocracy, not to say colluding with them, to maintain a high level of poverty in this country.

I have taken the pledge not to vote for any candidate who does not support my personal platform: A guaranteed job at a living wage for any adult 18-65 who wants one. Then dismantle the huge, expensive, humiliating, and ineffective social “safety net” of alphabet programs that simply sustain dependency among a population perfectly capable of independence.

The second essential plank of my platform is real education reform. The waste of brain power in this country (and throughout our world) is a disgrace. Real reform is going to be expensive and disruptive. However, it needs to be pursued with a single-minded purpose: That ALL our children will be provided with a quality education, whatever it takes, whatever it takes, whatever it takes.

So good luck, Bernie. I don’t expect to be voting for you or anyone else in 2016, unless a candidate comes along who is truly willing to speak truth to a populace exhausted by the wretched governance that has been foisted on us since the Reagan administration. We are in a downward spiral in this country, and a $15 minimum wage in a few years is not going to slow that descent one little bit.
tags: Politics | Labor | Employment

Keeping the Waltons Out of the Poorhouse

Apr 18, 2015
A new study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC/Berkeley quantifies the amounts spent by federal and state governments on four of the most costly public assistance programs. The researchers gathered data on expenditures for Medicaid/CHIP, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Between 2009 and 2011, $152.8 billion per year was spent on just these four programs. And the most shameful fact, which was no surprise to me, was that over half of that state and federal money—56%—went to working families.

You and I help support millions of underpaid workers while their employers, people like the heirs of Sam Walton, become multi-billionaires. Much of those billions going into their pockets are dollars you and I have worked hard to earn. How is it we can be played for such suckers?

The report also repeats some familiar and equally dismal facts: Real hourly wages for the median American worker increased by only 5 percent between 1979 and 2013. And for the bottom 10% of workers, the wages were 5 percent lower. Furthermore, wages for the bottom 70% of workers were either flat or in negative territory between 2003 and 2013. The rich are getting fabulously richer, the poor are getting poorer, and you and I are struggling hard to stay where we are.

There is something very wrong with this picture. We have two options: solve the problem or watch it get worse. Powerful forces in American politics are at work to guarantee the latter. If no one emerges to challenge the essentially identical economic programs of the current left and right, things will only get, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “unimaginably worse.” Just how bad do they have to get?

The solution is a simple one: Jobs for all, at a living wage, and end the many inefficient, ineffective, and humiliating programs masquerading as “safety nets” for the poor. All they do is sustain poverty and allow a capitalistic system run amok to maneuver more of us into that category.
tags: Politics | Poverty | Governance

Of Cartoons and Carnage

Jan 11, 2015
Leaving aside for the moment the wisdom of printing unfunny cartoons whose only point seems to be to express one’s elitist contempt for another’s deity, let us contemplate the awful events of the last week.

The boys and young men who have paid with their lives for their desperate acts have their roots, even if they were born in a civilized country, in uncivilized ones. They or their immediate forebears hail from North Africa or the Middle East, from failed states ruled over by tyrants, where “democracy” and a “liberal education” are as unknown as they were in the Dark Ages. They find themselves in a land that has no decent education or work for them; where day to day they struggle for subsistence, never mind inclusion or respect, in the midst of an obscene level of plenty; where any role models they can find fill them with hatred for the Other and a lunatic dependence on a willful misinterpretation of their deity.

And, for the most part, they are poor. Oh, yes, Mohammed Atta apparently was middle class and bin Laden was from a wealthy family. Spare me the “Yeah, but”s. This is poverty we are speaking about. Poverty of knowledge, poverty of experience, poverty of exposure, and just plain poverty. It is hopelessness, and not the siren call of an adoring deity, that delivers these young people to their early demise.

And it is anger. They see the West and our militarized over-reaction to matters appropriately left to the police. They know about the Afghan wedding parties, the Afghan children, the Afghan, Iraqi, Syrian, Pakistani, Yemeni, Somali, and other civilians slaughtered by our soulless drones, and every infant death produces a dozen more of them ready to die in order to avenge our brutality. Would it be any different with us, if the drones were dropping their fire on St. Louis?

The Forever War. It is enormously profitable for the American military-industrial complex. How much does a small-diameter bomb cost? $50,000. $100,000? Try $250,000, brought to the drop point by a plane that costs $68,000 an hour to operate.

How does it end? Who can tell? Easier to say how it will go on, because it will. And once again, it comes down to those two vital areas: education and adequately remunerative employment. We must pledge ourselves to the liberal development of every one of our human resources here in the West. No child can be left behind to be forged in the furnace of ethnic hatred and pseudo-religious fundamentalism. And we must guarantee every adult a decent job at a living wage. We must reverse the alienation and disenchantment which is turning more and more of our fellow human beings, here and abroad, into instruments of death.

And we must stop supporting tyrannies, even the creeping tyranny of the one-percenters that threatens our own democracy here at home.

It can happen if the people can be brought to realize it must happen. And that must happen soon, because already it is almost too late.

tags: Religion | Terrorism | Governance

My Four-Star Books in 2014

Jan 01, 2015
I rate the books I read (I usually finish about 64 a year). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 21 Four-Star books from 2014 (the fewest since 2005). Though there are some standouts, it wasn't a great year for reading. Bold-face items received 4.5 stars:

Julio’s day, Gilbert Hernandez
At last, Edward St. Aubyn
Bad news, Edward St. Aubyn
Mother’s milk, Edward St. Aubyn
Stitches, a memoir, David Small
The infatuations, Javier Marias
Castle Richmond, Anthony Trollope
Lady Anna, Anthony Trollope
Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope
The apartment, Greg Baxter
The colony of unrequited dreams, Wayne Johnston
Three strong women, Marie Ndiaye
The unwinding, George Packer
The light of Amsterdam, David Park
To rise again at a decent hour, Joshua Ferris
How to read and why, Harold Bloom
Swing, hammer, swing, Jeff Torrington
The sense of an ending, Julian Barnes
The dog of the south, Charles Portis
Norwood, Charles Portis

I'd love to hear your reaction to any of the above. Happy Reading in 2015!
tags: Books and Libraries

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