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.
Jan 31, 2013
Lest a month go by in my neglected blog without an entry, allow these few rants on its last day:
Aug 29, 2012
Gore Vidal has joined the company of Martin Luther King and Howard Zinn. Another of my heroes is gone; I can’t think of any I have left now.
No one spoke truth to power with the humor, the eloquence, the urgency, the contempt, the rage—or the prescience—of Gore Vidal, and we suffer grievously without his voice.
I just finished his Collected Essays, 1952-1972. These few outtakes should impress you as much as they did me with his gifts of wit and prophecy. Long before we were what we are and had found the voice in which many of us are speaking today—before Vietnam, before Watergate, before Reagan—he was one of us, showing the way:
Here he is discussing the causes for the decline in the reading of novels, a plaint heard over and over in this collection:
“Nevertheless, appalling education combined with clever new toys has distracted that large public which found pleasure in prose fictions.”One of his most famous assertions, spoken not altogether with tongue in cheek, is one to which I have often related while composing the nostrums that litter this blog:
“A Note on the Novel,” New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1956.
“I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”Vidal was master of the Parthian shot, a final little twist of the knife at the conclusion of an already damning progression of put-downs. Having misspent several years, off and on, in the theatre, I can attest to the truth of this one.
“Writing Plays for Television,” New World Writing #10, 1956.
“After the script was ready [for his Broadway play Visit to a Small Planet] there were the usual trials, delays, problems of temperament; each participant convinced that the others had gone into secret league to contrive his professional ruin (and on occasion cabals did flourish, for the theater is a child’s world).”We finally “got it” in the Great Recession; Vidal got it almost 50 years ago:
“Visit to a Small Planet,” The Reporter, July 11, 1957.
“In public services [as a portion of our foreign aid], we lag behind all the industrialized nations of the West, preferring that the public money go not to the people but to big business. The result is a unique society in which we have free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.”The futility of reversing a status quo that is destroying our country, the world, and the hopes of future generations was expressed succinctly by Vidal a few short years after Eisenhower’s famous warning regarding the military-industrial complex:
“Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger,” Book Week, November 3, 1963.
“Between the pork barrel and the terrible swift sword, Pentagon, Congress, and industry are locked together, and nothing short of a major popular revolt can shatter their embrace.”Vidal captures the essential lunacy—and tragedy—of the impulse toward religion and religious fundamentalism:
“Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger,” Book Week, November 3, 1963.
“And those who take solemnly the words of other men as absolutes are, in the deepest sense, maiming their own sensibilities and controverting the evidence of their own senses in a fashion which may be comforting to a terrified man but disastrous for an artist.”Attending Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral, he makes this final observation:
“Norman Mailer’s Self-Advertisements,” The Nation, January 2, 1970.
“As the box containing her went past me, I thought, well, that’s that. We’re really on our own now.”And so we are.
“Eleanor Roosevelt,” The New York Review of Books, Nov 18, 1971 (p. 424)
“Persuading the people to vote against their best interest has been the awesome genius of the American political elite from the beginning.”
“Homage to Daniel Shays,” The New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972.
Apr 12, 2011
There has been much debate of late regarding the French ban on the wearing of the Arab niqab (mask) in public. The two sides are well represented in an editorial in Canada’s National Post,1 so I am not going to rehash them here.
However, I will add one comment not mentioned in this editorial or in anything else I have read on this issue. If a government is going to conclude that the wearing of a mask in public is, indeed, a matter for the legal system to deal with, then they should not double down on blaming the victim—which is what the oppressors of these women are doing in the first place—and arrest these hapless females. They should arrest the culpable parties—the husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons of these abused women.
The radical Islamists tell their women, “Get raped and we will stone you to death.” The French tell them, “Wear a burka or naqib and we will put you in a cell and fine you 150 euros.” Does such an attitude not merely represent a milder form of the same injustice and, ever at the root of this sort of thing, misogyny?
1 Don’t ban the burka, an editorial from the National Post, Ontario, Canada, Apr 12, 2011, accessed Apr 12, 2011.
Nov 07, 2010
Here is how it works, and it is really quite simple. A true-life example: The federal government reaches into your pocket and extracts three billion dollars. They give it to some other country, on the condition that that country purchase three billion dollars worth of weaponry from American corporations. The lion’s share of the profits from this sale goes into the pockets of a few high-level corporate executives who, in exchange, fund the campaigns of the individuals in the federal government who are empowered to enable this scam.1
Of course, a puny three billion dollar sale is just a drop in the bucket. The real bucks come with endless war. It has been estimated, by a Nobel Prize winning economist, that the war in Iraq will ultimately cause the extraction of three trillion dollars from our pockets—that’s three thousand billion dollars.2 And who can begin to guess what the one in AfPak will cost, now in its tenth year and no end in sight.
And when the Republicans return to power in 2011 and 2013, and begin chipping away at Social Security and Medicare, the last vestiges of the middle class will disappear into a maelstrom of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and suicides.
Both the Tea Party and the Progressive movements in the U.S. are made up of people who believe government has failed them, that the essential responsibility of their elected officials, to provide services and protections necessary to maintain an efficient, safe, and well-functioning society, have been abandoned in favor of the promotion of special interests which are inimical to the interests of society at large.
We live in a corporatocracy and a plutocracy, where fewer and fewer are becoming richer and richer, and we—miserable damn fools that we are—with our iPods and our televisions, fritter away the last days of democracy on Facebook and at the mall.
We need a new American vision, one that puts the people first. And we all need to get behind that vision. Tomorrow, I will flesh out a few details of that vision, as I see it, and I will challenge you to identify the ideology my vision comes from. It is an American vision, composed of the best ideas from left, right, center, the Tea Party, and Progressives. It is a vision that puts the people first, a vision to restore America’s promise to itself and to the world.
Let us hope it is not too late.
1 Israel Commits to F-35 Purchase, by John Reed, from DefenseNews, October 7, 2010, accessed October 11, 2010.
1 The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, on Amazon.com, accessed Oct 11, 2010.
Jul 25, 2009
The Henry Louis Gates encounter with the Cambridge police has been much in the news of late, even prompting the president to put in his two cents’ worth (and his foot in his mouth). I have read much on the issue, from various points of view, in an attempt to understand my own attitude toward the encounter, the significance of which, of course, goes well beyond the incident itself.
The legacy of race relations in the U.S. is the cross we all bear as Americans. Slavery was a crime against humanity as foul as any save genocide and was, indeed, a kind of genocide. The plight of the colored races in this country, since black Americans were freed in 1863, has been scarcely better than slavery and, in some locales and periods, arguably worse.
The fact that America today can elect a black president is cause for enormous pride and celebration. Without minimizing this, however, we must acknowledge that racism still smolders in our hearts, and its effects are still a plague upon a huge contingent of our people. No black person in America lives what any white person would recognize as a “normal life.” They never enter society unaccompanied by some level of fear and apprehension. They have not a moment’s waking peace, and their dreams are troubled by the residue of generations of intense cruelty and injustice.
Into this mix arrives a routine police response to an alleged breaking and entering, ending with the arrest in his own home of one of America's most respected intellectuals. An insufficient I.D., persistent outrage, an unfortunate “clash of egos”—whatever the putative cause of Gates’s short-lived arrest, a simple fact, I believe, remains indisputable: Gates’s anger provoked anger in the policeman, and a policeman in the course of his duties must not allow himself to become angry. Such a debilitating emotional response must be trained out of recruits, or they should not be allowed to serve. You may argue that a policeman’s day consists of scores of provocative encounters with angry and dangerous elements. All the more reason why an appropriate professional response must not include an emotion which interferes with an appropriate professional response.
1 Obama Expresses His Regrets on Gates Incident, by Jeff Zeleny, the New York Times, Jul 24, 2009, accessed Jul 25, 2009.
Feb 14, 2009
Yesterday’s entry was such a downer, we thought we would pass along a funny email we received from a friend today (Hi, Jan!). It is, after all, Valentine’s Day and as someone once said, laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
Feb 09, 2009
To: The Vermont State Legislature
At a time of great and growing crisis, when we should be hanging together and helping one another, when an opportunity has been presented to advance the progressive goals of the Democratic and Progressive parties, and when those parties enjoy an overwhelming majority in both houses of the state legislature, we are greatly disappointed at your silence, and your timid acquiescence in the mean-spirited and bankrupt policies of our Republican governor. There are many ways we can support full employment in Vermont. There are many avenues to generating more revenue, and not in a burdensome manner to our residents. These are the times when government should expand its presence, open its doors to the people, and not cut them off and bury its head in the sand.
We must speak the truth. The Republican one-note obsession with cutting taxes is not only a failed policy, it is an evil one, designed for a single purpose: to transfer wealth to a few at the top while impoverishing the rest of us.
Vermont is perhaps the best situated of any state to show the nation that we can confront the challenges we face today and conquer them: that no Vermonter will go hungry or be forced from their home in hard times; that work will be found for any man or woman in need of it; that we will redouble our efforts to improve education, understanding that it is the key to our healthy future, and we will resist the calls to lay off teachers, close schools, and freeze local budgets; that if the nation cannot fashion a sensible universal health care program, then we will find a way to do so, as we found a way to insure our children.
This is a proper response to hard times. It is a brave response, and it is the response we expect from the Democratic and Progressive leaders we elected. You must stop colluding in the cynical exploitation of a crisis which is the knee-jerk reaction of the right. Times are good? Cut taxes! Times are bad? Cut taxes! This wicked mantra should have been thoroughly debunked by now. It threatens to turn our cherished nation into a banana republic.
So pull up your socks and get to work. The people of Vermont are ready to weather this storm, and together we stand. It’s time our representatives stood with us.
Dec 11, 2008
What do you know? The European Union actually cares about the quality of life of all its people, and not just the enrichment of a tiny few at the expense of the rest. Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, was founded in 1975 “to contribute to the planning and design of better living and working conditions in Europe.” Eurofound researches these conditions across the 27 European Union countries (including three current candidate countries), tries to identify what works, and passes along that understanding to labor, employers, and governments.
Their Second European Quality of Life Survey (.pdf, 416Kb) has just released its first findings. The full report will be available in spring 2009. The survey sought data on general life satisfaction and happiness relating to family, work, and social life. Among interesting findings we may wish to take to heart:
Nov 21, 2008
Speaking of transparency in government (which we were speaking of only yesterday in The See-Through Government), the Government Printing Office provides a great online resource containing way more information than you will ever need on who’s who in appointed (non-competitive) positions in the Executive and Legislative branches and various independent agencies of the federal government—the “plums,” in other words.
As we noted a few days ago, in Your Tax Dollars At Work, there are over 2.7 million federal employees. Many of them are civil servants in competitive positions, of course, but this resource is useful in finding out who is really running things, or disrupting them every four years, depending on your point of view.
Pay codes are noted, and you can check the 2009 Government Pay Schedule for help in decoding them. Bookmark for future reference. Also of great value is The Prune Book, which contains detailed job descriptions of agency heads and major subordinates.
Now, let’s see if Obama includes email addresses in the next edition.
Oct 16, 2008
A wise fellow once said, “Life is half over before we know what it is.” Unless we live to be 126, our life is probably something more than half over, and past time for a moment’s reflection. In our view, life’s essential question is, “What matters?” It is a question one can only answer for oneself.
So what matters for us? We would say:
Copyright © 2008 All Together Now.