29 September, 2011

Thursday Brain Buffett: The Inheritors


My head was swimming with ideas when I rolled out of bed this morning, and I've been trying to keep a handle on them until I could sit down and get them all out. That happens sometimes. I normally try to compose this blog with a certain continuity with an echo of the long lost and rarely read essay.

This morning, though, I want to hit the highlights, keep it simple, and move on.

First of all, I want to thank Grindbone brother Kaplowitz (iamkap.blogspot.com) for bringing me onto the 2nd edition of his blogspot radio broadcast. Although the format is uber-brief, we kept it lively and hit a few high water marks. Among them:

  • I like offensive people – or, at any rate, smart people who try to offend either to educate or make fun of the unenlightened.
  • I would rather be a poor and despised writer than a desperate college instructor.
  • Writing cannot be taught, only encouraged.


It's on this last point that I want to riff first, just a bit.

To all my friends who are still ensconced in higher education, and particularly those who take on the largely thankless quest to teach First Year or Basic Writing:

I am not saying that you are, or that I was, irrelevant. So much of what writing teachers do on a daily basis ends up being a drawn out argument to justify their existence... which is part of the larger problem. A good teacher knows when to get out of the way and let the educational moment run on its own momentum; the bad ones think it somehow has something to do with them.

And since I have laboriously and copiously recorded my issues with higher education, I'll just say this: the problem with education at all levels is two-fold:

  1. There are too many fucking lackeys and weasels (Please consult your Parsons Dictionary of Often Used Words and Phrases, Desk Reference Edition) micro-managing the educational process, and they are being supported by myopic textbook publishers with a Wal-Mart mentality.
  2. The educational process in this country has been derailed by the profit motive – students being corralled into “careers” (aka turning them into trained monkeys who pay taxes so that our corporate overlords don't have to), public schools teaching testing instead of concepts and the foundations of critical thinking, and colleges and universities taking up the for-profit education model pioneered by the University of Phoenix.

The corporate influence on education in this country was unavoidable, however, since our corporate overlords have had their fingers in everything for a very long time. The mistake, often made by people who have been taught a sanitized view of history, is in believing, that the relatively recent incarnation of the multi-national corporation is the culprit.

They aren't. They're merely the inheritors.

Corporate influence on American life and politics reaches much further back. The 1920's, the Robber Barons, and the Wall Street Bankers that brought on the Great Depression? (Hmm....) Sure. But look farther. Post- World War 1 coal companies that used racism divide workers and keep unions from forming? Sure. Look back even further. Railroad Companies? Yep. Keep looking. Civil War munitions manufacturers? Yes. Slavery? Yes.



Get the point? I'm leaving out some important players in the leaching of America, but you're getting the point? I'd be willing to bet that since Adam Smith wrote his Capitalist Treaty, there's been some monger trying to get one over by exploiting the work done by other people.

And before you get all horrified, deified, homogenized, and needlessly terrified, let me point out that large scale Capitalism – the massing of capital by exploiting the labor and resources of others – is not the same thing as someone who owns and operates a business. Entrepreneurs succeed by their own sweat. Capitalists succeed on the sweat of others.

This brings me to recent events – the Occupy Wall Street Movement and it's various echo movements across the country. The problem I have is that I live so far off the beaten track that I have to rely on posted video clips and some eye witness accounts that may or may not be legitimate. Getting news online means dealing with spurious sources, trolls, moles, dunderheads, and those well-intended transmitters of information that get lost in the sea of bullshit.

Not surprisingly, the corporate owned media (Disney owns ABC, GE owns NBC, and CBS is a monster all its own. And don't forget News Corp and Viacom. For a list of who's feeding you your news, see this chart) isn't really covering the movement – and yes, I feel pretty confident in calling it that – even though there's clear evidence of something. But, here in the Big Empty, that grand land called the Midwest, it's easy to ignore the movements that may (or may not) help redefine the future.

All I do know is that from what I can tell, I like it.  

11 September, 2011

The Three Tenses: Some thoughts on 9/11, Football, and The Sacred Long Memory

I rolled out of bed this morning to get some work done before the Cincinnati Bengals play their first regular season game against the Cleveland Browns -- because, in fact, all work does stop for me when there's a football game on. I realize this relegates me to a stereotype, but I don't really care. That I was never an athlete doesn't change the fact that I enjoy being a spectator. That the Bengals are trying to recover from a lousy season, the departure of a whiny quarterback, and an owner who's head is permanently planted up his own ass doesn't change the fact that I'm wearing orange and black today. In spite of the past, in spite of everything, life and faith goes on.

After feeding the cats and taking a shower and making coffee, I made my way upstairs to my desk. The weather is starting to cool off enough that I will be able to spend more days up here, writing. (Old house, the physics of heat, and the inability to afford an air conditioner all played a role in what I am now thinking of the Ennui '11: The Summer That Nearly Killed My Soul.) I need this space -- some kind of space -- where I can simply sit and write and be alone with all the muck that goes on in my head. This morning, part of that muck means doing the day job. Tomorrow morning's newspaper deadline is looming already, and there are public officials to expose, lampoon, and embarrass into doing the right thing. (Save all your objective media bullshit, please. The Fourth Estate is rarely objective. And when it is, no one reads it, listens to it, or watches it, because it's as dull as the list of contents on the back of a box of Hamburger Helper. You want your journalists to be honest, ethical, and merciless, not objective... which means that Fox News is not really a news outlet, but a well-funded propaganda machine -- since they've proven they are neither honest nor ethical.)

The thing I am faced with when I get online, however -- because I have to check my email and Facebook before I can do anything... damned digital age -- are people's thoughts, remembrances, and tributes to 9/11.

And while I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers, I will not pine about that here. Any attempt on my part to insert myself into a momentous and tragic historical event would be pointless.

The focus of such remembrances should be on the people who died, their families, and the subsequent  responders and Ground Zero workers who have and continue to sacrifice a decade after the event. The focus ought to be that even though it has been 10 years, that we shouldn't lull ourselves into junking the events of September 11, 2001, into some kind of convenient decade package -- which is what pundits and pseudo-historians tend to do. Decade packaging is a myth. The events that shape us as individuals and as a society do not stop and start at 10 year intervals.

Remembrance is not a word I use lightly. The very word itself has a kind of religious resonance for me. It reminds me of the religious zealotry I hid behind in my youth. "This do in remembrance of me," was what Jesus said, according to Luke 22:19, as he ate with his disciples at Passover. And while I have since rejected the metaphor for God and spirituality I was raised on, that specific word retains a particular resonance that never fades.

For me, though, remembrance continues to take on a larger, longer, and deeper view. Responses to the 9/11 attacks are a part of what I have come to think of as The Long Memory. This collection of stories, songs, and poems provide the permanent under current that keeps humanity moving. The Long Memory exists above, beyond, below, and outside of history. History is an abstract collection of events that are generally told with a specific narrative in mind. The Sacred Long Memory -- indeed, it may the one and only sacred thing -- ties together the past, the present, and the future. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. That is the purpose and the meaning: ensuring that the past stays with us and informs our present, and takes us into a better future.

The tragedies and travesties that have occurred as a result of the those horrific events are as much a part of the event as the planes flying into the towers and into the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93. Wars and rumors of wars. Torture, the silencing of dissenting voices, the xenophobia and all too familiar brand of Nationalism (think Hitler and Mussolini) that some people mistake for patriotism and "defending democracy." The soldiers who have sacrificed life and limb to keep Halliburton in business and to maintain the high price of a barrel of oil are just as much a part of those events as well. Gitmo Prison, Abu Graib, and the various crimes against humanity committed in our name are a part of those events, too.. and they continue to this day. President Obama has managed to continue most of the same war tactics that horrified rank and file Democrats during the Bush II regime. We're still fighting an expensive war in Afghanistan that no one talks about. We're dealing with a lingering recession here -- that, admittedly, Obama inherited -- but given the intransigence of the GOP, the tomfoolery of Tea Baggers, and the sheer spinelessness of the Democratic Party, there's no end in sight that doesn't hurt the poor.

And when I speak of remembrance, I also speak of the fact that 3000 + people died on 9/11 as a direct result of years of hawkish and exploitative American foreign policy. (Don't forget, Osama bin Laden was CIA trained to be our proxy during the Cold War to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Also, maybe one of the reasons the Bush/Cheney regime was so sure Saddam Hussein had WMDs was because WE GAVE HIM SOME when he was our proxy against Iran, which was backed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.)

These things, and the stories and songs and poems that have come as a result, are all a part of the Long Memory.

There are those who would make 9/ll a national holiday, and I can see their point. But it's not an idea I support.  How many people really know why Memorial Day is a holiday? Or Labor Day?  Did we immortalize December 7th, 1941 with a day off of school and work? (The answer is no. After all, it's too close to Christmas, the high and holy day that celebrates consumerism and egg nog.)

Remembrance means moving forward and carrying the Long Memory with us every single day. Adding to it every single day. Passing it on every single day. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. Part of engaging in Remembrance means that life and faith -- faith that some good can still happen -- must go on.

And the last time I checked, "to do" is an active verb. It means to perform a specific act, as in DIYDS. (Do It Your Damn Self.)

06 September, 2011

Notes from Bizarro World (Post-Labor Day Post)

The more history I read and the more I consider our present circumstances, the more I think I live in Bizarro World.

For those of you who are not imminently COOL enough to know what I'm talking about, I am referring to the cube shaped planet Htrae, where Superman's block-headed alter opposite Bizarro lives:

(This is also the real  location of Crawford, Texas.)

Because everything on Bizarro World has to be opposite of everything on Earth, this -- again for those of you not comic book inclined -- is a copy of the Bizarro Code:



The implication, of course, is that everything done on our planet is perfect -- or at least, our goal to try and get as close as possible.  And of course, in 1960's comic-speak by PLANET, they mean THE UNITED STATES.

After some deliberation, I've come to the conclusion that if I'm supposed to live in a world where beauty and perfection are the goals, then I'm in the wrong one. As a matter of fact, it seems as if the highest goals and deepest desires of the planet -- and by the planet I mean THE UNITED STATES  -- are the exact OPPOSITE of any attempt to attain beauty, truth, or perfection.

Thus, I can only conclude that I currently reside on Bizarro World.

Because only on a planet such as Bizarro World could Labor Day pass with little or no attention paid to the fact that celebrating Labor -- that is, the Labor Movement -- has more to do with the holiday than fireworks and barbecues. Neither The History Channel, nor The Documentary Channel showed anything about people who work, the history of labor in this country, or the struggle for workers rights and the legalized murder of labor martyrs like Joe Hill and Albert Parsons -- just to name 2; and given the current drive by Tea Baggers, lily-livered Libertarians, GOP'ers, and spineless Democrats to further undercut unions in this country, I sort of thought that maybe one of them might have run something. I don't think PBS even ran anything, either.

The only national news item that ran about Labor was Teamster President James Hoffa calling the Tea Party a bunch of "sons of bitches." Of course, Fox News -- trying, I guess, to distract attention from Der Fuhrer Rupert Murdoch's problems  -- had to give the TB'ers yet another platform by covering the the drippers' condemnation of Hoffa's comments.

On the other hand, I'm not really surprised. Since we are clearly a country of people who have forgotten our history -- accepting, instead, the sanitized, glamorized, homogenized version sold to us in history textbooks -- it's no wonder that we are repeating it.

But since I am clearly on Bizarro World, I should point out one of it's key inhabitants. And no, I don't mean Bizarro Superman, or even Ambush Bug.



The sad part about liking comic books is the realization that in real life there are no super heroes swooping down to save us. Institutions of government and religion and of higher learning have failed us.

That means it's up to us.

Or, you could wait on Ambush Bug.



03 September, 2011

21 Anno Domini



Ken Parsons, 1955.
The picture I chose of my dad was taken in 1955... 18 years before I was born. Although I have pictures of him from my childhood – the way I remember him – but I like this picture of him more than any of those. This is him in his youth, in his prime. There's a cockiness in his stance that grew into something larger, into a mental and spiritual indefatigably, which lingered, even when his health and his body began to fail him. The stamp on the back of the picture indicates that the picture was taken – or, at any rate, developed – in November of that year in San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I know about my dad being in Texas was that after being in that state with two other friends – he in the Air Force, and one friend each in the Navy and the Army – my dad received a letter from the governor asking him to please never return to the state or risk being incarcerated.

At least, that's the way I remember him telling the story. And while I'm sure that there was probably some exaggeration involved – the men in my family are prone to exaggeration – I have found there's an element of truth in all forms of exaggeration.

Today is the 21st anniversary of his death. Some years it's easier for me to handle than others. This year seems a bit more difficult than I've experienced in a while. Maybe it's because lately I've been acutely aware of his absence. There are times when I still want to ask his advice, still want him to make everything better. I'd ask him what he thinks about my life. Silly, really. I think maybe the reason I care so little about the opinions of other people is because his opinion was always the one that mattered – and in its absence, there is no one who's opinion can act as a substitute.

That he is gone doesn't mean I don't still learn from him. That I can't remember the sound of his voice doesn't mean he still doesn't speak to me. It is the blessing and the curse of children to carry their parents with them, in their bones and in their hearts. The imprint is a permanent one. I continue to learn from him because the core of what I learned continues to apply to my everyday life. He teaches me that being honest counts for more; that convictions are worth standing up for; that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity until they've proven otherwise. He also teaches me that I am not less deserving of respect than others so long as I remember these three things.

I miss you, Dad. Give'em Hell.

01 September, 2011

From the Publishers of The Parsons Dictionary of Often Used Words and Phrases

success, n: 1. A culturally constructed product that is marketed and sold at an enormous mark-up to the young, the feeble-minded, and the hopelessly inept which blames the poor for being poor and gives rich people credit for things they haven't really done; this myth insists upon itself as gospel truth and blames people who do all  the right things but still get screwed for not bringing their own lubricant.

alternate definition:

A culturally constructed myth used to teach children that the best way to be happy is screw over everyone else.