Archive for October, 2010

Where were the campaigns?

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Driving to work, listening to news radio, I heard a woman complain about negative advertising. Her life was too busy. She didn’t like being interrupted by attack ads. Busy? I thought. How can she be busy watching television?

I haven’t noticed the campaigns this season. I stopped watching TV long ago. And I’ve missed something. People learned to be busy watching television. I looked it up: most of us watch four and a half hours a day. At the same time, Americans are overwhelmed and depressed by how much they have to do. This doesn’t seem possible. I suspect people only feel like they have a lot to do. Maybe, they’re anxious because the few things they must do eat into those precious four and a half hours.

The election will be a popular show, too. Millions of us will spend more than four and a half hours, fascinated by pictures of numbers and maps of the United States. Did Joe win? Did Barbara lose? It makes no difference. We’ll go back to busily watching TV and anxiously protecting our viewing time.

Few human beings make a difference. Watching TV, you’re not one of them. You could be if you would. Stop watching and get busy. Things will begin to change. You will start to matter. Just like, stop apologizing and exercise. Things will begin to heal. You will start to grow. But you won’t do it. I understand God loves you, even so.

Fatting the golden calf

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Worship is always absurd. We put complete faith in the preposterous. And always, the rules laid out by the prophets become the nonsense we’re utterly devoted to. The deity is thoroughly obscured.

So today, otherwise right thinking people, from bottom to top, are convinced the world is controlled by money. This is great for the people who own the money. We’ve forgotten the invisible hand isn’t just invisible. It’s not real. There is no market force optimally allocating resources and demand. There are only academics confusing ideas with reality, and politicians promoting the holy doctrine which has crowded out all other thinking. Astonishingly, people now believe the path to prosperity is: paying debt.

After decades of smashing unions, selling lottery tickets, and moving their factories offshore, money owners have reduced private sector wages so far that government employees are said to be grossly overpaid. Private sector workers, envious and desperate, instead of demanding higher wages for themselves, are clamoring to bring the others down as well. The calf is bawling. The faithful sacrifice.

Barack Obama is a black man.

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I haven’t lived on the street for a long time. I lived on the street for a long time. I had it hard, for a white kid. I was hungry and mean. I was smart and ambitious. On the street, you know who’s got a shot and who never has a chance. I had dreams, attitude, and abilities. If I’d been born black, with the same dreams, attitude, and abilities, I’d have been imprisoned or killed.

Look, we just had a rich white president who knew where he came from. A lot of us didn’t like him before he arrived, and most didn’t after he’d been around a while. But he had this trait that earned real respect: he did what he believed in and wanted to do. He did it despite conscience, country, and Constitution. He won the presidency and he shoveled the rewards to the people who helped him.

Most of America lives pretty close to the street. Barack Obama got elected because we all saw, wow, the United States can elect a black president. We wanted to be part of that. But the man’s got to earn his own respect. He won the presidency. Then he did this for the people who helped him: he told them to pull up their pants.

OK, I’ll talk politics.

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Perhaps politicians don’t have strong opinions. I think mostly they don’t. Some of them get pretty awkward trying to look like they have strong opinions. I think they just want to be the ones saying the things people agree with. So they get the big prize. Which is winning, I guess.

Too bad, because they might not know what they’re talking about. When they win, they might just be managed by background guys who hire the speech writers. So then they might behave differently than promised, and maybe even do things they wouldn’t otherwise believe in, if they had strong opinions.

I have scant background in economics. I haven’t participated a lot in my country’s intellectual culture. So like you I’m pretty sure I know what I’m talking about. Social prosperity in a market driven economy requires the bulk of profits to be distributed as increasing wages to an expanding middle class, which drives capital accumulation and reinvestment through purchases from a proliferating number of small businesses. Absent that, suffering just increases. And it’s no mystery how to accomplish that. It makes me sad. When I was young, it seemed obvious that’s what we’d all choose to do. Now, I don’t believe I’ll live to see it.

That changes everything.

Staying in touch

Monday, October 11th, 2010

“Reincarnation is an idea that when a living animal dies, it returns as another living animal.”

My youngest child said immediately, “I believe that. Before you said it, I believed that.”

My eldest: “I don’t get it. If you’re wiped completely clean, and start out new, how does it matter if anything happened before? What’s the difference?”

When I was a child, I thought of an American native, hundreds of years ago, standing in the night sounds toward the moon, heart wide open, pleading with his Great Spirit to understand this big joy in his soul, and receiving the same life that Jesus offered to me.

What you lost and how you lost it

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

The Bible says: when it looks like the end, run for the hills. I began wondering how that could possibly help, in the twenty-first century. Maybe a lot. After ten years, it’s clear the government is waging its war for its own members, not for you and me. The enemy they’re promoting by attacking various peoples isn’t after us, it’s after them. We’re supposed to believe we’ll get mowed down by terrorists on their way to Washington – so we’d better stand tough.

It’s a new day. ‘Standing tough’ means never saying anything you’ll be sorry for. But you don’t know what that might be. You do know: saying things is a lot more fun than ever. You can write instant letters to new friends. You can write instant letters to old friends. You can share the moment. You can share the moment with old friends you haven’t heard from in fifty years. You can spill your guts. This is fun.

This is also the property of somebody else as soon as you write it, and it’s all directed through a massive government content filter looking for comments suggesting you’re with the enemy. Or maybe that old friend is, and forgot to mention it to you.

We’re told our national survival depends on being endlessly alert; the new war requires watching everyone – everyone – for clues of the attack before it comes. To experiment with this, try writing your old friend some satirical prose about being part of an imminent Al Qaeda strike on Houston. You see, freedom means safety from observation. It really does. Freedom means the absence of suspicion. It really does. Freedom means liberty. And yours is lost.

The only problem with education

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

The president is bright, but not particularly creative. So he gathers his experts, hears them pontificate, then tries to pick his best way forward. He’s fairly helpless when all the experts are wrong. So today he adds to his errors by joining the consensus on American education: it doesn’t provide enough certificates.

This is an attractive idea: schools confer certificates on students who possess skills described by their certificates. A certificated graduate is promptly available for appropriate, certificate-level jobs, and the wheels of competitive commerce turn faster and faster.

But we know that people with certificates do not possess their represented skills. Just go hire somebody. American schools were once great because we built them to educate our children. All together. All classes in one classroom. Because education is about learning with each other. We didn’t give a hoot about job preparation. Educated people create their own jobs. Now our schools exist to provide certificates. Our graduates are unprepared to work, and unable to think.

Any billionaire can.

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

There’s a governor’s race in California and the Republican candidate is very rich. She’s had a maid for nine years who turns out to have been in the country illegally. The candidate fired the maid after deciding to run for governor, but she didn’t turn her in for deportation. The candidate does, however, support the deportation of illegal residents.

This reminds me of being laughed at by a rich friend of mine, years ago, for expressing concern for suffering people on the far side of the world. He just didn’t believe I really could care. But you see, I was poor, and it meant he didn’t care about me. It turns out, I guess, we only really care about people we know, individually, like the candidate’s maid. When we’re thinking about groups, we imagine we’d be best off if they simply didn’t exist.

There’s some pretty miraculous technology in the world today, and it’s getting better fast. Any billionaire can hire a lab and some scientists to manufacture a chipmunk that’s part tomato. Viruses are easy. We’ve got the techniques today to concoct easily transmissible, fatal human viruses, and to whip up their antidotes at the same time. Some billionaires are concerned how many people would need to be inoculated first, before a widespread release. After all, they want to preserve their fancy life styles afterward. So far, I guess, their loose affiliation has been dickering over the numbers. So far, no billionaire has gone ahead and just cleaned up the planet. But any billionaire can.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Friday, October 1st, 2010

If you’re not fluent in macroeconomic lingo, don’t worry. It’s all obfuscation, anyway. Just go ahead and imagine you’re the US government. Everybody keeps beating you up over your debts. Everybody thinks your debts are so high you’re somehow dooming their grandkids. But check this out:

You’re actually just printing up money – trillions of dollars of it – and calling it ‘quantitative easing.’ People are buying this money by the ton, in current dollars, and spending it on government bonds, by the ton, at lower and lower interest rates. This while the dollar is losing value every day!

Get it? People know your dollars are worth less and less, but they keep asking for more and more. When it comes time to inflate out of this thing, you’re going to be the smartest guy in the room.