Friday, September 27, 2013


I'm going to Houston for a few days to see my beloved.  Back for blogging Tuesday night.




Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted

New Krugman:

So here’s what Mr. Benmosche did in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: He compared the uproar over bonuses to lynchings in the Deep South — the real kind, involving murder — and declared that the bonus backlash was “just as bad and just as wrong.”

You may find it incredible that anyone would, even for an instant, consider this comparison appropriate. But there have actually been a series of stories like this. In 2010, for example, there was a comparable outburst from Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms. Speaking about proposals to close the carried-interest loophole — which allows executives at firms like Blackstone to pay only 15 percent taxes on much of their income — Mr. Schwarzman declared, “It’s a war; it’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” 


Well, I have a theory. When you have that much money, what is it you’re trying to buy by making even more? You already have the multiple big houses, the servants, the private jet. What you really want now is adulation; you want the world to bow before your success. And so the thought that people in the media, in Congress and even in the White House are saying critical things about people like you drives you wild.  

More here.

I have another theory, one that complements Krugman's theory of adulation quite nicely.  The very rich have always fully understood that if the rabble ever get their shit together, their goose is cooked.  Deep down these people live in terror.  They know it is wrong for them to have such vast wealth while others can't afford to see a doctor, or pay the rent, or eat.  They know there is a special place in Hell for them.  They are terrified that the people on whose backs they bolster their fortunes will one day send them to that special place in Hell.  I mean, after all, that's what they deserve, isn't it?  This is why there has always been a class war, why it's almost always been one-sided, their side: the very wealthy know they're outnumbered 1000 to 1.  They know their comfort and opulence is grossly unjust.  They live in fear of their eventual comeuppance.

It is no surprise that terrified people will make totally irrational statements, especially when they feel like their existence is on the line.  So simple criticism of the wealthy is tantamount to "lynching."  Makes sense to me.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


From the Nation, Nixonland author Rick Perlstein tells us the wrong way to argue with conservatives:

Despite a continuous flow of examples to the contrary this spring, summer and, now, autumn, our side keeps on wishfully, willfully and rather ignorantly denying the plain evidence in front of their faces about how conservative politics works. Namely, I keep seeing predictions that this, that or the other signal from polls or the political establishment or a traumatized public will “finally” “break the spell” of right-wing extremism on a certain issue, or even on all issues—and then we see that prediction spectacularly fail.


“I mean, a liberal looks at a card like this and says, ‘Isn’t it awful, these school shootings that keep on happenings? Let’s bring those to the forefront, because that helps us, and makes more people want gun control.’ But if you think like a conservative, and you think in terms of good people and evil people, the predominance of evil people makes you want less gun control, and more guns. And if the bad guys have a machine gun, you need a bazooka.”

More here.

Okay, I get it.  I'm not going to personally change any conservative minds.  At least, not with studies, facts, figures, and data.  I've already lost the debate before it's even begun.  I understand that.  After all, I used to be a die-hard conservative Republican myself back when it was "morning in America," and, at that point in my life, there wasn't such a thing as an argument that would get me to agree with liberals on most of their main issues.  Because I already knew that they were wrong and I was right.

So I'm not going to be changing any minds with my brilliant debating skills.  Does this then mean that I should just hang it up?  Give up on the fabulous and fun and informative debates I get into on facebook all the time?  Perlstein asserts that liberals must learn to think like conservatives, a notion with which I fully agree, but I continue to think there's a place, an important place, for traditional debate with conservatives, using traditional support and evidence.  Indeed, we abandon such argumentation only at great risk to ourselves and our country.

Flash back to my former conservative self twenty five years ago.  Nobody but nobody was going to convince me that, say, Keynesian economics wasn't washed up and tired and inaccurate.  Nobody was going to convince me that we didn't need a billion nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union.  I could not be persuaded that my university should divest its funds and holdings from companies doing business with South Africa, and so on.  And really, nobody ever did.  At least, no single individual in a single discussion had the ability to change my mind.  Instead, it was lots of people, in countless discussions, over several years.

Studying theater, in Austin, Texas, put me into a social situation where my conservative ideas were not mainstream.  I was constantly challenged, forced to support my views, again and again.  Even when I was not actively arguing my positions, I heard what lots of others had to say, and had to keep thinking about it all the time.  It wasn't that I was worn down or anything like that.  Rather, the sheer volume of these liberal views I was getting all the time, for several years straight, forced me to eventually give them fair consideration.  When I finally did, I found a lot of these liberal ideas to be reasonable, even if I didn't agree with them at first.  Of course, discovering that liberals had, at the very least, some good points forced me to examine my own conservative views again, and, in light of reasonable liberalism, a lot of my conservative ideas just didn't stand up.

The point is that ideological change within an individual is a gradual process, one that must necessarily take place within a social context--we humans are, after all, herd creatures to a great extent; we want to be just like everybody else in the tribe, and that includes a shared understanding of the world in which we live.  

I mean, how many people who opposed the notion of gay marriage ten or fifteen years ago are cool with it now?  I'll tell you: enough people such that we're seeing gay marriage legalized in a not insignificant number of states today.  None of these people changed their minds overnight.  They had to get used to the idea.  They had to hear the arguments in favor of marriage equality over and over again.  They had to get used to the idea that gay people are, in fact, people, just like everybody else, in spite of years of social conditioning telling them the opposite.  So a few people changed their minds at first, certainly not everybody, but this opened the door for others to follow suit.  Ultimately, society reached a sort of critical mass on the issue, and it is now looking more and more like the overall American tribe is one that places value on the notion of gay rights and equality.

This is why it is extraordinarily important to continue making arguments, real arguments, based on facts and data.  No, it will not change anybody's mind.  At least, not right now, not in one discussion.  But in the long term, with the sustained efforts of lots of liberals, maybe.  Politics aren't about single individuals, anyway.  Politics are about all of us together.  And if we can change the vibe of society, if we can alter the prevailing intellectual winds ever so slightly, if we can make it feel like there's something in the air, just by getting enough people on the left to talk about what they believe, then doors will open.  

That's when people will change their minds.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


A lot more legit, in fact, than the bullshit that passes for economics in Washington these days.

Okay, another facebook comment I made, in response to a comment responding to this Rachel Maddow video clip from 2011.

Here's my prompt:

Michael Of course, you're only hearing one side of the story here - Rachel Maddow's PC argument that the solution for unemployment is government-financed jobs (and anyone who impedes this is a villain). Some of us believe increased employment can only come from the traditional source of the great majority of American jobs - private business. And I don't doubt for one second that Rachel Maddow would mint coins with her picture on them.
And here's my response:
Ronald Since when has standard Keynesian economics been PC? Nobody even seems to know about it anymore, for that matter. Bottom line, when the capitalists aren't delivering the goods, that is, when production is low, and capital and workers sit idle, the government should increase demand, either by giving out free money to ordinary regular people who don't have jobs, or, better yet, putting those people to work so as to make that money a long term investment in the nation, with infrastructure building, education, or (gasp) creating great art all around the nation, which is what we did in the 1930s.

Of course, it took WWII to end conservative obstruction, which allowed us to really get government spending in gear so as to reach full production capacity, which, as we all know, is what ended the Great Depression--we managed to pay off the debt incurred, by way of the post-war booming economy, within a decade. And we can still do that today. If we want. The overall economic issue, a huge gap between demand and production capacity, is extraordinarily similar to what we faced in the 30s. But our politics are so dysfunctional, and conservatives are so totally off in outer space, that it's unlikely that even WWIII would be enough to end the fantasy/folk economics of the right that are so popular today.

This is real. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently asserted that, since the financial collapse of 2007, our economy has effectively failed to produce some two trillion dollars worth of goods and services that it could have produced. Think about that for a moment. Two trillion dollars. Down the drain. All because "socialism is bad" or "job creators" or "private property" or something. And this is why our children are in huge classes right now, with their educational prospects diminishing by the moment. This is why infrastructure is crumbling. This is why people are out of work. And on and on. Two trillion dollars. Because "socialism is bad."

Jeez, Keynesianism is about SAVING CAPITALISM from its own weird excesses and short-sightedness. Certainly not socialism.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013


From the Huffington Post:

Colion Noir, NRA Commentator, Slams Starbucks 'Anti-Gun Stance' Using Gay Comparison

Noir notes:

In the wake of Starbucks coming out of the proverbial anti-gun closet-- yes, I said anti-gun -- because when you request that I don’t bring my gun with me into your store, that’s an anti-gun stance. Think about it. If you said, ‘We’re not pro- or anti-gay but please all gay people -- we respectfully ask that you not bring your ‘gayness’ into the store. I mean, we’ll still serve you, but, if you can leave the gayness at the door, we would much appreciate it.’ Now if that’s what they said I highly doubt Tom Ford would go start designing a black Tuscan coffee signature cologne in support of this stance.
More here

Ordinarily, I would just ignore this one.  It's clearly a stupid fucking argument.  But I couldn't pass up the irony here.  I mean, of course, conservatives don't understand irony, really, but that's what makes them always fall into it, just as this guy does.  

When racism or homophobia occurs, generally, it's a powerful group oppressing a relatively powerless group.  Not in this case.  The NRA is among the most powerful of lobbies in Washington.  They get legislation passed that other interest groups cannot; they get politicians elected and defeated.  And there's also, you know, the guns themselves--another article I've read about this controversy quoted the Starbucks CEO as saying they had rejected an outright ban in favor of this "request" policy because they didn't want to put any employees in conflict with PEOPLE WHO ARE ARMED.  In short, gun owners have one of the most powerful special interest groups in the history of humanity protecting them.  And they have guns.

So this is definitely not a case of the powerful oppressing the powerless.  That's what makes it a stupid fucking argument.  Which, really, is all these guys have left.


Monday, September 23, 2013


...So, as usual, no blogging tonight.  Man, I do these things and never get cast.  I wonder which god I've offended.  Anyway, I'll post something fun and or interesting tomorrow night.


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Facebook exchange prompted by this essay about the staggering number of black men in American prisons.

Bill Unfortunately, the black community has a terrible issue of single mothers raising kids. Where are the fathers? If more fathers would take their responsibility of raising their kids seriously, you'd see a huge shift in those numbers. I can almost guarantee it!

Ronald On single parent families.

Bill, the reality is that, in an urban environment where there are very few or no jobs, having a husband in the house is nothing but a drain on scarce economic resources. Consequently, single parent families make perfect sense under these circumstances. Further, as the malevolent toll of capitalism triumphant becomes more manifest, we're seeing this trend on the rise among other ethnicities, including whites. It's simply that blacks were among the first hit by f-you economic policies back in the 70s, so that's the first place we saw the rise of the single mother family. Now f-you economic policy is more inclusive in terms of race, so it's happening everywhere.

That is, you can wag your shaming finger all you want about the "missing fathers." But until there are jobs paying good wages for all these men, it's STUPID for them to be involved with these families because they're effectively just one more mouth to feed.

In short, right wing economic policies created this problem, literally destroying the American nuclear family. And right wingers, as always, blame the poor for their poverty.

Bill Your argument is absolutely idiotic, Ron. The freak male shouldn't have impregnated the woman in the first place. If, and I mean if the male actually took his responsibilities seriously, he would care for his woman, spouse, girlfriend, and eventually child. That would mean getting a job, regardless of what type of job it is, to put food on the table. Ron, I love you, but your constant rant of hatred towards capitalism gets very, very old. Most of the problems that many people in this world face come from poor choices. Granted, there are some that live in terrible circumstances and they in many cases have no way out. But there are entirely too many success stories on this planet that show otherwise. Good night!

Ronald Capitalism, and consequently, our nation, are deathly ill at the moment, and people who push the old propaganda stories, the Horatio Alger myths that are true enough for a few, but an impossible joke to the millions, need to hear, again and again, how their fantasies do nothing but push people deeper into poverty and misery. Not to mention the fact that as the rich get richer, their wealth replaces our precious democratic rule.

That is, America is in a state of dire emergency, and people of conscience whose eyes are not covered by the foolish tales and false narratives pushed by the wealthy and powerful have a patriotic obligation to shout the truth from the highest mountain tops. So, I'm sorry if it disturbs you, but it is a matter of deep, deep conscience for me. To shut up about these very important matters is an act of immorality. I cannot stop telling the truth.

Beyond that:

1. Minimum wage jobs cannot support a family. Minimum wage jobs are all that is available for millions and millions of Americans.

2. Telling people not to have sex will not stop them from having sex. That's a genie that can never be put back into the bottle. Shaming such people, while seemingly well intended, not only doesn't solve the problem, it also confuses discussion about it, making actual solutions all the more difficult to find.

3. We have allowed capitalism to warp and twist society such that bad choices are often the ONLY choices. We cannot continue allowing commerce to be the sole concern of civilization. This is self-destructive.

4. At this point, there are only enough success stories to bolster these false Horatio Alger narratives with anecdotal evidence only. Statistical evidence, actual data, shows the reality: most of the poor will remain poor throughout their lives, and members of the working and middle classes are increasingly joining the them in poverty.


Friday, September 20, 2013



Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!



One of my favorite professors of all time recently friended me on facebook.  Because he's a theater guy, like me, he's also liberal, which is, no doubt, why he felt compelled to post this take-down of an absurd "job creators" essay from the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, we all have our conservative detractors on facebook, and Tom is no different.  Here are a couple of comments the post received, both from the same guy:

This is part of a hot current left-wing trend to belittle entrepreneurs ("you didn't build that"), usually as a rationale for tax increases. It's based on recycled Marxist bullshit, namely the discounting of individuals in favor of impersonal mass trends. It's rather like saying Lincoln didn't free the slaves, a worldwide moral change freed the slaves. Yes, without the general change in the moral view of slavery, there would be no Emancipation Proclamation. But moral changes don't propose or sign legislation, and consumer demand doesn't market products and services, read resumes or make job offers. In fact, most jobs come through private sector businesses, and most businesses are started by entrepreneurs, no matter how much Truthout prefers employee collectives.
Demand is not something that can be boosted in the abstract by the government. Businesses create demand by creating products and services that people want to buy. People didn't buy personal computers because something called "demand" was high and they had to buy, so they might as well have bought a computer. The product created the demand.
Tom argued with him a bit, but finally decided to bow out.  But I have great difficulty doing so, myself, so, you know...
Of course, I'm personally incapable of walking away from an argument. A weakness, I admit, but probably better than whoring and drunkenness.

Anyway, Michael, I mean no insult when I tell you that it seems to me that you have no idea what you're talking about. And I'm not even saying this from an ideological point of view: once upon a time there was a legitimate debate among economists about this, and it really came into its own during the Reagan era.

From the Great Depression until the late 70s or so, Keynesian economics dominated public policy debates, and the major assumption underlying the discussion was that the best way to tweak and adjust the economy in order to attain growth uninterrupted by recession was through manipulation of demand, by way of jobs, public assistance programs, and various government spending programs, that is, a focus on workers/consumers, the demand side.

But while Keynes' ideas were dominating, other economists were developing dissenting views. The most influential of these guys was Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. His ideas were more focused on supply, that is, what conservatives are calling "job creators" today, the supply side--Friedman was also more into monetary policy than Keynes. Anyway, by the time we were experiencing the awful stagflation of the 70s, a totally unprecedented problem, inflation coupled with recession, it turned out that the Keynesians had no answers for this. But Friedman did. Indeed, Reagan, who embraced supply side views, was the guy who had the balls to massively increase interest rates, a manifestation of Friedman's monetary policy ideas, which finally whipped inflation when nobody else could.

Of course, this caused a really painful recession in the process, but it did get some results. This apparent victory for the Friedmanites fueled the political imagination. Even though Keynes' ideas were never truly discredited or debunked - it was simply that a rather unique economic circumstance was off his radar - the supply side triumph with inflation was taken as "evidence" that the demand side was bogus. Thus was born the clearly absurd notion that it's all about the "job creators." I mean, we didn't get the "job creator" term until fairly recently, but that's where it comes from.

Now here's the catch. I'll happily give Friedman credit for the notion of tightening up the money supply by jacking up interest rates, but since then we've tried out a lot of his other ideas, for thirty years, and they have all been an abject failure. Because, you know, business, on the whole, doesn't create jobs so much as respond to a demand. So you can deregulate and lower taxes all you want, but if you don't have workers/consumers with good jobs paying good wages demanding more products, all those businesses that have been freed up from pesky government interference will fail. No way around that. What you're selling must be in demand, by people with enough money to pay, or it won't sell. Period.

The great irony here is that supply side economics, in the end, squashes demand, by lowering wages, offshoring, etc. This is textbook stuff, actually, but the public discourse is based on the mythology that supply side stuff actually works. Obviously, the mythology persists because the fabulously wealthy continue to push it--clearly, they think it's in their best interests to do so, but it really does hurt business overall in the long run. Capitalists are, as always, tremendously short sighted.

Anyway, this is a bogus debate, "job creators" and all that, based on a misunderstanding of the last thirty years of history, by a bunch of people who don't really understand economics.

Also, computers were invented and developed by the government, on the taxpayers' dime. It was left to entrepreneurs to find consumer uses and to market them, but it's all from massive amounts of government spending and planning for several decades. Bad example for supporting the notion of "job creators."
As Stan Lee used to write at the end of his Stan's Soapbox columns, excelsior!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

"U.S. economic astonishing, horrifying failure"

From a couple of weeks ago, my favorite economist Paul Krugman on the economic toll taken by the Washington consensus in the wake of the banking crisis:

Years of Tragic Waste

Some of that immensity can be measured in dollars and cents. Reasonable measures of the “output gap” over the past five years — the difference between the value of goods and services America could and should have produced and what it actually produced — run well over $2 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars of pure waste, which we will never get back.  


And, on the other side of the ledger, we would be a richer nation, with a brighter future — not a nation where millions of discouraged Americans have probably dropped permanently out of the labor force, where millions of young Americans have probably seen their lifetime career prospects permanently damaged, where cuts in public investment have inflicted long-term damage on our infrastructure and our educational system. 

More here.

I totally missed this column when it ran on September 5th; it was Marxist economist Richard Wolff who spoke about it on his radio show last weekend inspiring me to check it out.  Because, you know, the amount of money we've lost just because Washington is so dead set on avoiding any kind of "socialism" is nothing short of staggering.  We've pissed away two freaking TRILLION dollars, real money that we could have made, but we'll never have.  And, as Krugman observes, it's a complete waste: if we had just done the simple textbook stuff, gotten a real stimulus going, a much bigger one than the hand-wringing, timid and feeble nod to Keynesianism the Democratic Congress was willing to pass, we wouldn't have lost all that money; instead, we'd have a functional, growing economy, one that would have eventually paid for the stimulus spending that got it going in the first place.

But no.  We've heard "government is the problem" so many times over the last thirty years that we just can't think straight anymore.  This has screwed up a lot of lives.  From mortgage holders who lose their homes through fraudulent foreclosure processes, to older workers who have lost their jobs and now cannot plausibly be rehired because of their age, to young workers facing a job market full of "opportunities" with McDonald's and temp agencies, to recent college graduates crippled by tens of thousands of dollars in debt, to public shcool students being shafted by lack of education dollars, and on and on, Washington has turned up its middle finger toward Americans from all walks of life.  "We don't give a shit about you," they say, "and we're totally willing to show how much we don't give a shit by clinging to a demonstrably fictitious ideology that would throw you out in the street and then call you lazy for not having a job."

Two trillion dollars.  Fuck you, Washington.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


From AlterNet:

The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.

More here.

This is not entirely new.  I've been reading about findings in this area, how logic is more something we have to try to do, and keep trying to do, and even then not particularly well, than something we just do naturally, for at least four or five years now.  And really, it's pretty amazing when you get down to it.  I mean, okay, that we are much more passionate than we are rational is kind of already intuitively understood.  But our entire concept of how we approach governance and public life is founded on the assumption that our best ideas are going to come from rational discussion.  We are children of the Enlightenment, after all.  This is how our founding fathers constructed the United States of America.  They came in with a bunch of ideas, debated each other, and came up with even better ideas.  From this process came our constitutional system, which essentially institutionalizes for our nation that very same process.  Studies like the one in the linked article, however, strongly indicate that we human beings are simply not well suited, in terms of biology, for doing well with this process.

Still, though, I think we've done well enough with it over the decades.  That is, until fairly recently.

For most of the history of the republic, we have existed in what Chris Hedges calls "print based culture."  That is, the vast majority of information pertaining to the great issues facing our nation has come to us via the written word, newspapers, books, magazines.  So most Americans who ever lived considered observations, analyses, and facts about their country by reading about them.  Contrast that with the what has effectively replaced "print based culture."  Hedges describes the rise of mass communications as a steady movement toward "image based culture."  That is, we Americans now get most of our information in terms of pictures and video.

Now, think about that for a moment or two.  When we read, it is necessarily a contemplative process, slow and deliberate, one that absolutely requires thought and rationality.  But when we see images, it's quick, and it rouses our hearts far more intensely than it stimulates our intellectual processes.  That is, "image based culture," whether by intention or not, is perfect for upending the rational thought process that reading requires.  Indeed, images require NO rational thought process.  You see, and then you react.  I mean, sure, if you try really hard, you can think about it, but it's not required in the way it is with reading.  Most people tend to take the path of least resistance with this, including myself.  And these days we are drowning in all kinds of images.

In short, our biological proclivity toward irrationality is ramped into the stratosphere by the image based culture in which we currently live.  Unless we find a way to deal with this, it may very well turn out that we are no longer capable of practicing democracy in America.  And that scares the shit out of me.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Why the Idea of a "Free Market" Is Total BS

From AlterNet, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls out the Emperor for his nudity:

In reality, the "free market" is a bunch of rules about (1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); (2) on what terms (equal access to the internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections? ); (3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?) (4) what's private and what's public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); (5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.

These rules don't exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don't "intrude" on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren't "free" of rules; the rules define them.


Instead, the rules are being made mainly by those with the power and resources to buy the politicians, regulatory heads, and even the courts (and the lawyers who appear before them). As income and wealth have concentrated at the top, so has political clout. And the most important clout is determining the rules of the game.

More here.

Of course, actual economists will readily admit that there is ultimately no way to separate the government from the market, and that such a thing would, in the abstract, be a really bad idea, but they will be happy to tell you where in the market the government ought to be stronger and where it ought to be weaker.  But that's another discussion.  And I really do mean "another discussion" because that's not the discussion we have in the public discourse.  In fact, the public discourse for over a decade has been very much in terms established by conservative god and former president, Ronald Reagan.

That is, in virtually all economic discussion, by Republican or Democrat, politician and pundit alike, there is an ongoing assumption that "government is the problem."  Sure, the Democrats do continue to push to some extent what the conservatives would these days call "socialism," but they're really timid about it, clearly afraid to do "too much" because, you know, government is the problem.  Remember Obama's patronizing dismissal of single payer health care because of our free market "tradition"?  That doesn't even make sense, but it does show where the Democrats are on how government ought to interact with the market: it's best to err on the side of business--so err is what they do, again and again.  And the Republicans, don't even get me started.  To them, ALL government interaction with the market is treason.  Unless it's the military/industrial complex.  Otherwise, total obstinacy.

In short, "government is the problem" may very well not have anything to do with any serious thinking, but it has totally captured the ruling establishment's entire understanding of economics.  It's a religion, as self-contradictory and impossibly magical as any religion you care to criticize.  That's why the government's ongoing efforts to pull us out of alternating stagnation and recession all look like primitive witch doctors performing exorcisms.

That is, our leaders have absolutely no idea what they're doing.



A voice teacher I had during my first year in grad school wrote to me:

Ron, You trained with Suzuki methods at LSU. I am writing a book on different training methods and need some actor feedback. How did you respond to the work (good or bad)? You're articulate, and I need articulate actors to give me feedback (if you have a few minutes).
I do love being articulate.  So, of course, I responded:
There was a particular day we were doing scene work on Richard III with Leon Ingulsrud. Of course, we always were Suzuki intensive with Leon, given his association with the company back in Japan, and that day was no different. So it was good old Shakespeare filtered through whatever effect these bizarre exercises have on actors. I'm not sure what it was, but that was the day I felt like I finally understood what it was about. 

I was EXTRAORDINARILY focused on my scene partner--actually my awareness of my surroundings in general was just about as heightened as I can ever remember. I felt super-engaged in the moment, like I had transcended myself and moved into some reality more important than the one I usually inhabit. Of course, that's entirely appropriate for Shakespeare, but useful across the board for any acting work. And I realized that, from the first time I had done any Suzuki work, months before, this heightened focus, this ability to engage deeply, had always been the necessary result of these exercises--all I needed to do was recognize that it was there and embrace it. So it clicked for me that day.

Then I had a revelation. All these great acting theorists and instructors, Stanislavski, Adler, Strasberg, Meisner, they all had very useful and important insights, but, in the end, they were simply alchemists, fumbling in the dark, searching for the right spells and incantations. Tadashi Suzuki, in stark contrast, is a scientist in the modern sense. I told Leon, and he loved it. He jumped all over the thought, saying something to the effect of how the work is concrete and replicable, with clear and demonstrable results, just as all science is.

Now don't get me wrong. I haven't made Suzuki the center of what I'm about as an actor--indeed, where I'm at right now as an actor essentially reflects where most university actor training programs are; that is, I use some of this and some of that, depending on the circumstances. But I do recognize Suzuki's work as being as important and groundbreaking as anything that preceded him. Indeed, his name ought to always be mentioned in the same breath as all those alchemists, maybe with an asterisk by his name to denote that he's the one using science, instead of magic.
Of course, it's also cool that Suzuki exercises feel very Japanese, making them weird and cool for their own sake.  But that's for another day.

Watch some Lithuanian acting students doing Suzuki work here.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

We Are a Democracy on Trial

A commentary from BuzzFlash, courtesy of their facebook page:

But at the same time we have yet to acknowledge that we live in a violence-tolerating society that allows an unconscionable level of ignorant, racist behavior in the name of freedom - - as if we never have to question whose freedom we’ve been celebrating. Lately the term ‘exceptionalism’ has become a popular expression of our national ethos although it is essentially meaningless rhetoric politicians use to inflate their dialogue and self-importance.


Unfortunately that is very much the way our society has been deriving its ethical structures; there are no overriding political and cultural devices in play to mitigate unhealthy thuggish behavior on the part of politicians.

More here.

For me, as a suburban white kid, it happened at some point when I was in elementary school.  Probably second grade, maybe third--second and third grade overlapped 1976 for me, the Bicentennial, so everybody, everywhere, was talking about "freedom" and "democracy" all the time, all year long.  That is, shortly after I had first come to have some sort of understanding of our American sacred words, "freedom" and "democracy," I came to understand also that "freedom" and "democracy" don't really mean that we're free or that we live in a democracy.  

Because, you know, despite all our American "freedom," the schools are pretty authoritarian places; consequently, freedom didn't mean I could, say, go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, or that I could refrain from the gendered order of boy-girl lines on the way to the cafeteria or the library.  No, "freedom" necessarily meant something besides my personally being free.  It was something that was for later, when I was an adult.  It was clear enough, I suppose, that I didn't get to have freedom in the mid 70s because I was a kid, but nobody ever really even attempted to explain what freedom is, exactly, not in elementary school, not in middle school, and certainly not in high school, although I did have a pretty decent government class--"freedom"  remained an abstract principle existing somewhere else besides school.

"Democracy" also remained a pretty mysterious term, too.  I understood that it meant that one day I would be able to vote for people to run the government, but nobody ever tried to reconcile this with the fact that I had absolutely no say at all in how the schools were run, how my life was lived, and on and on.  Again, it was clear that "democracy," like "freedom," was something for adults.  Unlike "freedom," however, I do recall multiple attempts to define "democracy" over my years as a student in the public schools.  Generally, "democracy" means essentially how we Americans practice government, rather than the notion of citizens taking part in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.  I ended up developing a taste for such intellectual minutia, so I paid attention to the seeming billions of details that collectively define American "democracy," even while I always felt like most of my fellow students just let their eyes glaze over during the monotonous drone of civics lectures.  But it doesn't matter either way.  The fact that I feel like I decoded the American word "democracy" hasn't made America any more democratic.  I might as well have let my eyes glaze over, too, for all the good that understanding our formal governmental structures has done for me, or the country.

Then I turned eighteen.  I could vote.  And, having left the authoritarian confines of the public schools, I definitely had a lot more "freedom," whatever that means.  But by then, the weird defining process wrought by the schools of our dual sacred words had done its work: the bizarre contradictions inherent in our society where "freedom" means freedom to do some things but not others, and where "democracy" means voting for people instead of making any real contribution to how the nation is ruled, didn't seem so bizarre or contradictory.  This is 'Merica, buddy, and if you don't like it, you can just go back to Russia, where there ain't no freedom or democracy.

America is, after all, the greatest country in the world.

Or it's not.  The reality is that most educated adults could probably offer up their own definitions of "freedom" and "democracy," but it's highly likely that they would all come close to describing simply the situation we're in right now.  In short, for a "democracy," where we're all living in "freedom," we have VERY LITTLE public discourse over what those terms mean, could mean, or should mean.  Clearly, the schools do not train us to engage in such a discourse, so, really, it's no surprise that there's hardly any discourse about these concepts at all.  Life goes on, year after year, no matter what dissenting thoughts you might have about our sacred words.  And really, nobody gives a shit what you think, anyway.  Get in line.  Shut the fuck up.  You live in the USA, asshole.

That's "democracy."  That's "freedom."   That's America.

So we're "free" to run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt trying to get a college education.  We're "free" to do what our bosses tell us to do because capitalism apparently trumps "freedom" and "democracy."  We're "free" to watch while politicians on the corporate dole enact legislation year after year that transfers wealth away from working people and toward the wealthy.  We're "free" to sleep in the park if we can no longer afford the rent, unless, of course, there are local ordinances against sleeping in the park, in which case we're "free" to go to jail for violating those ordinances.  We're "free" to die from curable ailments if we cannot afford health insurance.  And on and on.

Meanwhile, nobody thinks of these issues in terms of our sacred words because America, as it is, is the very definition of those words--why, OF COURSE, we're free; this here's 'Merica, ain't it, land of the brave, home of the free?  It's seemingly impossible, but we're living in both 1984 and Brave New World at the same time.


Friday, September 13, 2013



 Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


On the Anniversary of 9/11, or Why I Fear the Tea Party

My dear old friend Brad, a writer for many years, has finally entered the blogosphere.  And he's definitely speaking my language:

The Tea Party movement is guilty of helping to foster a resurgence of xenophobia and bigotry in this country which has mostly lain dormant for all of my lifetime.

That’s not to say the last half century has been a time of uninterrupted social harmony in the U.S. Far from it. As a white boy I heard, and often repeated, “off-color” jokes. But that kind of soft bigotry thankfully faded as I grew up, until it was pretty much relegated to the fringes of society. It didn’t go away; I fear that may be too much to hope for. It just stopped being acceptable to flaunt backward-ass thinking in the mainstream. As a result, white people like me learned a different, in my opinion better, way of viewing the world.

Then 9/11 happened. Since then I’ve noticed that the bigots I know and am related to have stopped whispering their n****r or f*g jokes. They’ve stopped prefacing them with a disingenuous apology or an explanation of how they, personally, have nothing against the human beings their punch lines denigrate. In other words, these mainstream, passive bigots once more feel comfortable expressing the xenophobia they probably never stopped feeling.

More here.

He cross-posted this on facebook, and here's my comment from that venue--the Brian who I reference, a mutual old friend of mine and Brad's, had commented earlier that sexism has also reared its ugly head in recent days, too.

Okay, good post, Brad. Here's my take.

None of this stuff ever really went away, just as you suggest. People shut up for a while, to be sure, and are definitely starting to run their stupid mouths more today than, say, twenty years ago. But I think another dynamic has been in play for some decades now. The rhetoric and thinking on the right wing about racism, and yes, Brian, sexism, too, has undergone a dramatic reconfiguration in the face of the massive liberation movements of the 60s and 70s.

For starters, the conservatives fairly quickly came up with their own definitions of racism and sexism, definitions that condemned the most obvious and egregious manifestations of identity based oppression, but left intact the ability to oppress for reasons that are not so obviously racist or sexist. Thus, we see conservatives insisting they are not racist because they have no problem having a beer with a black guy. But conservatives feel perfectly free to blame poverty stricken blacks for their own plight, concocting culturally based explanations, bad fathers, promiscuous mothers, welfare dependency, etc., that are, in fact, essentially racist, but take on a faux veneer of sociology to provide cover--remember that awful book in the 90s, The Bell Curve, bogusly using statistical information to "prove" that blacks have inferior intellects? Indeed, this approach has been so thoroughly internalized by conservatives that most of them don't even realize they're doing it, and will squeal like pigs at the slaughter if you tell them they're being racist. It's been a very successful strategy. They've even got Bill Cosby doing some of their demagoguery for them, it's so damned confusing.

So lynching, for instance, is condemned by everybody, but welfare queen rhetoric, to conservatives, isn't racist at all. Needless to say, this favored conservative definition of racism, and sexism, too, TOTALLY disregards any institutional manifestations of identity based oppression. It simply doesn't exist to conservatives. If there are more black men in prisons than whites, to them it's because blacks simply commit more crimes, not because the criminal justice system takes square aim at black people in order to oppress them. If women make less money than men for the same work, it's because women take time out of their careers to have babies, not because of the good old boys' club. And so on.

That the mainstream news media take these bogus conservative ideas seriously and as an equivalent to more honest thinking about these issues leaves Americans in the middle utterly confused. Meanwhile, we have guys like Rush Limbaugh pushing the envelope on this delicate rhetorical and intellectual dance for years and years. "I'm not racist; I'm just telling it like it is!" The mainstream has only recently stopped giving his ilk the benefit of the doubt, but it remains to be seen how long that will last.

In short, the identity movements never really finished the job, even though these movements were effectively over by the time Reagan was elected. It only appeared that they had won some lasting victories. But the resentments of white men festered unseen--it is interesting to note how such resentments melded so seamlessly with Southern white culture, which is based entirely on resentment. All it took was a massive terrorist attack to bring it out into the open, and this was compounded by electing a black man to the Oval Office.

That is, resentful conservative white men are, as you said, Brad, running scared. Deep down, they're terrified that their time has ended. So they're showing their true selves in what appears to be a blind panic.
'Nuff said.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Indiana Judge Rules Right-To-Work Unconstitutional

From Daily Kos:

Here's the legal conflict:  The so-called "right to work" law makes it a criminal offense for unions to receive compensation for services federal law requires them to provide to workers even if they are not dues paying members. 

HOWEVER, the Indiana Constitution mandates that no one's services can be demanded without just compensation.

More here.

It took me a few minutes to get the gist of this, but once I doped out the reasoning, I found that, as an idea, it does, indeed, have some promise.  

Basically, the new "right-to-work" law in Indiana makes receiving dues or payment from non-union members a class A misdemeanor, a criminal offense.  Meanwhile, a standing federal law requires unions to make their services, legal representation, bargaining, etc., available to non-members, who then become financially liable for those services if used.  That is, under the federal law alone, no problem, the union can just send the non-member a bill for services rendered.  But that is now impossible in Indiana because it is illegal for non-members to be required to pay unions at all.  That means Indiana unions are effectively forced to render services without compensation, which is prohibited by the state's constitution.  So, on the surface, there's a massive conflict between laws.

My guess is that, given the massively pro-business climate across the land these days, the situation will simply end up allowing unions to charge fees to non-members for their services, but only when non-members actually use them, and under no other circumstance.  But maybe not.  There might be some catches here I'm not seeing.  For instance, could this be perceived by anti-union forces as having potential as a sort of recruiting wedge for unions, you know, pay less in dues now because you may have to pay a whole lot more later?  I don't know.  But this really is a nice little dilemma for "right-to-work."

And it may very well be a dilemma outside Indiana, too.  I'm sure the laws differ from state to state, but it seems to me that if federal law requires that unions make their services available to non-members, and non-members don't have to pay, somebody's being ripped off, some how, some way.  And we know how conservative judges love property rights.  Of course, we also know how conservative judges hate unions, too.

It's all confusing, I know.  But there might be something here, something gnawing at the very philosophical foundation for "right-to-work."  I'm going to try to keep track of this case.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Southern Slavery Turns White People Into Republicans 150 Years Later

From AlterNet:

The authors offer several potential explanations for how a human rights atrocity banned more than a century ago can continue to drive political attitudes today. Among them, the authors suggest that “the sudden enfranchisement of blacks was politically threatening to whites, who for centuries had enjoyed exclusive political power. In addition, the sudden emancipation of blacks substantially undermined whites’ economic power by suddenly increasing blacks’ wages and threatening the plantation economy.” These two factors, according to the author of the study, “led Southern white elites to promote localized anti-black sentiment by encouraging violence towards blacks, propagating racist norms and cultural beliefs, and, to the extent legally possible, pushing for the institutionalization of racist policies (such as Jim Crow laws). In turn, these racially hostile attitudes have persisted as each successive generation has, to some degree, inherited the attitudes and beliefs of the previous generation.” 

More here.

There really is something to this, and it's good to see that the social scientists are in hot pursuit of some real evidence making it plain to people who would deny it.  But I get the feeling that white Southern conservatives would deny this no matter how many studies you show them, because, damn it, they're not racist!  So consider a couple of points.

First, ideas don't exist within a vacuum.  They're always associated with other ideas.  Liberalism, conservatism, it doesn't matter: both points of view are packages of many different ideas, all of them undergoing continual interplay with one another.  So ideas about human nature, ideas about human interaction, civilization, self-interest, compassion, justice, right and wrong, gender, race, power, history, freedom, oppression, love, hate, all this stuff comes together in various combinations to form what we call ideology, or political point of view.  Indeed, there are so many ideas going into ideology that it's ultimately difficult for an individual to see how, exactly, all these ideas are affecting each other.  Why am I a liberal?  Why is my family conservative?  In the end, those are virtually unanswerable questions.  Sure, it's how I see the world, but why do I see the world in one way, when the people who share genes and family culture with me see it in another?

So there is for all Americans something of a mysterious component to how their ideologies are constructed.  That is, it's almost certain that we are influenced by ideas, notions, and concepts that we don't know are influencing us.

Second, we humans are not as rational as we think we are.  As cognitive linguist George Lakoff has noted, the logical parts of the brain literally cannot function unless it is in tandem with the emotional parts.  Indeed, if you remove the emotions, then there is no logic!  That means no matter how hard we try to be purely rational in our analysis of the way the world works, we must necessarily fail.  Our feelings are always shaping and informing what we tell ourselves is a rational process of logic.  And because we're always so dead set on insisting that we came to our conclusions in the most reasonable ways possible, most of us simply deny the reality.  For that matter, those of us who admit the reality, such as myself, are hard pressed to filter our logic for those emotions, anyway.

So it is almost undeniable that our political views are affected by how we feel, whether we want to admit that or not.

What does it mean, then, in light of those two points, to grow up believing that the Civil War was about "state's rights," and not about slavery?  What does it mean to spend your life thinking that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of honor, integrity, and righteousness?  What does it mean to be told all your life that people on welfare are lazy, or criminal, or both?  What does it mean when everyone around you believes all these things?  If they get you young enough, that stuff's in your bones, part of deeply embedded intellectual structures that are both logical AND emotional.  Certainly, lots of people have managed to rise above and beyond such social conditioning as it might relate to their respective world views.  But how many people haven't?  How many people think there is absolutely no connection between their Southern pride and their politics overall, even though there almost certainly is? 

You probably already know what I think.  And that's also why I think it's a good idea to call out Paula Deen, not for her usage of the n-word thirty years ago, but because she thinks it's just fine to host a dream Southern Uncle Tom themed wedding, which is a strong indicator of her having lots of other ideas about the world along these lines floating around in her head.  Indeed, that's what this is all about: millions of white Southerners who think their Southern pride is a benign concept that doesn't have anything to do with anything other than being proud of where they're from.  But make no mistake.  Southern pride is the quiet source of inspiration for middle and working class whites in the South continually siding with the super-wealthy against their own interests, for supporting all manner of zero-tolerance policies in the schools and courts, for hating the federal government, for hating labor unions, for despising religions other than their own, for choosing war over diplomacy, and on and on.

White Southerners are the largest and most powerful voting faction in the Republican Party.  As goes the South, so go the Republicans.  Increasingly, I'm not the only one seeing this.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Every Single Reactor in the U.S. Should Be Shut Down

Or so says a former chairman of the NRC.  From AlterNet:

The third thing to know is that everybody lies about it. The power plant designers lie, the builders lie, the utility companies lie, the regulators lie, and the politicians lie. 


So far this year, power companies have announced plans to  close five reactors. Most recently, Entergy relented on its mission to keep its creaky Yankee nuclear plant in Vermont operational over the state government’s clear objections. 

At least 37 more reactor closures could follow, according to Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. 

Can environmentalists celebrate this nuclear downsizing trend? 

Nope. Most experts aren’t attributing this rash of reactor closures to any newfound safety concerns among the industry’s leaders. Instead, they’re blaming the fracking boom.

More here.

A really smart friend of mine asserted to me a while back that the technology for nuclear energy is really good in this day and age, and that some sort of accident is highly improbable.  I told him that's why some environmentalists had been flirting with supporting nuclear energy for a while in the 2000s.  Then Fukushima happened, and I'm not sure what those environmentalists are thinking now--I'm certainly not getting much support for the notion in my liberal internet reading these days.  But, as I told my buddy, even though the chance for an accident might, on paper, remain infinitesimally small, nuclear reactors operate in the real world, within a capitalist system, where balancing safety against the bottom line is common practice.

That is, nuke power plants may very well be really safe.  In theory.  But do we really want to trust the same kind of people who brought us the BP Gulf oil spill to stick to the theory?  Especially when the consequences for failure are potentially FAR worse than spewing crude oil at sensitive habitats or pumping toxic chemical dispersants all over the fish, shrimp, and oysters we eat?  The margin for error on this stuff is so small as to be meaningless: if a nuke power plant fails big, we're screwed.  And we've got foxes guarding the hen houses.

 Nuclear power is, in the end, one of the worst ideas we've ever come up with.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

School Is a Prison — And Damaging Our Kids

From AlterNet:

Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that’s what they need to become productive and happy adults. Many have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula and/or more rigorous tests.

But what if the real problem is school itself? The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.

School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my recent book) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school.

More here.

This is the other education debate.  The debate nobody's really having because it's more about academics quietly issuing their reports, but with the information pretty much staying on the periphery of public discourse.  I shouldn't be surprised by this.  Back when I was teaching, I remember a report about learning and adolescent sleep habits strongly suggesting that high schools ought to start the day later than early in the morning.  When the district school board for which I worked met to consider scheduling issues for the next year, the report was actually mentioned, but otherwise completely ignored.  By late August, classes were starting an hour EARLIER.  That kind of thing is standard, I think, across the nation.

The bottom line here is that in recent decades, psychologists have figured out a LOT about how children learn.  A very small bit of that has worked its way into the mainstream, but not enough, by a long shot, to have any discernible effect on how we approach education.  This is the debate we should be having: how do we implement in the schools these new findings?  Instead, down-home self-appointed education "experts," corporate forces hoping that privatization can line investor pockets with education tax dollars, dumbshit pundits, and otherwise well meaning but totally confused individuals, have clamored and freaked out on the concocted "need" for more standardized tests, how "bad" teachers and the "greedy" unions who protect them must be eliminated, and the notion that charter schools are the answer for everything, even though charter schools, by their very nature, are nothing more than experiments in the field, rather than a concrete "solution."

In short, under these circumstances, it is virtually impossible to address the fact that the traditional organizational structure for the schools, along with numerous embedded assumptions within that structure, run totally counter to what we now know are the optimal conditions for learning.  That is, as the article asserts, our culture's understanding of how schools should function is historically rooted in approaches aimed at instilling obedience and deference to authority.  For years I've been pointing out how we adapted our schooling approach from the nineteenth century Prussian model, which was first adopted in order to militarize that nation's population, but the linked article dates it back even further, to Bible classes for children during the Protestant Reformation.  Either way, though, psychologists now know that a strict, discipline-oriented atmosphere totally destroys kids' natural curiosity and zeal for knowledge and understanding.

But we're too busy fighting to hold onto what we have, which, granted, is mostly counterproductive, but still MUCH better than what the charter/privatization/testing/bad-teacher crowd is pushing.  Indeed, what they want is essentially to end America's commitment to universal education.  I mean, I HATE the educational system we have now.  But even I'm afraid of what's in store for us.

You think Americans are stupid now?  Just you wait.  


Friday, September 06, 2013


Frankie-in-the-Box (with Zombie Eyes)

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!



Obviously, I've been inspired in my facebook communications this week, whipping out epic comments and shit over the last three days or so.  Anyway, in a discussion on welfare, my Dad's half-sister, April, wonders what the effect of phasing out welfare might have on inflation, asking if it might cause a massive increase.

So I responded.

April, inflation is typically an aspect of the money supply. When the amount of dollars in circulation increases, that's inflation; conversely, when the amount of dollars in circulation decreases we have deflation. All kinds of stuff can affect this, but it's usually interest rates doing the heavy lifting, because most new money entering the economy comes out of the loan process. But it's not just interest rates. The gas shocks of the 1970s, for instance, greatly contributed to the inflationary spiral, making everything else cost more because everything gets shipped around using gasoline--actually, I should do some more reading on this, because I don't know that gas price increases actually increased the number of dollars in circulation as much as it simply had the effect of increasing all prices; maybe for economists it's six of one as far as this goes.

Anyway, ending welfare would actually take money out of circulation, which I imagine would have a deflationary effect, instead of causing inflation. But I don't even know that enough people are on welfare for it to have any effect at all. At any rate, inflation, like fire and capitalism, isn't always bad. Indeed, when the economy grows, we need more dollars in circulation to cover all the new transactions that come with growth. Otherwise, there would be less growth, simply because the money wouldn't exist for new business activity.

This is also why Ron Paul style gold bug weirdos are out of their minds. We HAVE to have a floating currency or we're handicapping the economy unnecessarily.
And then I got some more inspiration
More on inflation regarding the 70s gas shocks. Another way to consider inflation is in terms of relative relationships between the money supply and available goods and services. Inflation is when we have too much money chasing too few goods; deflation is when we have too many goods and services but not enough money available to purchase them.

Now, the 70s were weird in any case because generally inflation is a problem associated with economic expansion --times are good, people want to buy, and it's hard for businesses to keep up with demand, so prices go up making it all level out. But in the 70s we had a sort of ongoing recession, or rather, stagnation, or lack of growth, which is how we get the term "stagflation," which means a stagnant economy also hit by inflation. The inflation in the first place was very likely caused by Vietnam War expenditures on top of LBJ's Great Society domestic programs, guns and butter, for which the Feds didn't really have enough money, so they printed it up, flooding the currency market with dollars. Thus, inflation. And then the two gas crises aggravated it all, causing massive price increases across the board. Then workers started demanding raises to keep up, which also increased inflation, and businesses raised prices in anticipation of supply price increases, which increased inflation even more. This was called an inflationary spiral, all kinds of shit contributing to make things cost more.

Only Reagan had the balls to raise interest rates, which forced a horrible recession on the nation, but it had the effect of tightening up the money supply enough such that the spiral ended, and then the economy bounced back pretty quickly. Actually, that's the one thing for which I admire and give credit to the Friedmanites, ending stagflation, when my favorite economists, the Keynesians, had no answers.

Really, I don't know where I'm going with this other than to illustrate that it's all very complicated.
Again, 'nuff said!


Thursday, September 05, 2013


My old friend Bryce has gotten me inspired two days in a row.  He shared today on facebook this New York Times article asserting that tipping restaurant servers is archaic and screwy and solicited some commentary from me.  I'm often happy to oblige such solicitation, and today was no exception:

Okay, without going into the same length of diatribe I went into yesterday on another of your posts, here's a quickie.

Good essay. I read it earlier today. The writer focuses more on the consumer side, I think, than I do, but I'm a server these days, so I'm seeing it from that angle.

And the bottom line to me is that even though, in the end, I feel like I make enough money, the fact that most servers are effectively NOT PAID by their ostensible employers, and instead must grovel for the sinisterly euphemized handouts known as "tips" creates some truly bizarre workplace incentives and guarantees friction on the job, between server and management, server and host or hostess, and between servers.

Example: closing sidework. This is when your wages drop from, say, thirty dollars an hour to nothing. Is it any wonder servers completely resent doing sidework? I mean, I get that it's necessary for the overall job. But there's no way around the fact that closing sidework is done for free. That's a source of friction with management.

Example: seating. Because a server's tips depend on getting tables, if the hostess isn't doing her job correctly, allocating tables in a fair and just way, he's screwed. Unless management makes good hosting a priority, fights between servers and hosts are inevitable.

Example: running sidework, running trays, etc. Because your table is your sole source of income, why the hell should a server give a damn about anyone else but that table? I know, I know, some restaurants have a decent teamwork culture, but it's often easy to blow that off, and unless management is constantly pushing teamwork, there is no teamwork, and the good servers who believe in the concept then become chumps, taking time away from their tables to pick up the slack for other servers who refuse to do their fair share. That translates into dollars and cents. The less time you spend with your tables, the less service you give, the less upselling you can do. The sidework-lazy server effectively transfers tip money to himself away from the conscientious teamwork server.

And this just goes on and on. And it's all because of the cockamamie compensation system that turns economic incentive on its head. I would personally prefer a system that allows me always to do my best without second guessing all the time whether I'm being ripped off.

On the other hand, one assumes that any transition away from the tipping system will be to a system that benefits ownership, instead of labor. And that's something to think about.

Damn it. I did it again. Obviously, I'm long winded.
'Nuff said.  For today, anyway.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013


My old buddy Bryce asks in a facebook post: "But what does a less crazy/extreme conservatism look like? I don't really know anymore."  And then he linked to an essay pondering the question by my favorite conservative writer Andrew Bacevich.

My response:

Okay, I'll get to the Bacevich essay later, but I have to observe that when I first encountered him on Bill Moyers a few years back, and then followed up by reading his book The Limits of Power, I was rather astounded that I found myself some 90 or 95% in agreement with him. And he's a self-described conservative, while I'm a self-described leftist.

How could that be? My conclusion was something I had already figured out: what we call conservatism today is not what we have traditionally called conservatism for the couple of centuries since the time of its popularly acknowledged founder, Edmund Burke.

Historically, conservatism is an admirable point of view. I mean, I'm no conservative, and often disagree with lots of ideas that I would describe as conservative - I'm talking about conservatism as understood until around, say, 1995 or so, and will distinguish between that and today's "conservatism" by putting it in quotes - but tradition, caution and slow change, sticking to the tried and true in order to avoid disaster, that's reasonable and understandable, and something that ought to challenge liberals and leftists to think more about their own positions. But today's "conservatism" does not appear to be unified by such a principle. "Conservatism" today seems to be more tribal than anything else, a bunch of ideas that are very appealing to resentful white men for various reasons for the most part, none of which seem cautious, traditional, or disaster-averse in any way.

If one buys into this grab bag of resentful white man ideas, then one is part of the tribe, the "conservative" tribe. And I'll just cut to the chase here. Conservatism changed into "conservatism" because Nixon and the rest of the GOP developed and institutionalized their Southern Strategy, which is all about us versus them, a process of provoked cultural polarizing, which has been resoundingly successful over the years, in terms of winning elections, but which has also sown the seeds of its own eventual defeat, and we're starting to see some of that recently.

So if "conservatism" makes little sense to you, it's very likely because it doesn't make any sense, at least when you study it on its own terms. It's also why liberals and "conservatives" can't find any common ground: when one's entire world view is about dividing the nation up into us and them, there can be no common ground, only us and them.

I really don't know the way out of this pickle, which is just awful because it's totally destroying the fabric of the nation. But I do know that if you approach "conservatives" respectfully, and engage them in conversation, there is often the opportunity to reveal some of the contradictions and absurdities inherent in "conservatism." So that's what I've been trying to do here on facebook for a while. It's the only thing I can think of doing. But really, I'm thinking that they'll just eventually destroy themselves. Hopefully without taking down the country in the process.
Aye, there's the rub.