Friday, September 25, 2009

Eat your OWN cake!

I got a cute email today:
Letter from the office of the CEO:
As the CEO of this organization, I have accepted the fact that Barrack Obama is our President and that our taxes and other government imposed fees will soon increase substantially. To compensate for these increases, we would have to increase the price of our products and services by approximately 10%. But since we cannot increase our prices at this time, given the dismal state of the economy, we must lay off sixty employees. This has weighed heavy on my heart, since I believe we are all like family. Deciding who to let go was not easy but, after much thought and consideration, I finally devised a plan. I walked through our parking lots and counted sixty 'Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars. I decided these employees will be the ones to let go. I can't think of a more fair way to approach this problem. They voted for change...... I gave it to them.

I will see the rest of you at the annual company picnic.


...and I had to respond.
The BOSS above does sound like the typical irresponsible, shortsighted, selfish, reactionary (not just conservative) Republican curmudgeon, accustomed to making unreasonable profits off the hard work and gullibility of others. Self-satisfied, self-righteous, sure of the entitlement they convince themselves they have earned, by what they tout as hard work, yet 90% of the world would consider a walk in the park. And, when their scheme goes South, they are quickly vindictive toward those who hoped and worked for more equity, honesty and sensibility. 'Let them eat cake- just not MY cake.' Enron, Goldman-Sachs, Shearson Lehman, Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi are not terribly different one from another. They are moral descendants of the Robber Barons Teddy Roosevelt railed against and the royalty George Washington refused to join.

Entire nations like Albania have fallen under this same delusion of unearned entitlement. Like the poor dupes in Charles Dickens' 1857 novel Little Dorrit they saw the unparalleled affluence of the U.S. and listened to the Laissez-Faire prophets of prosperity and were again enslaved and impoverished. 
What may be too easily missed are the implications of saying 'Let them eat cake.'  In making this suggestion, Marie Antoinette exemplified the egocentrism, the belief in personal entitlement, the classism and actual ignorance of that day and nation's oppressors.  Not only did she betray a lack of concern for the people who fed and clothed her, but she (likely without know it) showed us the real key to enslaving others.  If I replace the rough but nutritious bread of truth and hard work with the sweet  yet empty cake of self deception, I will eventually die fat and flabby, of malnutrition.  Few would look at my bloated corpse and believe that I starved to death, yet that would be the real truth.  Many members of the lowest socio-economic levels in the United States today are in EXACTLY this situation [Poor],  [Native Americans] [African Americans] and it is emblematic of a malaise that saps the vitality of our entire Western-European society.  Multi-national food corporations churn out tons of flavorful rubbish, and carefully optimize their pricing and advertizing to entice ignorant consumers to buy what they think they want, confusing it with what they actually need to stay healthy.  The chief method of making foods seem nutritious today is to replace the natural ingredients with air or synthetic polymers, allowing us to consume ever-larger quantities of ever less-nutritious stuff.  We are stuffed, but we are empty.
As goes our nutrition so goes our entertainment, our education, our political understanding and our economics.  We too easily accept facile, attractive rationales like, 'If they want to work, there's a job for them,' 'I earned what I have, let them do the same,' and 'It was good enough for our parents- I't good enough for us,'  when in reality, we who have more are very often beneficiaries of an accident of birth, the mercy or generosity of some forebear or employer, or just dumb luck.  For instance, Christians forget too easily that they believe (or at least CLAIM to believe) that all they have is theirs due to grace, rather than their own effort.  It is true that we will always have the poor with us, but that is an opportunity to grow and to gain peace from our efforts to help them.  The 'good old days' were seldom as good as today.  None of us really wants to return to a time before toilet paper, nor to the days of slavery, yet each advance in the human condition has been met with opposition from those who believe that they have something worth preserving, and fear that ANY change might endanger it.  It would be folly to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we are tempted to let that baby stew in the dirty water, which would also be a mistake.  Wild-eyed liberals like Jesus Christ,  Galileo GalileiFrederick II of Prussia  and Abraham Lincoln have often, as Albert Einstein said, '
...encountered violent opposition from weak minds."
That is the true essence of today's news noise.  It is a disagreement fueled by a mix of disinterest, disinformation and institutionalized dysfunction.  I was told that our healthcare system, for instance, serves 85% of our population with varying, but generally adequate results.  Some of those 85% fear that changing it might kill it, and they would lose what they have.  They might be happy with a car that ran six days a week but not on the seventh, but I doubt it.  The 15% uninsured or inadequately provided-for must be addressed, because they will either get medical care in expensive, inappropriate ways, or cause epidemics.  The emergency rooms and Public Health departments of this nation are paying (therefore WE are paying) an outrageous price for the lack of comprehensive planning to effectively provide for the health needs of ALL persons within our borders.  Illegal aliens can spread disease as easily as citizens.  They are all-too-often here supplying subsidized (NOT cheap, but subsidized by the government) labor to the same BOSS that I deride above.  He hired them because they were cheap and afraid to complain about his abuse of their labor for fear of deportation, but it would not be such a deal for him if he had to pay their medical, worker's comp, unemployment and social security costs.  So what he has done is to shift that cost to welfare, non-profit charities and ICE.  Now that someone wants to connect the benefit to the cost, he will snatch up his ill-gotten gains and blithely abandon those who have worked to build him up, disavowing any responsibility, and of course, reserving his greatest disdain for anyone who dared to hope that we might do better.  It didn't seem broken to him, because he had learned a way to cheat the system.  When someone else tries to fix it, the BOSS is bound to get irate- even to the point of picking up the marbles he has stolen and going home.
Yes, he sounds like a lot of Seagull Managers I have known: They swoop in and pounce on any goodies the workers have managed to create, squawk a lot, and then fly off, excreting as they leave.  Good riddance, and may we find a better way of doing business once he's gone.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Do 'good fences make good neighbors'?

I read an interesting post in Dick & Sharon's LA Progressive today
Iraq: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors | The LA Progressive: "Iraq: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
by Ivan Eland posted on Thursday, 20 August 20090"
and being an English major, I couldn't resist commenting on Ivan's use (or possible misuse) of the line from Robert Frost' Mending Wall.  It's an aphorism often quoted, and seldom with real understanding.
Frost, like that 'something' in his poem, 'doesn't love a wall,'  and his poem portrays a man of very dim wit indeed, slaving to build a wall without conscious understanding of his own motivation.  Listen anew to Frost:
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. 30

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down!" ........ I see him there,

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me, 40

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

... so I have to wonder if partitioning Iraq might be a terrible blunder by a well-meaning but ignorant coalition.  After all, it is a single nation, isn't it?  Like our States are United?  Before we build a wall we should consider what we're walling in or walling out, and to whom we are like to give offence (little spelling pun there, eh?)  Those folks all look and sound pretty much the same to me; 'why can't we all just get along?'
A quick Google search will yield some disturbing enlightenment, like this from Larry Everest :

Take three crucial dimensions of British actions: the creation of Iraq by combining three demographically distinct administrative units of the Ottoman Empire: Basra in the Shi'a south, Baghdad in the Sunni center, and Mosul in the Kurdish north, without regard to the aspirations of their peoples; the drawing of border?s to prevent Iraq from becoming a major power in the Persian Gulf; and the institutionalization of a pro-British ruling elite.

Consider Iraq's Kurds. They had been promised independence by the world's major powers after World War I. Yet their aspirations, like those of the Arabs, were betrayed and then suppressed for British imperial interests. The British wished to incorporate the former Ottoman Province of Mosul, an area populated mainly by Kurds and Turkomans, into the new state because without the oilfields of Mosul and Kirkuk, the new state of Iraq would not be economically viable.

Britain had no desire to see a strong state arise in the midst of the world's greatest oil fields, so when, in 1922, British High Commissioner for Iraq Sir Percy Cox delineated the borders between Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait with the stroke of his pen, he made sure to limit Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf: Kuwait, a much smaller country, was given a Gulf coastline line of 310 miles, while Iraq was given only 36 miles."

Everest gives what seems to me one of the clearer explanations of the tremendous divisions and passions fueling the strife in Iraq (and Afghanistan in somewhat similar fashion) and his account does not conflict with other accounts I have read.

I'm beginning to see more clearly why even the ministers of the 'nation' of Iraq itself have considered partitioning it into smaller ethnic / religious districts.  The West-Bank barrier, the Gaza Strip Barrier and the walls springing up along the US-Mexico border all stand in a long history of attempts by mankind to keep things sorted out and relatively peaceful.  When we are not getting along, we tire of the fighting and want to separate the combatants.  We don't really like walls, and a wall is not a real solution, but they may at least give us some time to work out something better.
Most of us like the idea of one day sharing peace and commerce uniformly across this globe, but we know that it is not going to happen any time soon.  In the meantime, we need to find ways for neighbors to co-exist with as little havoc as possible.  If this means delineating borders and separating peoples who have centuries of enmity to overcome, I can imagine it being a good thing.

Frost asks in lines 29 & 30, "Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. "  And yet we know that there are 'sacred cows' in Iraq over which much blood has been shed.  The Shi'a/Sunni schism, the partition of Kurdistan, and the long history of European meddling in the affairs of that region all militate toward a cooling-off period during which the final state of the region is carefully considered and settled.  Mr. Eland sounds hopeful that if we convince the fledgeling government now present in Iraq to let the de-facto geographoic segregation of the warring parties continue, and even formalize it, they will be able to manage this adjustment period with minimal foreign involvement.  Perhaps this is the time when the adversaries have become both tired enough of fighting and pragmatic enough to brook compromise.  Perhaps the interminable list of grievance and counter-grievance can be at least deferred if not totally resolved.  I hope with him that this time, carefully thought-out and constructed fences can help to make good neighbors out of peoples who have been at war for generations.